Joe Andoe: An Artist's Wild Tales Painter Joe Andoe has lived in New York for more than 20 years, but he never stopped thinking about his hometown. Tulsa, Okla., inspires his paintings, and it's where Andoe built a reputation as a wild man and party animal. Now Andoe has cleaned up his act and written a memoir about his journey from juvenile delinquency to a successful career in art.

Joe Andoe: An Artist's Wild Tales

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Rick Karr has this profile.

RICK KARR: Joe Andoe works in a studio that's pretty typical for Manhattan. It's up four long flights of stairs and it's literally gritty, probably because of the heavy traffic outside on 23rd Street. But one wall is lined with paintings that seemed to have nothing to do with the city outside. They depict horses in simple, direct strokes almost monotonal(ph) against black nighttime skies. The horses seemed to fix their eyes on you as you move around the studio.

JOE ANDOE: They're sort of like moral compass or something, you know? They're sort of like better. They don't look at you as much as they consider you or something.

KARR: Joe Andoe talks the way he paints in simple, direct phrases. He's no horseman. He's always preferred fast cars and motorcycles. But he thinks of the horses as symbols of Tulsa even as kindred spirits. He grew up in a lower middleclass neighborhood, but he and his friends would drive out to fancier areas and park in open fields to party and make out with girls. The horses that his wealthier neighbors kept would watch them.

ANDOE: And when I came to New York, I kind of stumbled onto the horses and it sort of became a shorthand for what made me different than eight million people outside, you know.

KARR: Those paintings now sell for tens of thousands of dollars. But back in the early 1970s, Andoe never even dreamed of himself as an artist. Instead, he and his friends concentrated their efforts on partying, drinking whiskey, popping pills, dropping acids, smoking pot, and driving fast. Andoe says it all just seemed like the thing to do at the time.

ANDOE: On the cover of Life magazine, there was a soldier smoking a joint with American flag papers. I wanted that. That looked like what the music I liked was about, you know, I wanted to see that. Unfortunately, it isn't what I was cracked up to be.

KARR: Over the next few years, he was busted for reckless driving and drug possession. He and his friends wrecked cars and motorcycles. Some of those friends died, others went to prison. Andoe says that when he moved to New York and started telling stories about what he'd done back in Tulsa, his new friends thought he was exaggerating. He says, people have even said the same thing about his memoir "Jubilee City," that one guy couldn't possibly have gotten into so much trouble.

ANDOE: They think there's - there can't be anybody like me.

KARR: His friends back at Tulsa had a different take.

ANDOE: One of the main characters in the book, James, who spans the whole book. I sent him down a book. And I talked to him for the first time a few nights ago. And one of the first things he said is, you really had to tone this down, didn't you?

MIKE GARRETT: Well, there's some things probably which shouldn't have been in the book and I probably keep - shouldn't discuss them now.

KARR: That's James, at least that's what Andoe calls Mike Garrett in the memoir.

GARRETT: Changed the names to protect the not-so-innocent or whatever.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KARR: Garrett says that at one point, a high school art teacher invited Andoe to take an art class.

GARRETT: But he said he looked in the door and he didn't see any girls he liked. So, he just split on that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GARRETT: You know, we're all about chasing women, too. That was big part of our, you know, sex, drugs and rock and roll.

KARR: Garrett's friend always loved to draw. But Joe Andoe says two things kept him from imagining an art career. The first was money. His family, his friends, the world he lived in, all told him that he needed a good job, a steady income. The second was ignorance. Art was something that women did, not men. He had no role models. Then he enrolled in a community college to study agricultural business and took an art history elective.

ANDOE: And I saw that there were guys that - like Robert Smitson, Dennis Oppenheim, guys who wore cowboy boots, guys that looked like me doing this stuff. I didn't really understand what they were doing, but they kind of looked like construction workers, like me and my friends, and they were doing this and it looked like they're having fun.

KARR: Andoe says most young artists who come to New York reinvent themselves, file down the rough edges and polish up a new image. He says he never could. And at some point it turned out that his bad boy image was good for selling art. Andoe says he still has a hard time articulating why he behaved the way he did.

ANDOE: It sounds so clinical and serious. I never gave it a thought. I was just having fun. That's just the way we did it. And I'm still - and I still could have fun without destroying myself, you know?

KARR: Painting is one of the things that's fun for Andoe now that he's sober. Writing is another. He says he never imagined himself as an author, but admits that he was always the designated storyteller whenever he and his friends got into trouble. He also admits that for years on and off, he's been trying his hand at writing poetry - most of it about Tulsa, of course.

ANDOE: White trash. White shoes and belts. Used white Cadillac. Hand-me- down wedding dress. White Bible. White wall-to-wall carpet. All dirty.

KARR: For NPR News, I'm Rick Karr in New York.

BLOCK: You can read an excerpt from Joe Andoe's memoir, "Jubilee City," and few samples of his work at npr.org.

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