The piece above is one of the ten or eleven or so I own by Paris, also known as Paris the Bum, also known as Holy Joseph. I say "ten or eleven or so" because Paris often drew on both sides of whatever scrap of cardboard or paper he was working on. Here is the other side of the piece pictured above.
Paris was a center-city Philadelphia fixture when I lived there from 1986-1994. He wore aluminum foil turbans with big cardboard crosses, cinched his pants with ropes, wandered around softly muttering, and slept on stoops using his drawings as both sleeping mats and blankets. If he stayed on the same stoop long enough it too would be drawn on directly. He spent a lot of timed camped out decorating the stoop of the place that is currently the restaurant Alma de Cuba. I called him Paris because that's what he told me his name was but people also called him Holy Joseph.
I know I was not the only person that collected his work - I remember going to parties and sometimes seeing his work on the walls - and other people collected his work as well. John Ollman bought stuff. That must have been awkward - being an outsider art dealer with the real thing camped out down the block. I wonder if he has any plans to ever show those?
One time I took Paris home thinking he could bathe or eat or something but it was no use, he just wandered around my apartment muttering. It was really hard to hear anything he said, he always spoke so softly, but most of what he said didn't make any sense.
I left Philadelphia for Albuquerque in 1994 but a number of years years later took out a small ad in the City Paper describing Paris and asking anybody who might remember him to contact me, especially if they had any info, photos, or work. One guy did! I was given a lead to a homeless shelter that was familiar with Paris!
In 2002 I was able to visit the shelter and the guy in charge had very fond memories of Paris. I think he was a favorite. The timeframe of that guy's and my own experiences with Paris overlap - and he knew Paris liked to draw - but he wasn't aware of the extent of Paris' art life. I was told that they tried to track down Paris' family and find out his real name but were never able to get anything solid - and one day a few years before my visit Paris just stopped coming to the shelter. The director did have a photograph of Paris that he reluctantly parted with to allow me to make a color copy of. My sense is that it was unusual for him to have personal snapshots of these "guests" - Paris must have made an impression on him as well.
Here's the photo. This is pretty much how I remember talking with Paris, except we would be outside over a heating grate, his headpiece would be bigger and gaudier, and instead of blankets he would be covered in drawings. Actually, it looks to me like in this photo he is clutching at least one blanket-drawing. Also take note of the piece of charcoal and eraser on the shelf.
Here are all my images of Paris' drawings. These are all done with crayon on thin cardboard. Lots of religous imagery. Beautiful birds here and here. The brown line drawings are especially faint in these scanned slides but I like the man and the little bird in the left of this one. Here's Jesus walking on water with "God Bless America" written across the bottom. My favorite might be this one because sitting atop this man's staff is another little man - so hard to see in this scan, sorry. What's this one about? Are those white servants waiting on wealthy blacks? Was this a desire or a memory? Most of the drawings that aren't worked on both sides include strange symbols or lettering on the back. Stars and/or moons. Is it Muslim? Similar to the moon and sun in this picture. Many of the buildings in the backgrounds look Middle Eastern.
Last year I e-mailed Philadelphia artbloggers Roberta and Libby asking if they knew anything about Paris and they posted my query on their blog. Nobody contacted me but Roberta's post did include the information that Paris had been included in the show "Found Ground" at Moore's Levy Gallery in Jan. 1991.
Now I have my own blog so I will ask again: Does anybody have any artwork by, photographs of, or remembrances of Paris?
I remember Paris!!!