The Legend of John Kilduff

I think it’s been 6 or 7 years now since I first discovered the joy and wonder that is Let’s Paint TV. At that time it was known to me by its full name, Let’s Paint, Exercise, and…, and it was an oddity of the early internet age.

The half-hour show had premiered on Time Warner Los Angeles Public Access television in 2001, and it was a pretty straightforward format. The “and…” of the show would be finished in each episode with a different verb: Let’s Paint, Exercise, and Play Chess/Cook Pancakes/Dress a Chicken TV, and then our faithful and steadfast host, John Kilduff, would do all three of those things at once.  A typical show would find John in a filthy and paint-splattered Brooks Brothers suit (with sneakers and some blue latex gloves), running on a treadmill and playing ping pong or eating pie, all while throwing and swirling various colors onto a large canvas set up on an easel to his left.

The spectacle of the whole thing was impressive on its own, certainly, but the show also featured various enhancements throughout the series; there was an ever-present slew of video post-production techniques that would layer rainbows or the image of the canvas over the artist at work or cause the entire video to spin or corkscrew into itself, there appearances by local rock bands and other “guest stars”, and Kilduff would continually offer advice on creating, creativity, and how to be creative in the midst of his other endeavors.

“We just, we’re figurin’ it out!  Sometimes I like to enter the process without knowing what the hell I’m doing.”

And yet, because it belonged to the magical category of public access TV, there was also a significant aspect of the unintended.  It seems that often the production equipment couldn’t exactly keep up with all of the “creative” ideas, so the video was always choppy and filled with artifacts from the post-processing, and they were always “experiencing some technical difficulties” in one form or another.

What really made Let’s Paint an internet treasure, though, was that it also had a live call-in element along with a screening process (and, indeed, screeners themselves) that could be called either “lax” or “mischievous” depending on your perspective.  People (usually the same 2 or 3 in a given episode) would call in to shout gang rivalry challenges or nonsense, or just to berate poor John about his appearance and his skills as an artist.

But Kilduff always took it in stride.  He’d just switch to the next call with a laugh and a lofty response, giving a few minutes for the same person to call back.  He was like a mad, wonderful, Tasmanian Sisyphus, if Sisyphus’ boulder also shouted epithets and threw things at him as it was being pushed up the hill.  And so it was, in late 2006, that a video of John’s (Let’s Paint,Exercise,& Blend Drinks TV! [sic]), began circulating in the internet’s less populated regions.

The video became semi-popular on YouTube (~590,000 views at time of writing) and other video sites, and Kilduff was briefly profiled by Reuters (a more in-depth article had appeared in LA Weekly in 2004).  He had his 30 seconds of fame when he appeared on the second season of America’s Got Talent in 2007.  He got up there with his treadmill and his blender and he set about painting a very interesting portrait of David Hasselhoff.  But the judges… well, let’s say they didn’t get it.

The following year saw the closing and cancellation of Los Angeles Public Access Studios, and the last public access Let’s Paint show aired on December 6.  Kilduff tried with marginal success to bounce back, transitioning his show to YouTube, and he was blurbed about favorably in The Village Voice, along with a few smaller regional outlets.

As time went on and the internet forgot about him again, John continued to do what he does, blossoming even.  He began selling his paintings on eBay in the summer of 2009, along with show memorabilia, fan club packages, and t-shirts emblazoned with “Let’s Paint TV” and Kilduff’s motto and slogan, “Embrace Failare!” [sic].  I bought one of those paintings.  I had never purchased an original work of art before, at least not anything bigger than a postcard or so.  For the modest price of $50, I became the proud owner of Man Arrested with Dildos and a Dolphin in his Pants.

Man Arrested with Dildos and a Dolphins in his Pants (2011)Man Arrested with Dildos and a Dolphin in his Pants (2011)
oil on canvas

To this day, I am hard pressed to think of a more worthwhile purchase I have made for that price. I certainly wouldn’t part with it for the meager sum that I paid. It has some value from an art collector’s standpoint (done at a transitional point in the artist’s career, bought directly so its provenance is incontestable), and I think it probably remains one of the strangest things that I own.

In 2010, he cut an original blues album, Going Nowhere But Came Back, which featured 14 tracks, including “Move Those Bones“, “Need a Job“, and “Creativity Train“.  In 2011, he started one of his most wonderful projects: painting, en plein aire, on an easel attached to a bicycle.

(I can’t tell you how vividly this calls to my mind the historic, similar attempt from Pablo Picasso in 1969. ;p)

As the years went by I got busy, and I’ll admit, I forgot about Mr. Let’s Paint too.  I rediscovered him on Twitter a few weeks back, and a few days ago he tweeted that was doing a live show on YouTube so I tuned in. For most of the event, I was the only one watching. For the first five or six minutes it was a blank log-in screen with the word “Wirecast” and a lady saying, “This is a demonstration of Wirecast” about every 30 seconds. The lady persisted for about 15 minutes. When John came on, it was about another 10 minutes of him using the computer (mostly trying to stop the voice), about 5 minutes of him setting up equipment, and then it was over.

And I thought to myself, “Good lord. He’s still got it.”

I don’t have $320 to spend on it, but I can’t tell you how badly I want Kilduff’s new painting, Sir Isaac Newton levitating over the Earth.  If you want to check out his website, click here.

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