Almost every Narc or gang investigator I've ever known has some kind of art or paraphernalia decorating their desk or office. I wanted to paint something which would look good as poster or on a t-shirt and would not scream "I'm a cop", but would encompass their world.
This design was painted as a tribute to two narcotic officers I know. Originally, I began sketching out two separate designs. One was for Tom, who is a retired Missouri State Highway Patrol Sergeant and worked narcotics for over 25 years. Tom is the real deal. Done it, seen it, bought the t-shirt. He was the lead investigator in taking down some of the KC mob back in the 1980's. The other was for Joe who was a good friend of Tom's and was just as much a Bad Ass as Tom. Tom and Joe seldom talked about their escapades, but when they did, it was better than any movie. The first helmet I ever painted was Tom's and the first bike was Joe's which he called Raven. Both men gave me a lot of encouragement and confidence for my artistic endeavors. I can remember sitting in a bar in Columbia, MO talking to Joe about what he wanted on his "tins". After giving me a few ideas and the color (black of course) he said "your the artsy one, just make it look bad ass."
As I said, originally I started off with two designs. This was because Joe, Unfortunately passed away in a motorcycle accident several years ago. I was working on a commemorative design which was a spin off from the mural I had painted on his bike. The second design was from some ideas I had after attending Tom's retirement party and heard some more stories. As time went on the two designs just merged together. When I say "as time went on" I'm talking several years. Yes, I have been working on this design on and off for several years. There has never been a deadline or rush on this design so I worked on it as inspiration or time allowed. Narcotics bleed into so many areas of law enforcement that every time I returned to the design I would think of something else to add to it which changed it to a Narcotics/Vice/Gang design. I came to the point where I had to stop adding, expanding or changing the design and just go with what I sketched out.
The following is the inspiration and explanation for all of the metaphors and items painted in this design:
The Raven has a few meanings. First and foremost it represents Joe's bike, but throughout history Raven's have had many representations of both good and evil, making them a perfect choice to add some mysticism and eeriness to the painting.
Old school drug dealers and users often carried a Nickel with them. Why, because a Nickel weighs 5 grams and they could easily verify or test a scale to make sure it was accurate. I also wanted to incorporate the Nickel because it has "In God We Trust" on it. Narcotic/Vice Officers see society at its worst, making a belief in God an almost necessity for their sanity.
The Female Dancer incorporates the lust element and is meant to be representative for both Men and Women. This was exciting for me as it is the first time I have ever painted the female figure.
The bottle of alcohol I believe is self explanatory.
The Rat represents a snitch which is someone who becomes an informant to authorities about illegal activities. It also makes the self-centered, cutthroat nasty environment of the career criminals evident.
The engine itself is indicative of outlaw motorcycle gangs. If you look closely, you will see I painted two of the lifters as syringes. For those who do not know, the 420 stamped into the air filter cover stands for April 20th which is International Pot smoking day and time. Originally I was going to paint a stamped marijuana leaf, but wanted something a little more shuttle.
The .45 caliber pistol was Joe's favorite pistol. Tom and Joe use to refer to guns as just "part of the furniture" because every dealer had one or two on their person or laying around the house. The pistol also represents the violence associated with this environment. The three rounds of ammunition stands for 3 strikes and your out, which is a term in the criminal justice system for an individual who has been convicted of 2 prior drug offenses and will have to serve the majority of his or her time with a third conviction.
The guitar pick with the "Rock & Roll" wording depicts the "Sex, Drugs & Rock & Roll" idiom which so much of our society seems to idolize.
The skull adds an element of danger to the design. In Narcotics it seems like the constants besides the illegal drugs, are bikes, porn and skulls. The skull to me also signifies the death of morals and deterioration of society due to drugs. Razor blades are commonly used to chop drugs up into a fine powder for consumption. I painted the razor into the teeth to make it look a little more wicked. The bandanna and the way it is tied onto the skull addresses street gangs. I choose the color blue as it is a primary color utilized by one of the two largest street gangs the Crips. To no lesser account the other large street gang, the Bloods, is signified with the red playing card, which also represents all of the bloodshed by the criminal elements. Gambling is obviously displayed with the Dead Man's hand (Aces & 8's) which is reportedly what Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was shot and killed during a poker game.
Money has been said to be the root of all evil, but this really just refers to greed. I Changed Benjamin Franklin's face in the 100 dollar bill to that of the devil with the name "Addiction" below it. The red eyes were just for a spooky effect. If you look very close at the treasurer's signature on these, you will see they are signed by Swampy Pete, which was a nice suggestion by my wife.
The 8 ball has two representations. First, in the drug world, an 8 ball or a ball, is a common term used to reference 1/8 of an ounce which is a commonly sold measure of weight for several different drugs. Second, pool tables or billiard games are commonly found in bars and seem to be the basis of many fights.
The glass pipe is a piece of paraphernalia which is unique and I believe exclusively used for several different illegal narcotics.
The postal scale is an efficient, old school tool of the trade.
The plastic bag is reminiscent of being filled with either methamphetamine or crack cocaine.
The pharmaceutical pills are self explanatory and depict the opiate epidemic currently sweeping our nation.
The spiders add a bit of creepiness to the painting but also signify lookouts which drug dealers use for their protection.
Finally we come to the spider web itself. The saying incorporated into the web I think describes the consequences of one's choices and ties all of the elements in the painting together.
I couldn't ask for any better friends than Tom and Joe and I can't express enough the thanks I have to both for giving me the confidence to really push forward and pursue art.