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Barron Storey's Life is an Open Comic Book 

The demons -- personal andfantastical and pop cultural -- that have shaped the art of a San Francisco illustrator

Wednesday, Jan 17 1996
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Page 5 of 7

Juanita then began obsessing over Barron. He was now going to be her "heir to the crown," as he calls it, a surrogate who would now do all the things she wanted to do but could not because of Scott's birth. Drinking all the time, she demanded that her oldest boy sit at her bed while she lectured him about the Mau Maus in Africa and politics and the agrarian roots of Texas. She would often break down Barron's locked bedroom door when she felt he wasn't paying her enough attention.

"It was almost incestuous," he says, "without the sex."
Barron married his high school sweetheart, Mary, at 19 and fled to Los Angeles to attend art school. He returned a short time later, separated from his wife, moved into an apartment near Southern Methodist University, and began working for Texas Instruments, first as a draftsman and then as an illustrator. He and his wife, who had become pregnant with Barron's child, reconciled and decided to move to New York in 1961.

Two years later, Barron's idol, John Kennedy, was killed in his hometown. Hearing the news, Barron immediately walked out of the ad agency at which he was working, and vowed never to return to advertising. Days later, his father called with the news that Juanita was "sick."

After her death, Barron returned to New York, rarely to revisit Dallas. He now returns to give the occasional guest lecture at Brookhaven Community College at the behest of a cousin, or makes the rare appearance at local comic and sci-fi conventions.

He recalls one visit to Dallas shortly after his mother's death, visiting the family's White Rock house to find it abandoned but still filled with his mother's belongings -- books, records, clothes. Barron's dad had moved out and left the house as it was, completely unlocked. And so the rain had come in and flooded the entire place, and floors buckled from the standing water. The books Juanita loved were ruined.

"It was haunted, man," Barron recalls. "Haunted big time."

Shortly after his return to New York, Storey divorced Mary and began an affair with the woman who would become his second wife in 1967 -- and his second divorce in 1978. It was this woman, named Gralyn Holmstrom, who would encourage Storey to get out of his studio and use his talents to make a decent living.

In the late '60s, he was approached by a friend who was art director at Car and Driver to do paintings of motorcycles. Storey originally scoffed at the idea. "I said, 'Hey, I ride motorcycles, I don't paint them. I'm a serious artist -- didn't you notice? This is my series on man's inhumanity to man. I'm going to do motorcycle paintings? I don't think so.'

"He said, 'Get off it. You don't know anything about man's inhumanity to man. What you know about is motorcycles.'

"I did it, and I loved it. All of a sudden I didn't care if somebody painted better than me."

The cycle paintings were rejected by Car and Driver, but for the first time in his career, Storey didn't "walk away with my tail between my legs." He took his paintings to every magazine in New York. He finally sold them to a California-based magazine called Cycle World, which ran one painting on the cover and the rest inside along with his original letter explaining why they would be perfect for the magazine. The package ran underneath the headline "Barron's Story."

"And I loved it," he recalls. "I had never liked a single thing of mine I had seen in print, but this was the real stuff. From that point on, I knew the answer -- subject matter. I will illustrate it, paint it, write poems about it, write music about it, talk to my friends about it as long as it's content that I care about."

He began getting the plum gigs, including the king daddy of all illustration jobs in the '70s -- painting his first portraits for the cover of Time. His most famous piece is from 1976, a hastily drawn pencil sketch of Howard Hughes that Storey did overnight in the magazine's offices. He was on the end of a phone line, his pencil and pad in hand, madly drawing an image being described to him by a coroner in Brownsville, Texas.

But after guiding her husband into commercial success, Storey says Gralyn, also an artist, left him in disgust.

"She was a very excellent artist and considered herself much better than me. Her scenario had me going out there and using my rather mundane skills to be a hack. She always considered me a hack, and on one fine day she would get in the car and drive away and leave me having written the word 'HACK' across all my drawings and paintings." The incident is, like everything else in his life, recounted in the journals.

Storey would stay in New York until the early '80s, playing with a punk rock band, studying and teaching art, and acquiring a reputation as one of the graphic art world's best.

When he moved to San Francisco at the insistence of yet another woman, his third wife, she promptly left him. And then came the woman known as "Kelly," the central figure of The Marat/Sade Journals and one of the inspirations for Assassinada and "Slidehouse."

Storey traces his disastrous relationships back to his mother. "I've got this ghost that I live with: my mom. My younger brothers didn't know her in her prime. TheR>>y didn't know her as I did. She was the mad woman in their life, but I had this time with this brilliant, beautiful, passionate mom.

About The Author

Robert Wilonsky

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