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The Day of the Dead : From Hotel Suites to Wet Suits, Jerry Garcia's Art Is Becoming an Empire

March 14, 1995|IRENE LACHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

And while Mahoney says the 52-year-old guitarist is a genius as a musician, his artwork, which he calls "visual improvisations," is also significant. "His genius--it's a peculiar word--it's on one side compulsion, and the other side grace," he says. "The major level of compulsion and grace lies in his guitar playing. However, the visual things are amazing."

Garcia's interest in visual art goes back to his high school years, when he studied painting at what is now the San Francisco Art Institute. While he always pursued his artwork, he became more deeply involved with it in 1986, when a diabetic condition confined him for six months.

While Garcia was convalescing, his friend Nora Sage suggested he start selling his work, McNally says. Garcia's lithographs and prints now generally range in price from $250 to $600.

"So he was doing his paintings," McNally says, "and this woman (Sage) who was selling the originals and the lithos from them is a very bright and resourceful woman, and she looked at these things and said, 'I see ties.' And he shrugged and said, 'You gotta be kidding me,' and went back to it.

"She got together with the Stonehenge tie company. Jerry does a sketch and in the corner is a frog, and they endlessly duplicate the frog and it becomes a bolt of color, and they make ties out of it. She was one time in a textile mill and she saw this enormous bolt of frogs, and as soon as she saw that she saw drapes and a room and eventually that led through a friend of a friend to the Triton Hotel. Garcia has had little to do with that."

Sage, who markets Garcia's wares through a Bend, Ore.-based company called The Art Peddler, declined to be interviewed. But Stonehenge's Sternberg said he saw big neckwear potential in Garcia's first art show in New York, at the Ambassador Gallery.

"When I was there, I wasn't even going thinking about neckwear," Sternberg says. "The lines literally circled the block and media from all over the world came. I thought this was a great handle for a fashion look."

When the $30 to $50 ties were launched at Bloomingdale's, the press came back to see what else J. Garcia Inc. had wrought. And thus, a rock-and-wear phenomenon was born.

Says Sternberg: "The calls from around the world temporarily broke down the telephone system at Bloomingdale's, and an emergency hot line had to be set up to take orders. . . . The exciting thing is, people wear the neckties and feel they're getting away with something."

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