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Hometown U.S.A.: Raleigh, N.C.

A new Barrel Monster stalks Raleigh

Four months after police took down Joseph Carnevale's guerrilla sculpture made from construction barrels -- and arrested him for stealing -- he puts up a new one with the city's blessing.

October 11, 2009|David Zucchino

Barrel Monster, a fearsome 12-foot-tall creature made from orange traffic barrels, became an Internet sensation when it briefly appeared along a street here last spring, trying to hitch a ride.

Art lovers around the world rose up in outrage after its creator, North Carolina State University student Joseph Carnevale, was busted by the cops in June. His crime? Stealing the materials for his art from a road construction site.

Barrel Monster spoofs popped up on websites and Facebook pages. Fans posted spirited defenses of Carnevale's work, many saying, "Art is not a crime." Local prosecutors were bombarded with letters begging them to drop the larceny charges.

But justice was done, and Carnevale must complete 50 hours of community service as part of a plea deal to erase the charges. Meanwhile, he has created a successor to Barrel Monster: a towering dinosaur made from barrels donated by the company he stole from in the first place.

Though he says he appreciates the company's gesture, Carnevale, 22, considers himself a guerrilla artist. And a sanctioned piece does not provide the same thrill, not to mention street cred, as sneaking around at night to put up underground art.

"But hey," he said, shrugging as tourists posed for photos with his dinosaur at a recent city-sponsored arts festival, "I'm just trying to stay out of trouble."

Several festival visitors recognized him, shouting, "Hey, Barrel Man!"

Carnevale created the 14-foot dinosaur after festival organizers asked him to contribute a work of art. Some of his community service hours were spent helping set up and tear down exhibits.

His fame has spread. Time magazine named Carnevale one of its "Top Ten Guerrilla Artists" of the year, up there with a legendary New York subway graffiti tagger and Palestinians who have painted Israel's security wall.

Steve Hussey, president of the construction company that donated $700 worth of barrels, dropped by to have a look. The dinosaur has a 20-foot-long tail and huge, jagged teeth Carnevale sliced from a barrel with a box cutter.

"I thought it was pretty cool," Hussey said. He thought the original Barrel Monster was pretty cool too, and had called Carnevale after his arrest to tell him so.

"Those barrels he took cost us exactly $346, and we got tens of thousands of dollars in free publicity," Hussey said. "I'd have to say it worked out pretty well."

So well, in fact, that Hussey has asked Carnevale to resurrect Barrel Monster at his company's headquarters in Climax, N.C. Hussey said he recently retrieved the pieces from the Raleigh Police Department evidence room, where they'd been sitting, smeared with black fingerprint powder.

Carnevale said he'd be happy to help rebuild the monster for Hussey. But at the moment, he has other projects:

His condo is a work in progress, plastered with his colorful murals and photos. "The homeowner's association is being difficult," he said. There's still some space on the body of his 1997 Volkswagen Jetta, which is covered with hundreds of bottle caps held fast by hot glue. He's finishing up a Bart Simpson tattoo that he's applying to his leg himself.

He'd also like to do something more adventurous, like stenciling walls with graffiti or scaling buildings and construction cranes at night to take sky-high photos that he posts on his website. But that Internet display space has been taken down until at least Oct. 30, when Carnevale is due back in court.

"My magic day," he said.

After he graduates next year, Carnevale, a history major, wants to travel the globe as a photographer. "My dream job," he said, "would be working for a magazine that needs somebody to tramp through the Arctic or some desert, or to track down some rebel group in the middle of nowhere."

But for now, Carnevale will have to be satisfied displaying his talents at a street fair in downtown Raleigh, where kids with sticky ice cream fingers paw at the dinosaur while their mothers snap photos.

Even though this latest barrel creation is sanctioned, it managed to get the cops' attention. But in a good way.

After Carnevale left the festival one night, the dinosaur toppled over. He figures it might have been a vandal -- a guerrilla vandal? -- or perhaps just the wind.

An off-duty officer saw the dinosaur in distress and recruited bar patrons to help him get the creature standing again. It was firmly back up on its two very large feet the next day, its hip and femur cracked, but still in much better shape than the unfortunate Barrel Monster.

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david.zucchino@latimes.com

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