Desert Companion

Ones 2 watch: artist Biscuit Street Preacher

His vibrant, restless paintings will open your eyes — and teach them to listen

You don’t so much look at a painting by Biscuit Street Preacher as listen to it. There’s an unmistakable music — maybe a broken calliope or toy xylophone — coming off his big canvases that nudge and bumble lovingly into your visual field. Their subjects are water tanks, radio towers, ice cream trucks, sunglasses, midway games, chemicals — the pleasures and perks of the industrialized world. But their visual style is one of negotiated whimsy; Biscuit’s childish, blocky faces and double-image objects suggest an innocent mind making sense of a complex, messy world. And that process, oddly, creates its own world. Biscuit Street Preacher is a responsible, articulate, earthy fantasist.

“My figures can do anything and go anywhere in a painting that they want to,” says Biscuit, aka Robby Martin. He’s gesturing at a painting in progress — a roller rink scene — in his living room-turned-painting studio. “I learned that from Marc Chagall. His figures float and they’re completely free. My style’s been called ‘figurative narrative,’ but to me it’s freedom, it’s living that fantasy, it’s no rules, you know?”

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That distinctive style was what convinced Marty Walsh, owner of Trifecta Gallery, to represent Biscuit (biscuitstreetpreacher.com); today, she says, he’s one of her best-selling painters. “His narrative voice is so original,” she says. “I liken his paintings to when a kid is telling a story and makes it up as he goes along, getting more excited and embellishing based on stuff he’s seen, anything from TV to the street.”

Or stuff he’s heard. Music instigated Biscuit’s artistic calling, and today it infuses his work. As a young man in York, Penn., he played in a rock band — and was also the guy conscripted to hand-draw posters and flyers for gigs. After the band split in the early '90s, he moved to Las Vegas and adopted the name Biscuit Street Preacher — a sort of capsule food-and-culture nod to his family’s Southern roots. Here, Biscuit pored over art books, practiced and methodically reinvented himself as a painter. Then he begin inventing worlds.

“Art should do that same thing that rock does. It should take you away for a while,” he says. “That’s my gripe about rock bands. I remember seeing KISS or Pink Floyd back in Philly, and it was like stepping into another world. Now you see a rock band, and they’re in sweat pants and a bummy T-shirt, like the same people you see in line at Walmart. There’s no fantasy there. Does that make sense?” We totally hear you.

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