ARTIST CELEBRATES ASBURY PARK “BACK IN THE DAY” PALACE AMUSEMENTS & TILLIE + SOME LOCAL HISTORY
Since she was a little girl, artist Patricia Arroyo of Neptune has been fascinated with Tillie, the iconic clown face synonymous with excitement at the Asbury Park Boardwalk.
Growing up in the area, some of her first memories are of time with her dad in Palace Amusements (located approximately where Wesley Grove condominium development stands today). Thanks to her dad’s friend, she enjoyed the games and rides as well as the behind-the-scenes mechanics that made the joyful magic happen, always gravitating to the handmade paper-mache figures that decorated the rides.
Her youthful heart beat faster each time she was greeted by the neon-glowing Tillie face adorning both sides of the Palace building.
“We would drive down Cookman Avenue and the two neon Tillies glowed on the side of the Palace,” said Arroyo of the clown face originally created by Leslie Thomas in the 1940’s. “It was so exciting. You could see the rides inside through the windows. The arcade games took dimes. Tillie represented pure fun and happiness for everyone. My dad was a kid in big shoes and Tillie meant fun for all of us.”
She had no idea how much of an influence that time would have on her life.
Grammar school-age in the 1970’s, she spent hours jumping off the Belmar Bridge with friends. Afterwards, Arroyo would dig for clams in Shark River and sell them to boaters docked at the Belmar Marina for 25 cents each.
“I used the money to buy art supplies at Schatzo’s five and ten store,” said Arroyo. “For as long as I can remember, I always loved to draw Tillie. I feel like Tillie has taken the ride of life with me. Asbury Park has always been a dominant storyline of life for me.”
After working as a nurse for a few years in the 1990’s, Arroyo began focusing on her art full-time. The first oil painting she completed was of Palace Amusements because that was where her best memories began.
Today, Arroyo’s studio is housed at Camp Evans in Wall at a reclaimed 14-foot wide former Dimaxion Deployment Unit, (imagine a one-story grain silo). There, Arroyo showcases her dynamic abstract series inspired by late-nights in Paris and Amsterdam.
Executed in deep, emotional tones with broad, hard strokes, the series features “everyman” sharing life in some of the most beautiful places on earth. With a nod to cubism in each piece, the figures are expressionless but shout to the viewer. Contrasting that sharp energy are the artist’s subtle, soft, dreamy watercolors which evoke an inner calm and respect of the organic beauty in the world.
But the one constant – the one dominant in Arroyo’s decades of work – is a celebration of Tillie and Palace Amusements. This ongoing series, executed primarily with oil on wood or canvas, tells a story while highlighting a dramatically different component of the artist’s talents and vision.
“Human feelings and challenges are expressed through Tillie and his friends,” said Arroyo. “I use symbolism to convey experiences of my generation. The pieces go deep into personalities and connections. Twin Tillies play on ideas of loss and destruction. I combine realism and cartoons to speak about a moment. I want each piece to be difficult to move on from.”
The viewer is drawn to the art that seems to pay homage to predecessors like artist Roy Lichtenstein and Mad Magazine’s character Alfred E. Neuman. Arroyo’s illustrative art is deceptively emotional. Challenging for both the artist and the viewer, each piece would serve as the chapter of a book.
“Every piece has a methodical backstory,” said Arroyo. “In this series, Tillie has a family and life and history. I write out actual storylines and then choose parts of the story to paint.”
From an adolescent Tillie sneaking a peek at the Girlie Show or, errr… clowning around with his girlfriend, a “feisty Spanish chick,” Arroyo’s ongoing series translates universal moments in time. Similar to a cartoonist, Arroyo begins by writing out storylines ultimately giving life to the words with her paintbrushes.
“My favorite piece right now is how I would imagine Tillie’s 21st birthday,” said Arroyo. “With all my art, I want people to see their own story and have fun with it like I did at Palace Amusements.”
Learn more about Arroyo and her art by liking her Facebook page.
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