Paula: Tim Guthrie is an internationally exhibited and award-winning multimedia artist. He is also the best movie-dialogue-reciter I have ever met, which endeared him to me immediately. We met at an artist colony and bonded over late-night poker and blackjack and good-natured mocking. Tim is a card shark. Did I ever win, Tim?
Paula: He’s being nice. Multi- is a good description of you, yes?
Tim: I paint ambidextrously.
Paula: See? Is there anything you can’t do?
Tim: I can’t sleep. I have insomnia. Sometimes I only get three hours, and then I’m a zombie.
Paula: I’m sorry, that’s awful. And yet, you’re able to do an incredible range of work. Talk to me about the urinal project—a perfect combination of irreverence, political subversiveness, and frat-boy stunt. How did you come up with the idea?
Tim: Even though I exhibited my traditional work in museums and galleries, I was also doing all sorts of subversive political work on the side, including blood droplets with the word OIL on them that fit neatly inside those yellow ribbon magnets. I would put these on nearly every car I could find with a yellow ribbon. Few people knew about that work, however.
Paula: You did that anonymously?
Tim: Yes. I was living in Nevada before we invaded Iraq. One of my brothers served for decades in the military. I have many friends who’ve served. I was best man for a military friend’s wedding. However, the idea of going to war with Iraq baffled me, and I decided I wanted to protest the idea before we actually went to war. I was thinking about those ubiquitous stickers on trucks with the ripped-off image of Calvin (and Hobbes) that showed Calvin urinating on whatever symbol the owner of the vehicle disliked. I hated those stickers, but thought it would be funny to turn the idea into a piece about the imminent war. I purchased boxes and boxes of pink urinal cakes. I carved the word WAR in each of the cakes and placed them in urinals in as many government buildings as I could, including the state capitol and the governor’s mansion.
Paula: Did you ever get caught?
Tim: No, surprisingly. I had to go through a lot of metal detectors, and no matter how many baggies I put the urinal cakes in, I reeked of them. People must have been offended by my smell, but no one ever said anything. Whenever I had to empty my pockets before I walked through security, I left the cakes in my pockets. No one ever checked to see if I had anything else. It would have been awkward if I had ever been patted down by a guard.
Paula: And no one knew you were doing it?
Tim: Eventually, a writer at the Reno Gazette figured out I was doing the project and interviewed me anonymously. I used a fake group name: The Dadaist Fountainheads. Bush still had an 80% approval rating at that time, and little dissent was tolerated. But it was really just me doing all of it. I had even put some in the Gazette building. The reporter didn’t believe me about that at first. And then he checked.
Paula: So is this the first time you’re coming clean on this…?
Tim: Yes. I’ve mentioned it in small artist talks, but never in an open forum like this.
Paula: Do you sell the individual bars? I’m thinking of my guest powder room; you know, it needs that special something.
Tim: I could carve you a few if you want. Or soap!
Paula: Did you scrub that thing first? That is the cleanest urinal I’ve ever seen.
Tim: How many have you seen?
Paula: Do you believe I got through this without mentioning Tony Orlando?
Tim: I might’ve believed it, but now you have mentioned Tony.