October 21, 2006

Train graffiti artist exposed in Reno-made film


Erik Burke had always been fascinated by trains and graffiti art. The two together were irresistible to him, and his favorite train artist was a man known only as "Colossus of Roads."
Even if you have no interest in art, graffiti or trains, Burke's film about his bicycle trip with a friend from Reno to Arkansas to track down BuZ Blurr, the artist and railway man who for 30 years created the drawing known as "Colossus," carries you along on Burke's enthusiasm and Blurr's intelligence and talent.
The film "The Road to Colossus" is one of the local movies being shown during the "Made in Nevada Film Series" at the Nevada Museum of Art. "Road to Colossus" shows Nov. 2. Burke was a recent graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno's art school when he decided to take on his first documentary; about the man behind the drawing of a cowboy with shifting captions that appeared on trains everywhere.
"I came from graffiti art, which is repetitive," Burke said. "You have a sort of logo that never changes, but his was similar because of the same drawing, but they each had a different little caption. And I had just come from the art school, where I was getting too conditioned about the idea of everything being so sacred where you spend so much time on something and then touch it with only your pinkies and dance around it. But train art is gone as soon as you paint it. It's about the performance of art instead of the final act."
Through the Internet, Burke tracked down a man who seemed to know too much about the drawings to be anyone but the artist himself. Blurr, who drove from Arkansas last week to attend the first North American showing of the film in San Francisco, said he graduated from art school but took a job with the railroad to support his young family.
"I always wanted to be an artist," Blurr said.
"And I am an artist who wants to work in the railroad," Burke cut in.
"He doesn't want to work on the railroad, I can tell you that," Blurr finished.
"(The movie) is kind of how our lives are on similar but different planes," Burke said. "When I got to his house, I felt like it was a big Mobius loop."
Once there, Blurr takes Burke on a tour of the old train yards. Blurr explains the Colossus drawing was a creative outlet for him, and the captions underneath are like a diary.
He has documentation of the captions for years at a time. Many are about art and artists, but some are just about day-to-day matters. For instance: June 22, 1976, under about 30 drawings, he wrote "Travis Bickle" because he had recently watched "Taxi Driver" and felt a connection to the Robert De Niro character.
"It's a prompt or recall for my life at that time," he says now.
The film, which also shows some of Blurr's other art, including the "mail art" and stamps he creates, is also the story of two friends who came together because of a mystery and the myth of the "Colossus of Roads," but became friends because of the power of a shared love of transitory art and their hulking canvases.

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