I knew George DeMerle for many years. He was far more than a friend. Fellow-artist and colleague, daffy comedian, mentor, brother, activist, shaman and occasional roommate, George was a window into other worlds.
It's not just that I'm proud he was my friend. George changed my life. Read about this extraordinary man and see if he changes the way you look at things.
George was born in NYC to an alcoholic mother who fed him sugar water to save money on formula that she could spend on alcohol.
Eventually, sick and malnourished, he was removed from the home and spent the rest of his childhood in an orphanage. Skinny and dyslexic, he did poorly in school and was taunted by the other children. At sixteen, he ran away, lied about his age and joined the Merchant Marine.
Upon his release, George joined the CIA in the late 1950s. He worked throughout the Middle East and was imprisoned for a while in Egypt for espionage during this time.
The early 1960s found George deMerle working undercover for the FBI.
He infiltrated a number of organizations including the Weathermen, and was instrumental in the arrest of Abbie Hoffman, who knew and trusted him.
It was during this time that George began to question the paradigm he had followed all his life. He looked at the people he was assigned to betray or even kill, and saw that they were not evil people. In many cases, he saw that their cause was just, even noble.
And he looked at his own masters. The Vietnam War had already dragged on for years. Kennedy was gone, shot by a mysterious lone gunman whom no one seemed to know anything about but about whom swirled a thousand sinister rumors.
We had a crook for a President. The words "military-industrial complex," first spoken by Eisenhower more than a decade previous, were ominously loud in the minds of war-weary and corruption-weary Americans.
Sometime in late 60s George took LSD for the first time. It was an epiphany. He found himself flooded with overwhelming love for all humanity, unable to hate.
He could no longer be an agent for the Global Elite. He began to experiment with music, art, poetry, and drugs. He also began to feed false information back to his former masters.
Eventually of course he was caught and put on trial. He could have been convicted of treason and executed. Or he could have been locked away in some hole for the rest of his life.
In view of his prior service he was spared prison, but he was disgraced, branded a felon, and WATCHED for the rest of his life.
A Tribute To The Ultimate Indigo
I remember the first time I visited George deMerle's studio on Nursery Road in Irving, Texas, just outside Dallas. It would have been about 1983, before the heyday of the Dallas Artists Co-op. Fellow-artist Tom Blaney and I rode over in Tom's ancient green pickup, and on the way Tom was telling me how George built amazing sculptures out of vinyl cobwebs and painted them with fluorescent paint. That's just great, I thought. I'm gonna have to look at some guy's tacky, crappy art, smile and say something nice. Little did I know I was about to see amazing and magical things, and meet one of the most extraordinary people I would ever know. Over the next seventeen or eighteen years, George and I would laugh, cry, paint, march, laugh and laugh even more together. My former wife and I saw him through divorce, cancer, years of neglect and poverty, and his rediscovery as a seminal part of the Texas Arts scene and a truly unique human being.
The artwork above, "Universal Flower," was constructed in a special room George built onto his studio in late 1984. I helped with parts of the construction and painting as did Tom Blaney and several other artists. As far as I know, this is the only one of his webbing pieces to be successfully photographed. George's method of creating his amazing pieces was totally unique. First, an armature was constructed to define the basic forms. Then George applied a sprayed vinyl webbing that was similar to the fake cobwebs used for special effects in creepy movies. This was then spray-painted with day-glo colors. The pieces were displayed in darkened rooms in ultraviolet light. The effect was amazing.
The nature of the medium was such that George's elaborate installations were not permanent. After a time they simply fell apart. That was part of the message. You were supposed to BE there. And they were notoriously difficult to photograph. Under ordinary light they appeared as strange, contorted shapes painted in garish colors. In ultraviolet, they sprang to life as ethereal glowing shapes twisting, fading and merging, suggesting mysterious forms and familiar shapes and dissolving into mist that faded upward into darkness. Most of George's pieces were huge, and the viewer walked around and through them in a sort of simulated acid trip. Sometimes, hidden speakers and motors were used to introduce sound and motion to his pieces.
"Universal Flower" was a large figure in the shape of a crucifix. It was over eight feet tall. It was suspended in darkness slightly above the viewer. The figure was highlighted in orange and yellow, the contours suggested rather than defined by flickering veils of flame. The figure was not fastened to the cross behind it but was floating free, gazing upward, seeming to melt away into infinity even as it held the remaining imprint of a human form. The cross was a swirl of blue mist, lit here and there by tongues of purple flame. A crown of twelve brilliant yellow stars rotated slowly and silently above the figure's head. In the background was a barely-audible deep bass note which changed from time to time but was not really what you would call music.
The room that George displayed this work in was weeks in the building, and was in fact part of the sculpture itself. It had two doors for visitors to enter and exit. Each door was enclosed by a light-proof booth so that stray light would not get inside. The walls, ceiling and floor were painted flat black. They were flecked here and there with dots and spots of fluorescent paint so that one had the feeling of being surrounded by a field of stars. In addition, invisible wires of various lengths hung from above and rose here and there from the floor, each tipped with a glowing star. As one walked through the darkened room that was dominated by the glowing, life-affirming, noncrucified apparation, one was surrounded by a thre-dimensional field of stars. The entire thing was low-tech, ingenious and stunning in its originality and power.
The viewer entered through the heavily-cloaked entrance and up a wooden walkway or ramp that George had built with handrails to guide people in the darkness. Directly in front and beneath the giant figure was a wider area, a platform where several people could stand together. The entire walkway, heavily carpet to muffle any noise, inclined up to the slightly raised platform. It was built a degree or two off the horizontal the other way too, so that at no point did one stand one a level surface. The effect was one of slight dis-equilibrium that added to the otherworldly ambience.
In its sheltered environment, "Universal Flower" held up for many years, and was viewed by thousands of people. At no time did George ever promote or advertise this particular piece. A few local writers may have mentioned it in the alternative press. But word of mouth spread its fame, and people showed up at the oddest times. Sometimes groups would ring the bell, as many as ten or more, and ask to see the sculpture. George was nearly always gracious in admitting people into his home and studio, where he would regale them for hours whether they were old friends or total strangers. Many people left in tears after meeting George and spending time in the presence of this transcendent piece of art. Many left cash donations for George, who at that time was literally a starving artist.
The whole time I knew him, George deMerle had one message: Love. Peace. Harmony. He was upbeat, funny, witty, and endlessly entertaining. He had the knack of really connecting and listening to people, too. He had hugs for all. He took a childlike delight in everything and everyone. George deMerle was a mystic, a philosopher, artist and poet, and he was my friend. I loved him.
George told the most amazing stories about his past. For years I only half-believed the stories of spying and undercover work. Then the Republican Convention came to Dallas, and I saw with my own eyes how "they" never let him out of their sight. We are talking MIBs folks. Men In Black, seriously. Very seriously. For the duration of the convention, they parked across the street in black sedans with tinted windows. They never smiled. They never took off their sunglasses.
There's much more I can say about this amazing guy, and I will be adding to the web page.
In the early 90s George met his third wife, Carol. It was she who lifted him from ill health and poverty and gave him the love and dignity he so richly deserved in his final years. Together they lived in suburban Tarrant County, outside Fort Worth, and ran a sancuary for injured birds. George died at home on October 9, 2007.