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But once he graduated, Huck says, "This stuff just exploded out."
Over the next three years, holed up first in his parents' house in Potosi and then in a small apartment in Columbia, trying to support himself and his first wife with adjunct teaching jobs, Huck produced "2 Weeks in August."
"When you don't have a paycheck, it really goes into the work," he says. "You don't have a choice but to become good at it. I could teach at Jefferson Community College, work at a gas station or go to jail those were my choices. Or I could be a printmaker."
As Huck's career began to take off, his marriage collapsed. He and his first wife divorced in 2002. (He declines to go into details, other than to say the two haven't spoken in six years.) He admits that he went off the rails after the divorce, drinking heavily and hanging out in strip clubs. He credits this time with fueling the darker, more obsessively detailed prints in "The Bloody Bucket" suite.
Though he has restricted his goings-out to a weekly visit to Blueberry Hill, Huck still has an affinity for the wild side. He has left instructions that when he dies, his remains are to be cremated and scattered on the east side on mud-wrestling night.
Huck is relieved when the National Honor Society ceremony ends, though he can't quite get over the religious overtones. He doesn't recall anything like that when he was a student at Potosi High, he says.
After a brief appearance at the cookies-and-punch reception, we stop in at his parents' house before heading back to St. Louis. By the time we get back on the road it's nearly eleven. Just past the commercial area of Hillsboro along Highway 21, flashing lights appear behind us.
We pull onto the shoulder. Oddly, the officer who climbs out of a Hillsboro squad car approaches the passenger side of the car. Shining his flashlight inside, he informs me that I was going 56 in a 40-mile-an-hour zone and asks for my ID and proof of insurance.
Then he asks for Huck's ID and heads back to his cruiser.
A short while later, the officer returns with my papers and a speeding citation. I ask whether he has Huck's ID. He still has that, he says tersely, and leaves once more.
Another Hillsboro squad car arrives, then one more. At last the officer approaches the passenger side again and instructs Huck to step out of the vehicle.
I watch as Huck is handcuffed, then follow as he is transported to Hillsboro police headquarters to be booked on a bench warrant involving a traffic stop in Clayton. He is detained for two hours before being permitted to post bond. (The Clayton case, a violation for failure to show proof of insurance, will later be dismissed.)
"Typical small-town cops with very little to do. I come to expect these things now," Huck says as we finally put Potosi behind us.
Increasingly, Huck is putting Potosi in his own rearview mirror. Not only are his works getting bigger The Transformation of Brandy Baghead is by far the largest woodcut he has ever undertaken they're also getting broader.
"You'll see him shifting away from just making fun of hillbillies to broader, bigger things as he begins maturing more," his friend Phil Slein predicts. "I think Huck pretty much owns St. Louis. I don't think he's fully matured as an artist. That's how much growth is left in him. I think he's going to get more attention in New York."
Responding via e-mail, Huck's New York representative, Kate McCrickard, sounds a more cautious note. Though she says his chosen medium "suits his renegade vision really quite well," she notes that printmaking's lower price tag too often translates to lower prestige among collectors.
Carmon Colangelo, Huck's boss at Washington U. and a printmaker himself, agrees. But, Colangelo adds, "What's interesting is that printmakers are on the margin, looking into the center. They can kind of mimic and make fun of the art world at the same time."
In the near term, Huck seems most excited about the possibilities afforded by the new press he acquired for Evil Prints. Custom-built by Warren Sauer of Sauer Custom Machines in Kirkwood, it's pimped out with Evil Prints' black-and-red color scheme and decorated with decals of 1940s pin-up models. Atop one of the hand cranks is a metal skeleton with eyes that glow bright red. "This press changed my life," Huck says. "It's a dream come true."
Huck produces his prints in limited editions of twelve to fifteen, priced at about $3,000 apiece and he usually can't carve more than one or two blocks a year. So the press promises a vital source of income. Huck envisions Evil Prints as a print shop like Landfall Press in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There well-known artists print special editions of their work, which Landfall then sells. It won't exactly be lucrative, but combined with his teaching gig it should pay the bills. (Huck married Anne Treeger, an artist and educator, in 2005; the couple and their infant daughter live in south St. Louis not far from Carondelet Park.)
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