On any public day at Artexpo, a line forms outside of Stygian Publishing's booth. Fans and admirers of artist Yuroz gather and wait three, four, even five hours to meet him and experience an "art massage."
Yuroz coined the phrase to describe how he paints on people's clothes while they wear them. In terms of booth promotions, this is not just a magnet giveaway or a signed poster. This is an original work of art, designed specifically for each individual. With it comes personal conversation and the touch of the artist's hand, all for free--no strings attached.
"It has nothing to do with buying," said Yuroz, who debunks the myth that this is a clever marketing gimmick. Every one must wait in line for an art massage, even the customer who strolls in, buys a $ 4,000 serigraph and asks to be next in line as a favor. "How can I do that when people have been waiting for four hours?" Yuroz asked.
Fairness and equality strike a personal chord with the artist. Born in 1956 in Soviet Armenia, Yuroz was arrested for expressing his personal thoughts his art. He was placed in a concrete cell the size of a coffin. In 1985, he was able to immigrate to Los Angeles, where he worked odd jobs and painted whenever he could. In 1987, his work caught the eye of gallery owner Deborah Murry, who became his partner and manager. The following year, they exhibited at Artexpo.
"I'm a restless person. I like to move a lot," said Yuroz, looking back at his first show. He found it difficult to stand and wait for customers to enter his booth. So when he spotted an attractive woman in tight blue jeans walking by, he asked, "Would you mind if I do something on your jeans." She looked shocked. "I thought maybe she would hit me with something," Yuroz said.
But then he explained how be wanted to paint some roses, faces and symbols of love and romance on her jeans. The soft-spoken artist, using his persuasive charm, won her over. Thus, Yuroz pulled out markers and went to work. Twenty minutes later, the artist heard a round of applause as he finished. Then came the requests, "Can you do mine?" "Call you do mine?"
"I didn't realize what I had started," said Yuroz. "The next day people were looking for me. I guess I created some kind of tradition."
Since then, Yuroz has been doing his art massages from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each public day of the show. "It's a marathon," said the artist. Over the course of three days, he'll paint for as many as 500 different people.
At the end of the day, he returns to his hotel room to soak his hands mid get ready for the next day.
"It's an incredible high for me," said Yuroz, who draws inspiration from the stories people tell him while lie draws on their clothes. His sincerity and his gentle demeanor cause people to open their hearts to him, sharing tales of love, heartache, joy, fantasy and even sex. "It's very intimate in a sense," said Yuroz. "When they come to me, I don't draw just anything." The artist translates the stories they tell him into pictographs that reflect the personal time he spent with them.
"Human contact is the main issue," said Yuroz. "You take your time and listen to [people] and make them feel very special, and that carries on for a long time. It carries on with the T-shirt."
Some of Yuroz's human canvases end up buying his prints, sculptures and paintings. "People feel this is a friendly environment. They feel the energy here," said Yuroz. Children who once had their T-shirts painted come back as adults and buy prints, he said. People hear about the artist from friends, come to have their T-shirts painted and evolve into collectors. It's this spirit that has enabled Yuroz to build such a broad collector base and attract international commissions, such as a recent mural he created for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees' 50th anniversary. That commission began at Artexpo.
"You have to look at the bigger picture," said Yuroz, trying to explain his business philosophy. "Sometimes when you don't chase the money, the money starts chasing you.