Skot Armstrong

A long and harrowing account of how and where the artist grew up

It was also my good fortune that same year to encounter Mrs. Kerrick. As both of my parents worked and I had no siblings, there had always been a scramble to find some arrangement for keeping me supervised by an adult while I was home and they weren't. Mrs. Kerrick was an old friend of my mother's from her days at CRC. She had been a society wife in Texas and Mexico, but her husband hadn't left her that well-off when he met his maker. So Mrs. Kerrick joined our household as a sort of nanny/housekeeper/cook. I credit her with instilling in me values that transcended my rural West Virginia roots. It was at her urging that I was first taken to visit an art museum.

2. Leo Castelli made Jasper Johns sign my baseball.

In 1965, we moved to Huntington Beach. The house we landed in was actually purchased, so I wouldn't have to keep changing schools. Or so I thought. More on that anon.

It is perhaps useful to note here that although I was an only child growing up in California, my parents had huge families in West Virginia. They have 15 siblings between them. Because of this, every vacation we ever took was either to visit these families or to host their California visits.

This often provided me with a big bolt of culture shock. In West Virginia, I got to use outhouses, bathe in creeks or metal tubs, and eat things that I had been friendly with the day before. (I am a confirmed vegan now.) My grandfather on my father's side owned a farm and a sizable forest. His wife was a schoolteacher with a love of great books. Much of my early exposure to literary books is thanks to her. They also attended church every day. Notable features of my early visits to see them included a section of forest straight out of a children's book (aptly named Playhouse Rock) and endless attempts on my part to build amusement parks for the crawdads, including a sky ride, a Ferris Wheel and a roller coaster. My grandparents on my mother's side lived in a house that included a former store. It was filled with the most absurd things. When I first saw the artist Joseph Cornell, I was immediately reminded of the time I had spent rooting through that abandoned store. I continued this pattern of visitation about every other year until 1973.

Because we had moved to Huntington Beach in the middle of a school year, my first months were a bit rocky. I was tested and qualified for a gifted program, but my parents feared I might be tainted by such an experience. Once again, I was an only child left to the devices of my imagination. Among the things this produced was a lemonade stand manned by a ventriloquist's dummy.

A longstanding family tradition of my having a place to create my amusement-park experiments led my dad to build me a "clubhouse" in the back yard, where I had the advantage of a free-standing building in which to conduct my entertainment research. I think this had as much to do with maintaining their sanity as it did anything else. I was a 10-year-old P.T. Barnum.

In 1967, at the strong urging of many school officials, I was placed in an experimental program of the Ocean View School District for gifted kids. This had a profound impact on my life. Huntington Beach was just springing out of swamps and bean fields. Everybody who moved there had come from somewhere else. This created an interesting effect in that none of us was actually from Huntington Beach. Thus, everybody was not only a "new kid" in the neighborhood, but was a geek, as well. I still have many friends from that period.

In 1969, I started attending Marina High School. After two years of isolation from the general populace, we were dropped back into the general population. It was this year that I adopted the spelling "Skot."

Because I avidly hated everything about high school, I made it a point to graduate in three years. Three high school stories bear telling. In 1970, I started an Apathy Club at my school; the petition drive was so successful that we had the largest club on campus. The student activities director became so alarmed by me that he nicknamed me Charlie Manson because of the scary girl gang I had assembled. When I grew tired of being picked last for everything in gym class, I volunteered to be a team captain and picked all of the geeks. We dubbed ourselves the City of Hope Team and managed to get a geek picked as team captain in every sport. We refused to compete with the other kids and drove them quite mad.

3. I spent the Reagan years working for the IRS as a staff artist at a training center in Beverly Hills. I had a 17th-floor corner office with a northeast view that included the Hollywood sign.

During this period, I would go on long bike rides to Disneyland and the Long Beach Pike. I also took to hitchhiking up and down Pacific Coast Highway to Laguna Beach.

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