Behind the walls of his bomb shelter, a man dressed completely in black sits behind a row of computer monitors. Reflected images dance on his black-framed glasses as he hunches over his desk. On the wall, a painting depicts Dred Scott being lynched by an American flag.
The bunker is really an old pharmacy converted into postmodern art space. The man in black goes by Atomic Elroy, an artist, noted curmudgeon and art critic -- emphasis on critic.
Tom McElroy, 50, grew up in Massachusetts before moving to Colorado Springs at age 13, an event he describes as "total culture shock." But he soon found an outlet for his teenage angst in experimental plays at Palmer High School and Frank Zappa records. He didn't graduate because he skipped PE class too often.
He has worked as an actor and theater technician and with almost every Colorado Springs theater producing company. He became director of performing arts at the Fine Arts Center in the late 1980s, but since 1990 he's run his own studio, Chaos.
Sometime after 1990, Atomic Elroy and a group of like-minded activists formed the local "art police" with a mission of highlighting and fighting lame art. They targeted the "Hank the Cowboy" statue downtown, covering it with black plastic, and attended art openings dressed as aliens. "The critics in the town have no cojones," he said of others who give bad art a pass.
He hasn't lately been stirring up "art police" trouble, but Atomic Elroy has not faded away. "I feel obligated to not fade away," he said, "to not become as complacent as everyone else."
-- Dan Wilcock
photo by Bruce Elliott