Pigheadedly Painting His Mural, Hog Heaven, for 20 Years Has Made Arno Jordan a Master of Swine Art
I guess what I am," Arno Jordan says with a shrug and a smile, "is the Michelangelo of pig painters." If so, Hog Heaven is his Sistine Chapel. For 20 years Jordan has labored on his chef d'oeuvre, painting and restoring a vision of porcine paradise in which swine run free, roll in mud and chomp corncobs on more than 4,000 feet of wall space—the longest commercial mural in the U.S. The only thing that taints Hog Heaven is its location. It decorates the exterior walls of the Clougherty Packing Company in Vernon, Calif.—a place, yes, where pigs go to meet their sausage maker. "It's a monument to all pigs," says Jordan, 55, whom Clougherty pays by the hour, "to the ones coming in and the ones going out."
A mural painter since 1960, Jordan did much of his early work on nightclub walls. His subject: topless dancers. He switched to pigskin in 1968, after Hog Heaven's original artist, Les Grimes, fell to his death from a scaffold. Since then Jordan has carried on the dangerous tradition, adding new scenes and retouching others as they fade in the sun. To paint the blue sky and fluffy clouds on one wall, he hangs over a roof ledge 50 feet up while a helper holds him by the ankles. Who says this isn't high art?
It is fast art, however. To save time, Jordan uses rollers for the clouds, and he can knock off a decent pig by hand in 10 minutes. Yet attention to quality—like getting just the right pigment—isn't sacrificed. "If you don't mix your colors," says Jordan, "it cheapens the whole thing."
Of course, covering a packing house with pigs (722 of 'em, by plant security guard Al Bragg's latest count) can get to be a grind. Fortunately, Jordan rarely takes his work home with him. After his five-hour day, he drives back to his home in Rialto and looks forward to a good meal. "I do love roast pork," says the artist, "but at my age, I try to stay away from too much fat."
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