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A conversation with Sketch Master Flexx

Sooner or later, Pittsburghers are bound to encounter Sketch Master Flexx -- a.k.a. Sketchy, a.k.a. Criss Crass, or a.k.a. simply "Eric" -- as he travels through the naked city. From his three-story house -- formerly abandoned -- on the North Side,

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How did you end up in this house?
I had been in another house, and I knew this one was empty. The old couple who owned it, the man died and the wife didn't want to live here, so she said I could. I've been here since January. When I came in, it was foul. The carpets on the floor smelled like dog shit. The back door was off the hinges. I somehow got the heat going and sectioned off the front room. After two months, I started cleaning and fixing. I've worked my ass off since then. The neighbors are awesome. They haven't bothered me. In a richer neighborhood, they have these awful things called lawyers.

 

How does your solar system work?

I found a solar panel from a Volkswagen in the trash. I thought, "OK, I'll save it for later." Later I got some similar ones for like $15 at Radio Shack. I think they'd discontinued them because people were complaining that they weren't enough to charge the battery. With five solar panels on the roof, I can constantly use the stereo. I can leave it on. It would play continuously for as long as everything was connected. It'll run out sometime during the night; I don't have enough to power it all night. [The panels] get about 48 watts at about five volts in full sunlight. In light like this I can run the TV for about an hour or so. As the power goes down the picture shrinks. This is the most historical area of the city. Why shouldn't there be a house that doesn't use electricity?

 

And your water system?

This is like something that'd be in a zine. We have a flat roof. Enough water falls on the roof of the house, if you collect it, you have water for the whole house. It goes into a 55-gallon drum, then from the drum into food-service grade tube, next into a garden hose [loosely coiled on the roof], so when the sun's out it makes hot water. That runs down the side of the house into the second-story window. One [branch of tubing] goes to the second-story bedroom shower and sink and toilet; the other goes into the kitchen. From the sprayer [on the kitchen hose], there's a 10-foot spray because of gravity.

 

Had you ever done any of this kind of handiwork before?

No. A lot of it is assembling different knowledge from classes from school. A lot of it is wanting to do things for myself. It's this glee of seeing myself do these things. I say, "We have a solar-powered art studio on the North Side." Even established artists who pay their rent and car payments are like, "You have a what?!"

 

Why live this way?

If people honestly wanted to get it together, they'd never have to pay rent. Rent is like feudalism, they own the land and you have to pay part of your crop to rent. We're all human; no one person should have to sleep outside unless they choose to. There's this thin line between people who live paycheck to paycheck and homelessness. This Saran Wrap-thin line.

 

What do you hope for in this house?

I don't even want to live here ... I'd like to make this the Pittsburgh Artists Collective and live somewhere smaller. In Pittsburgh, there's this big obsession with Andy Warhol. It's bad that they think he's so big when they have that in themselves. It's all in how you present it: Like if you have two hamburgers on a plate, but if you add bread and lettuce and tomato ... hey, that looks good! I feel like society is giving me an opportunity to grow into something other than what normal people are doing. They need artists, musicians, people showing them other worlds.

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