Art Gecko is the name of a movement long misunderstood in the art world. Art Gecko, which reigned supreme in interior design for about five minutes during 1926, was, of course, a direct descendant of Art Deco. The main difference between the two styles was that Art Deco’s sleek, stylized lines brought elegance to interior design, furniture and very tall buildings, whereas Art Gecko—with its overriding obsession with the gecko form—graced one very short building in Des Moines, Iowa and a rest stop near San Francisco. Both were later torn down and replaced with portable toilets.
The Art Gecko movement began shortly after the Art Deco movement was named in 1925 A.D., following the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. Herb Sillcox, the founder of Art Gecko (who has recently come out of hiding in an attempt to revive the movement), organized and carried out the one-man exhibition that would in turn give Art Gecko its name and small but rabid following: the Exposition Internationale des Rest Stops Décoratifs et Geckos Modernes in Des Moines.
Art Gecko was a natural and understandable effort to amend the previous century’s apparent oversight of geckos in painting, sculpture and tatting. Sillcox often bemoaned the fact that so few extant art pieces portrayed geckos in any form and medium. Whereas symmetry, simplicity and geometric patterns were characteristic of Art Deco, perhaps the only recognizable characteristic of Art Gecko was the predominant positioning of geckos in each work.
Important influences upon Art Gecko were Hulke Sillcox (Herb’s mom), whose crocheted afghans featured a gecko in every granny patch, and Bette Greenhouser, at whose notorious Des Moines card parties female guests were invited to clamp a gecko on each earlobe as they walked in the door. Cubism, with its emphasis on the geometric, had a huge impact on Art Deco—but absolutely none on Art Gecko. Sadly, no leading designers took up the banner of Art Gecko and brought it to the forefront in any of the fine or domestic arts. In fact, it would not be until the late 1970s or 1980s that a popular clothing manufacturer would place a gecko on T-shirts and other apparel, thus lending credence to Sillcox’s insistence that he had changed the way the world looked at geckos.
Art Gecko grew increasingly compulsive in its obsession with the gecko form as it became apparent to Sillcox and his handful of maladapted supporters that the movement was not a major one. While the spiritual center of the Art Gecko movement continued to be Des Moines, a disgruntled adherent who had moved to California attempted to branch off by carving geckos on the stalls of a San Francisco Bay Area rest stop. He was soon arrested for defacing public property and jailed on unrelated charges, where he spent his days writing hate mail to Herb Sillcox.
While the Art Deco form can be viewed today in Radio City Music Hall’s interior and the Chrysler Building’s exterior, there are no remaining public monuments to Art Gecko. Herb Sillcox’s storage building in Des Moines was razed in the 1960s, and the rest stop near San Francisco was destroyed in a freak fire. (Coincidentally, the erstwhile Sillcox disciple had been released from custody just two hours prior.) Art Gecko founder Sillcox promises to rebuild his movement from the ground up.
© Erica Jeffrey 2007