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This is a portrait of Joe Camel, the old advertising logo/character for Camel Cigarettes.  Like my other portraits, the medium used relates directly to the life of the subject.  This particular piece is made up of around 15,000 cigarette butts, all of which are smoked by either myself, or someone I know; family, friends, lovers, co-workers, etc.  The brand of cigarettes used is about 80%-90% Camel, but to achieve the range of colors needed to get the contrast/resolution, I had to use other brands.  I like the fact that not all the cigarettes are Camel.  I am fully aware of "brand loyalty" among smokers, but there is not a single smoker alive (myself included) that has not smoked other kinds of cigarettes when they were out and they felt that "need" to smoke.   
This piece will probably be perceived many different ways.  I'm sure all those target-market hypocrites will think that "every cigarette butt represents a life that smoking takes every day" or some hippie crap like that.  Feel free to take it that way if you want; after all, it's probably true, and the beauty of art is that the viewer is free to take from it what he/she wants.  However, that was not my intended message.  In fact, I was actually going in the opposite direction.  Years back, Joe Camel was banned from all advertising/promoting for tobacco because it was decided that he marketed directly to children.  It could be true that he did market to children, but I do not believe that he should have been made illegal because of it.  He also appealed very well to adults.  I know countless adults that collected the Joe Camel merchandise with the "Camel Cash" they got with each pack they smoked because they connected with the image/character.  Who cares if kids liked him too, he was/still is a giant cultural icon.  He is probably the most recognizable symbol in the history of tobacco, and like it or not, there is almost no other industry as important to the development of our nation as tobacco.  
Besides, if we are going to start banning characters from advertising that market dangerous goods/services to children, why not start at the top of the food chain; and I mean "food chain" literally because I'm talking about Ronald McDonald.  Yeah, I said it.  The number one killer in this country is cholesterol and heart disease.  Studies have proven time and again that dietary habits are learned at a young age, and everywhere kids look they've got Ronnie and the gang trying to shove fat-filled burgers and salty deep fried potatoes down their throats in the form of a "happy meal."  Call me cynical, but if those hypocrites ban one of these characters, shouldn't they ban them all? 
I personally don't believe that any character or figure should be made illegal because they market to children, because I feel it's up to the parents to actually start raising their kids, and teaching them about the dangers of smoking/fast food/etc.  But I guess it's become habit in this country to pawn off the important responsibilities of parenting (sexual education, nutrition, drugs, etc) up to babysitters, schools, or churches; groups typically "educate" children on subjects like this with fear rather than nurturing.  But that's an argument for another day back to the piece.
Another reason using cigarette butts is significant, is due to all of the smoking bans happening in our nation.  State after state is making it illegal to smoke in any public buildings, including restaurants and bars.  This strikes me as just silly, because every smoker knows that the best cigarettes in the world (except maybe the one after sex), are the cigarettes smoked after a meal, or with alcohol.  Scrumptious!  It seems the only way to get a cigarette in any building anymore, is when it's transformed into something other than a cigarette like artwork.  If this piece is banned from being shown in any public building because it contains tobacco products, I might just lose it. 
            The frame for this piece is the part that really "brought it to life" for me.  I constructed a giant ashtray using Styrofoam, newspaper, and glue.  I then painted it and sealed it in acrylic.  I let the newspaper I used subtly show through the paint to reflect the constant controversies surrounding smoking that are constantly flooding the media.  Some of the articles used are actually about just that.  The piece itself is 48.25 inches in diameter, but the ashtray frame wrapping around it brings the circle to 58 inches total diameter.  The large size of this typically small item references the work of Claes Oldenburg.  My other big influences for this piece include Chuck Close and Andy Warhol.