December 02, 2014


Once again I have the joy of participating in Gallery 1988's Crazy 4 Cult art show (opening December 12th) in which nearly a hundred artists pay tribute to cult films. This year I tried a new format, and created a set of decorative mirrors like the ones that were offered as carnival game prizes throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s that featured the cultural icons of the moment.

Before we take a closer look at my stuff, let us review the enthralling history of prize mirrors. The concept seems to have emerged in the '70s, and the mirrors were quickly rumored to double as a handy surface to cut n' sniff cocaine. When they first showed up in the carnys' trailers most were nearly as large as record album covers, and contained in semi-sturdy wooden frames, with the images screen-printed onto the glass...

Over the years their quality devolved dramatically.

Some of the earlier mirrors were marbled with decorative colored veins, but this feature was soon discontinued for the most part...

(photos came from ebay)

Multiple sizes were available to accommodate the "Small" and "Large" prize categories, but as the '80s progressed the big ones were mostly phased out in favor of the six by six universal standard...

The wooden (and sometimes metallic plastic) frames were downgraded to cardboard.

The next degradation was replacing the mirrors with regular clear glass, and printing the image on back.


In their chintziest form the prizes consisted of a piece of glass slipped in front of a cardstock printout in a cardstock frame.


However, in recent years the spirit of the carnival prize mirror lives on in its descendent, the framed poster.

All that said, my mirror creations are meant to emulate those middle years when real mirrors were still in use, but the frames were low-end.

One wonders if any of the imagery was ever officially authorized, but bootlegging was certainly rampant, and some fascinating "off-guide" artwork could be found...

While the format changed dramatically, the visual themes remained constant. The subjects revolved around the sex, drugs, & rock formula, and in my neck of the woods there was also a healthy dose of pro-gun and confederate pride propaganda.

This was the inspiration for my tribute to John Carpenter's 1982 version of The Thing...

Naturally, Kurt Russell's character is all-American, but as you may recall, the Thing is first unleashed in a Norwegian research camp in the Arctic, thus the Norwegian flag that gives the design its confederate flavor. Since carnival mirrors are rife with misguided typography I happily took the opportunity to use the font Hobo. It's a typeface I try to work into as many projects as possible, yet sadly my efforts are almost always shot down.

(In case you can't tell, the images are placed on real mirrors. They just look a bit weird because I blurred the reflections in Photoshop. )

I've always enjoyed the way that traveling fairs embraced 80's Heavy Metal music and then refused to let go long after its heyday. Just last year I heard a Gravitron proudly blaring Poison and Cinderella. Since the majority of prize mirrors are rock related I aimed high by mashing up Evil Dead 2 (1987), a quintessential horror flick, with Iron Maiden, the embodiment of carnival life.

Occupying the airbrushed tropical beach babe slot is this homage to Predator (1987). It's not so far-fetched once you reflect on how purely sexy that helmet is.

Lastly, representing the common theme of substance abuse, I chose to pay tribute to another John Carpenter joint, They Live (1988).  It seemed fitting since the aliens in the film use media as an opiate. Of course the Zig Zag man would be one of them.

My mirrors will be for sale as a set once Crazy 4 Cult begins on December 12th. (EDIT: They sold!!) Here's the link to all the art.


Brian Barnes said...

I was never the biggest fan of the prize mirrors because, since they were usually screened from lifted art, they were on-model.

Carnivals were best when every prize, every decoration, every wall painting had sightly off-model characters in it. You could tell what character the artist was trying to do, but it just wasn't right in proportions or some other hard to grasp reason.

Other than rant, nice job on theses, the Eddie/Evil Dead mash-up is inspired!

Kirk D. said...

Thanks Brian!

I love how all the off art (including the stuff on the dark rides) makes the carnival world even more surreal.

chaster said...

Love your blog, keep up the good work!

Dr. kold_kadavr_flatliner, MD, the sub/dude said...

God blessa youse -Fr. Sarducci, ol SNL

Scott Yancey said...

Nice Love Them

Rev said...

I've been wanting to make these for years, but I can't figure out a good way of going about it.

Any tips?

Kirk D. said...

Actual screen printing would be the ultimate way. But my way involved...
buying some vintage carnival mirrors for their frames
getting new "blank" mirrors cut at my local glass place
printing my original designs on some printable vinyl sticker sheets I got off Amazon. I cut my art out with an exacto blade and stuck it on there. That last part was pretty tough actually. I wasted a lot of printouts.
It might be worth trying to print an image on a transparent sticker because then you wouldn't have to cut the image out.
good luck!

Becca Bankston said...

This is a great post and great collection!
You say that the mirrors were "rumored" to be coke mirrors. Well that is incorrect. It was blatantly known and accepted that they were coke mirrors. In the seventies, when I was a teen, drug use had gone mainstream and was pretty out there in the culture.

There was much more money in the economy then( the ruling elite was only taking about 40% of the country's income, not like the 99% it is taking today), so most people were doing fairly well and not struggling too bad, even the poor. And with a better economy people are less conservative and more free. And the 70's was really the first decade of wide spread drug use and people were pretty lackadaisical about it.

Within a few years, though people started to see both the ravages of drug addiction and the worse ravages of the Republican party and Reagan who closed all the mental institutions and also pushed forth Supply Side Economics which enabled the ruling elite very richest to start taking 70% of the country's income rather than the 40% they were taking in the 70's.

So with both the rise in drug problems and the rise in money being taken by the ruling elite in the 80's in addition to the AIDS epidemic and decreased wealth of the masses due to the widespread theft of the ruling elite, people became over all more conservative (as they do when money is scarce) and people the widespread use and acceptance of recreational drugs such as marijuana and cocaine went back in hiding.

But in the 70's, it was very well known that the purpose of these rock and roll motif mirrors was for doing lines of cocaine, and then just like the Pennsylvania Dutch Shakers who would hang their chairs up on the wall when they were done using them, you would hang your cocaine mirror back on the wall when you were done using it.