Fairhope's top dog: Artist Paul Outlaw has 65-foot hot dog sculpture on display in Times Square

By MELANIE LECROY
Lifestyle Editor
melanie@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 6/4/24

From small-town Fairhope to Times Square may seem like a leap, but for artist Paul Outlaw it's been his trajectory. Right now, Outlaw and partner in life and art Jen Catron are busy with their newest …

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Fairhope's top dog: Artist Paul Outlaw has 65-foot hot dog sculpture on display in Times Square

Posted

From small-town Fairhope to Times Square may seem like a leap, but for artist Paul Outlaw it's been his trajectory.

Right now, Outlaw and partner in life and art Jen Catron are busy with their newest commission, a 65-foot-long hot dog on display in New York City's Times Square.Yes, you read that correctly. The 65-foot hot dog is mounted on a semi-tractor-trailer and includes hydraulics that can raise it to a 50-degree angle, and it also shoots confetti daily.

The Path

Many small-town kids have big dreams, and Outlaw is just one local example of how those dreams can come true in a big way.

His path is rooted on the Eastern Shore. He lived in Spanish Fort until just before eighth grade when they moved to Fairhope. He loved art and enjoyed drawing and painting.

"Fairhope is a very welcoming, creative community that really puts a good emphasis on creativity and in artists and artwork," Outlaw said. "I think that definitely was a great community to grow up in for someone interested in making artwork."

He took classes at the Eastern Shore Art Center and in high school. He credited the classes offered at Fairhope High School with introducing him to a wider range of artistic practices. Despite his love of art, he decided to try majoring in advertising at the University of Southern Mississippi. After two years, he realized that was not his path and took some time off.

After a year and a half break, it was time to go back to school. This time, Outlaw decided to take a different path.

"It was time to go back to school, and that's when I decided if you're going to do something, do something you love and something you're good at," he said. "I decided to go back to school at the University of Alabama in the sculpture department because I really enjoy making physical objects."

It was at Alabama where he learned of the career choices available in the fine arts. The department brought in a wide range of professional fine artists from around the country for students to learn from. Outlaw made a connection with artist Tony Matelli who encouraged him to move to New York when he graduated.

After finishing up, Outlaw took his small-town self to the Big City. While Matelli had promised him a job if he came, he didn't have any work at the time. Outlaw took some odd jobs to stay afloat and just three months later was working as Matelli's assistant where he gained a lot of experience.

The Work

Outlaw and Catron's body of work covers everything from paintings and miniature sculptures to large sculptures and performance art. One such performance art piece was a full-scale, working food truck that opened like a pop-up book. The "Jen 'n Outlaw's Fish Fry Truck and Crawfish Boil" brought the couple's small-town roots to the streets of Brooklyn.

"It's got hydraulic arms, so everything folds open. People come on the truck and eat at tables while we're cooking the food inside," Outlaw explained. "There's a big performative aspect of that, for the characters that we were on the truck."

He said they both amped up their rural upbringings, Outlaw's South Alabama and Catron's southern Illinois backgrounds, and presented it to a very urban environment to meld the two worlds.

While many may not understand the term performance art, Outlaw explains it beautifully.

"It's only a slight variation of what someone may be doing normally on a day to day in their work or with their family. We just kind of present that in a unique way," he said. "We often think of the audience as performers in some of our pieces when we shape environments or manipulate their actions."

More Than Just a Hot Dog

(From left) Paul Outlaw and Jen Catron
(From left) Paul Outlaw and Jen Catron

The 65-foot hot dog was commissioned by the Times Square Arts, which is part of the Times Square Alliance. Outlaw and Catron had been in talks with them for two years trying to come up with a project. Many ideas were tossed around, but the hot dog kept coming up.

Food has made many appearances in the couple's work over the years, and they enjoy feeding people as well. More importantly, they find food is relatable for all.

"We really like to engage the audience right away and immediately get them sucked into whatever environment we're creating. Food is an excellent way to do that," Outlaw said. "Everyone has some type of relationship with food. Particular foods bring back memories, and it helps let their guard down a little bit so they can enjoy it at face value."

The hot dog is a food enjoyed by millions and is a staple of New York City and Times Square. Visitors seek out hot dog carts for that iconic eat portrayed in movies, television and artwork.

The sculpture is easy to enjoy visually, but it is also designed to trigger deeper thoughts on the hot dog's history, our country's consumption, capitalism, class and contemporary culture.

"The hot dog is one of those pieces that is easy to digest at first, but it's beyond its celebratory, patriotic love affair that Americans have with this iconic Fourth of July food staple," Outlaw said. "It also has a sordid history, and its origins are mysterious, and some are good and sometimes they're bad. And sometimes they're ugly and we kind of want to wrap all that up into this perfect emblem of American capitalistic and marketing success. That is the intestine-incased meat package that we all love at one point in time."

The "Hot Dog In The City" will have a total of six weeks in residence in Times Square, April 30-June 13. Each week, there has been an event hosted at the art piece. Each day at noon, the hot dog shoots confetti into the air as a playful reference to the quintessential American celebrations from new year's eve to hometown parades. Some of the weekly events have included a wrestling match called "Condiment Wars: A Wrestling Match," a canine beauty pageant "The Hottest Dog Show: A Canine Beauty Pageant," a hot dog eating contest and a hot dog summit.

When asked what happens when the hot dog's residency comes to an end, Outlaw said it may have a second life. The sculpture is built on a semi-tractor-trailer platform and could be towed around the country.