But in a conversation with the president of SCAD at the time, he was reassured that he would be fine as an artist — though it would take a lot of hard work — and nobody would ask to see his diploma.
After his SCAD experience, Arge — a name which came from his nickname growing up, R.J., to “somehow” become Arge — worked for a bed and breakfast. Distraught, Arge put aside all thoughts of art. However, he did have a subversive streak and would leave anonymous photocopies around the city with pictures of found art or objects and quirky sayings on them.
“Art was shut down. I was doing anonymous photocopies and leaving them around. Just little crazy art, found objects, found information. Clipped art, clipped words.
Maybe a little political. And I already had the Arge name [that were included on the photocopies],” he said.
His success with the bed and breakfast in Savannah led to him working at the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta. While he knew he wanted to move to Atlanta, he knew food service was not what he was created to do.
“I always slipped back into art,” he says. And this included leaving his infamous signature, “ARGE,” lying around for others to pick up.
“I was at Backstreet one night, talking to a cute boy. He wasn’t giving me time of day. But he was wearing one of my stickers. This was better than sex. That’s all I want,” he says. “Then things started kind of ramping up. I discovered the Metro and knew I was home.”
One night Arge talked to the drag star at the bar, Trina Saxxon, and found out she was a fan of his work.
“I saw a bunch of my stickers stuffed in his purse. I love I can say that — my stickers were in his purse. And for some reason I said that’s me. Next thing I know it’s six years later,” Arge explains.
Coming out of his shell, telling people he was Arge, was a major step for the young man from Florida who said he had an almost idyllic childhood with supportive and loving parents who encouraged him to pursue his dreams. But Arge acknowledges he wanted more.
“I invented this persona because I was not crazy about the person I was,” he says. “My life was a John Hughes film. I just became the character I wanted. I didn’t want to be the geek anymore. I wanted to be Molly Ringwald so I became Molly Ringwald.”
Part of Arge’s persona is also as archivist and photographer in addition to creating wondrous hand cut and layered paper images.
In the 1990s, he took Polaroid photos of nearly every party and event happening in gay Atlanta — more than 7,000 photos that he has categorized and organized tidily in boxes on his wall.
Now Arge is delving into the abstract. Where he once felt he had to “pee a punch line” into each of his pieces, the main piece he created for the upcoming “Joy!” exhibit at Kai Lin Art is thousands of tiny, leaf-shaped pieces of paper — all hand cut individually — that are layered on mounts to create a burst of color that becomes a volcano.
“It’s the only thing I know how to do,” he says. “It’s the only thing I was designed to do.”
Top photo: Jon Arge worked for months on this handcut, layered paper piece that resembles a volcano to be exhibited at Kai Lin Art Dec. 10. (by Dyana Bagby)