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For Ridgeway’s Ron “Fish” Clifton: Everything’s a canvas
There’s no place like (Fish’s) home
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Every inch of Ron "Fish" Clifton's living room is painted. Effects in 3-D are made with insulation foam which has been painted over as well as items such as toy cars applied. He's lived in his Ridgeway home for 20 years. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
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Sunday, December 2, 2012

By HOLLY KOZELSKY - Bulletin Accent Editor

Ron “Fish” Clifton admits easily that he doesn’t have blood in his veins.

Instead, “I have paint, oil and metal shavings,” he said with a grin.

The single-wide trailer he’s lived in for 20 years is completely adorned with his painting.

No, not paintings — his work is not on blocked and framed canvas hanging on walls. His work is the wall — and the ceiling ... and the yard and his vehicles and anything else he can get his hands on.

Clifton grew up in the area and attended Drewry Mason school. While he didn’t take any memorable art classes in school, he said, he showed early signs of being artistic. His sister has told him that when he was a youngster, he would tear labels off food cans and “made sculptures, before I knew what sculpture was.”

Throughout his life, he has worked as a pipe fitter and welder, and he occasionally paints houses. The techniques he uses in his work create his art.

Clifton, 66, creates sculputre, and he paints. Many pieces, such as his motorcycle and van, combine both.

Vibrant colors electrify his work and contrast sharply with the rust and neutral colors of metals. “I like the colors,” he said.

Clifton has been all over the country, both for work and motorcycle shows. It’s easier for him to list the states he hasn’t been to: “not Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire,” he said.

Clifton can’t seem to stop creating things. “People say they get bored. There’s not enough hours in the day for me,” he said.

The only thing it seems he doesn’t have time for is the internet. “I am a big dinosaur on the technology,” he said. “I don’t have a cell phone, computer, anything like that.” There’s just an old TV “that doesn’t even pick up three channels,” with a few paintings stacked in front of it.

Home sweet home

Clifton has been painting and decorating his Ridgeway home for as long as he’s been there, but went “real crazy about 15 years ago,” he said. “I can’t stop.”

A large welded figure of a man stands in one corner, covered in miniature lights. A stem of ivy grows through a crevice near the ceiling all along one wall. The coffee table is made of a motorcycle motor.

As his canvas is not the expected, neither are his themes. They may combine creatures, such as a chicken-fish sculpture. There could be skulls or cars or vines or snakes or free curves. “Hopefully, nothing you see is normal,” he said.

Some of his depictions, such as skulls, may seem to be on the wild side, Clifton said, “but I’ve got the biggest heart of anybody in the world. It’s just something I like to do.”

His work is natural to him. “If you really struggle and try to do something, it’s hard to do,” he said. “All of mine just comes.”

Art on wheels

All kinds of welded creatures roam his yard. Many are made of bike parts or resemble animals.

Some of his creations roam the streets. There’s the the 1976 Harley Davidson motorcycle that has been 32 years in the making. Not a part of it is without pieces welded on, painted designs or both.

He has “won various trophies with my bike, but I don’t know what to do with them,” he said, pointing to a jumbled pile of awards. “I’m not a big trophy person.” He views trophies as representations of the judge’s likes as opposed to a real measure of something’s worth, he added.

Given the Harley’s age, Clifton said, it’s about time to have another as back-up. He has a 754 Honda he’s started doing a little work to.

The Honda will take a back seat, though, to his newest project: a side car. He’s had it for 13 years, he said, but hasn’t done anything with it. Thursday night, he determined the side car will be his next big project: “I decided to do my thing with it,” he said.

His van is a conglomeration of vehicle parts and artistic design.

The passenger side of the van has the top of a 1956 or ’57 Volkswagon welded onto it, a surfboard and a 1957 Bel Air fin. Parts of a Volkswagon fender are on every corner. The left side of the van has a 1932 Ford rear quarter with a chopped top — “That’s the ultimate hot rod, a ’32 Ford,” he said. The bumpers are Mustang.

“When I start to get parts, I just put them together,” he said.

The hood is from a 1956 Ford. It was the first car he owned. One day while he was driving it, “the hood blew up,” he said. He got a new hood and threw the old one in the woods.

Years later, when he was working on his van, he got to thinking, “ ‘That hood would go good’” on it, he said. He searched and searched the woods of his parents’ property for it, but it took him years to find.

Little figures march across the van’s ridges. “Kids steal my stuff,” he laughed. “They got Spiderman just the other week.”

When he took his van to the Van Nationals meet in Ohio, “They had not ever seen anything like this,” Clifton said. “Sometimes I don’t know what to think of it myself.”

Appreciating art

Clifton enjoys seeing others’ art. He likes to go to museums in Washington D.C., and he visits Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke about twice a year, he said. “I can’t do anything like” what he sees on exhibit in the museums, “but I like to look at it,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing what some people can do.”

His first foray into forging metal was making silver jewelry. He learned how to make it through a corresondance class. That led to stanless steel and a variety of sculptures.

The tools he uses to create his works include grinders, torches and a plasma cutter. Hammers also are important, because many of the pices require “a lot of beating,” he said.

Rusted metal pieces are piled around his yard. Some people may call them junk, but Clifton considers them to be “raw materials for art.”

Only his daughter, Kimberly Nein of Myrtle Beach, has gotten a bit of artist urge, he said. She does stained glass. His other daughter, Kerrington Clifton, is a Registered Nurse in Myrtle Beach. His son, Zach, lives with him. His wife, Leah, died about 10 years ago of breast cancer.

He said noticing how much art he’s done in his home “is like a kid growing. You don’t notice if you see it every day.”

Clifton is dreaming of a new 3-dimensional canvas.

“I’d like to get inside someone’s house,” he said, “A big million-dollar house. Give me a week.”

“Some people say I go too far,” he said. “I say, what if I do?”


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