Garbage day in Virginia Beach fell on Wednesday when Joe Grillo and Laura Grant were in high school. Students at a private art school, they bonded one afternoon in 1995 when, along with Laura’s younger brother, Billy, they accidentally set a neighbor’s house on fire with homemade fireworks; soon they were spending all their time together, taking acid and making collages and paintings out of stuff they found at thrift stores–or in the trash. “We were hours late to school on trash day,” says Laura, “’cause that’s when they’d have the weirdest shit.”

Grillo went on to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he met a group of artists who called themselves Paperrad. Taken with their scrawled, childlike drawings and naive, disturbing videos, Grillo and the Grant siblings, who visited often, hooked up with them to make art.

As Paperrad, the collective shot several animated music videos for a forthcoming DVD about Providence noise band Lightning Bolt, one of whose members used to live in an abandoned jewelry warehouse turned underground performance venue called Fort Thunder. The videos, some shot with cameras customized with lenses from toy kaleidoscopes, cast cutout stills of Gumby, Cap’n Crunch, and other B-list cartoon celebrities against backdrops of candy-colored swirls, skulls, found photos, and cartoons bootlegged off TV. The chaotic aesthetic was in sync with the general vibe of Fort Thunder in its heyday. The rotating cast of inhabitants, many of them students at the Rhode Island School of Design, had transformed the gigantic space into a surreal environment–some doors were barely big enough to crawl through, walls jutted out at odd angles, and the whole place was decorated floor to ceiling with toys, trash, drawings, and sculpture. When Grillo visited the space he thought, “Wow! You can do this with your life?” Though Fort Thunder was demolished in 2001, after graduating last year he moved to Providence, and Laura, who’d gone west in 2000 to attend CalArts, decided to take a year off from school and join him.

The group dynamic in Paperrad had gone sour by then, so Laura, Billy, and Grillo soon broke off from it and, along with friend Alika Hereshoff, reformed under the moniker Dearraindrop, a coinage they’d found written on a scrap of paper in someone’s garbage. Now, though Hereshoff still lives in Boston, working as a librarian at the Museum of Fine Arts, and Billy’s finishing his last year of high school in Virginia, the group is actually making a living off their adolescent obsessions. Dearraindrop was featured, along with a bunch of similarly dadaesque peers, in a January New York Times article on the resurgence of collective art making, and in December they participated in a group show thrown in conjunction with the release of the third issue of the electroclash culture magazine K48. Lately Laura and Grillo have started modifying and reconstructing thrifted T-shirts with cartoony patterned scraps of fabric cut from other shirts. The resulting psychedelic patchwork garments fetch a pretty penny at boutiques in Boston, New York, and Tokyo.

“I’m psyched about life right now,” says Grillo. “I get to wake up every day and make art.”

This month Dearraindrop’s taking about a dozen murals and other paintings, as well as collages, drawings, and screen-printed comics on the road for ten days, traveling from Providence to seven cities with 11 of their peers. Called the Totem Tour, it was organized by Providence artist Jim Drain, who’s best known for his op art knitwear. He’s bringing along rarely screened films and videos by the multimedia collective Forcefield, which got a lot of attention after its ecstatic, cavemanlike performance at the 2002 Whitney Biennial but disbanded a few months ago.

On Wednesday, March 26, at 6 PM, Drain and fellow Forcefield member Ara Peterson will give a lecture on the history of their group–with visual aids by Paperrad–at the School of the Art Institute, 280 S. Columbus; call 312-443-3711 for more information. At 9 PM the same night they and fellow Totem tourists will play improvised electronic music under the name Myxxxkl Jaxxxon at Sonotheque, 1444 W. Chicago. On Friday, March 28, at 9 PM, “Videos From the Forcefield Archive” will be screened and some of the Totem Tour participants will paint a room at the Butcher Shop, 1319 W. Lake, 773-771-7017. Also that Friday at 9 Dearraindrop are showing about a dozen of their paintings and playing improv psychedelic noise at Buddy Gallery, 1542 N. Milwaukee, 773-782-3442. The Forcefield videos will screen again on Saturday, March 29, at 8 PM as part of the closing show for Version>03 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, 312-280-2660; there Dearraindrop will perform live, as will fellow Totem Tour participants Barkley’s Barnyard Critters, which features bassist Brian Gibson of Lightning Bolt. The SAIC talk is free; at the Butcher Shop there’s a $5 requested donation. The other events, all part of Version>03, are covered by a $35 three-day pass or a $15 day pass. See for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tsering Gyalthang.