A Curious Yellow

In which a kleptomaniacal public purloins Tommy Doodle-painted footwear

Tommy Doodle doesn't dawdle: "I come home from work at the end of the day, have dinner, then go to my area where I paint, and see where I'm at."

Doodle is, in a way, everywhere. As the man responsible for the used, yellow-painted shoes nailed to telephone poles and left on sidewalks, his presence can be felt all over Fort Lauderdale.

It started about two months ago. Doodle, who uses an apt pseudonym, posted shoes on every corner of Las Olas Boulevard, from A1A to SE Second Street, about 45 pairs in all. It was an experiment: "I was kinda, like, feeling the town out to see how long it would last," he says, "and it wasn't very long."

Tommy Doodle knew he was on to something from the start: "I was like, 'Yellow shoes, man, right on!'"
Michael McElroy
Tommy Doodle knew he was on to something from the start: "I was like, 'Yellow shoes, man, right on!'"

Only a few pairs still grace Las Olas, though elsewhere some of his works lasted longer. "I got 30 or 40 more and put them in front of Broward Community College, and they had some hang time."

There are designer sneakers and spike-heeled pumps. There are clunky work boots, dainty dance shoes, and, wonders Doodle, "a wedge? I don't even know what [those shoes are] called."

Never mind their names. "The yellow shoes are me," Doodle explains, chain-smoking and speaking into a cell phone from an undisclosed location. He longs to be both ubiquitous and anonymous, and this presents a challenge.

"I'm finding it really hard to get them out there," Doodle says. "I put out an average of 35 pairs a week, and at week's end there's only ten to twelve left." He no longer even bothers to nail them down. "Now, I just throw them in front of the crosswalks and leave them there." Which, he adds, is appropriate: "Somebody said, "The city's going to be pissed at you.' I said, "Man, they're caution yellow!'"

Keeping the streets safe for art is a Sisyphean task. "I try to go out once a week and replenish where they get stolen from." Through trial and error he's determined the safest places for his shoes. "A lot of thinking goes into this stuff, even though it doesn't look like it," he says. "Research and development."

The losses are easy come, easy go for Doodle, who is 39 years old, works with glass and mirror for a living, and speaks with a refreshing lack of irony. The public art started when his roommate was cleaning out her closet and was about to throw out a mother lode of used shoes, he says. Instead she gave them to Doodle, who marched outdoors and cast them in leftover cement. "And then I had some yellow paint, and I was like, "Yellow shoes, man, right on!'"

Before long the initial cache of footwear was exhausted, and Doodle turned to friends for castoffs. Eventually he located a supplier, whom he refuses to name.

The possibilities, like the shoes, are endless, as are the responses. "I see that people really do have a reaction to anything that's odd and different to them. The whole thing is, if you look at it and smile, man, you got it."

Apparently some people just don't get it. Doodle has developed a theory about the yellow shoes: "People that laugh, those are people who are good inside. People who have a bad reaction, those are people who are usually bad inside. It kinda revealed the city's psyche -- bad people."

Elsewhere, he adds, public art is far more common -- and more elaborate. "There's a couple of guys in Boston who do crack houses," he says. "They have themes for each crack house. One will be covered in dolls, just all over, baby dolls. Others are pocketbooks, just all over, pocketbooks...."

Though Doodle concedes thematic crack houses might not go over so well in Fort Lauderdale, he wouldn't mind some company in the public-art effort. "I wish some other people were doing it."

Growing up in Queens, New York, he spray-painted graffiti in train yards and was inspired by the works of pop artists like Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. He compares the yellow shoes to the work he did as a teenager: "They are like my tag," he says.

His family moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1980. He graduated from Boyd Anderson High School and started working in nightclubs, saving the day for arts and crafts. Another local artist, Steve Sticht, introduced him to "guerrilla" artwork, and the two began crafting pieces from salvaged materials, then surreptitiously hanging them around town. "We were painting old windows, plywood, anything that anyone was throwing away," Doodle recounts.

In May he installed a few yellow chairs in Wilton Manors; they disappeared "like, the next day," he recalls. Although the chairs were yellow, it was a mellower yellow than that of the shoes. "It was, "Sit down, relax.'"

The elusive Doodle is best known for another hue, however. Along with Sticht he was part of the group that last year painted used bicycles blue and chained them to bike racks around town. (Many remain, still painted the same cobalt shade used to mark disabled parking spaces.)

Doodle doesn't want people to confuse the two art projects. The blue bikes were a group endeavor, while the claim to (or blame for) the sunny footwear falls solely on Doodle: "The yellow shoes are me," he repeats. "I don't want the yellow shoes to conflict with the blue bikes."

By next month he hopes to sustain a total of 30 pairs, up from the present 25. Then he'll be the caretaker of the collection. "If I see a pair that's ripped apart, I replace them," he says, "so it doesn't look like crap." He estimates he spends $40 to $50 per week for the spray paint, shoes, and gas it takes to maintain the shoes and bikes. "They're out there, and we don't want people to think [they're] just a piece of junk. I want to keep 'em fresh all the time."

Unlike his shoes, Doodle is difficult to nail down. "He's kind of a mystery man," says Jerry Miles, owner of J. Miles Off Las Olas. The store is located near two telephone poles decorated with Doodle's shoes and was recently presented (anonymously, natch) with another pair. "I've never met him, but he left the shoes at our back door," Miles explains. "I still don't know what he looks like."

Miles may soon find out. He's planning to sell Doodle's yellow footwear, filled with cement, as doorstops. There will be combat boots, dominatrix boots, even little kids' cowboy boots. "We're going to be the exclusive distributor," Miles enthuses. The decision makes sense, at least aesthetically. "We're pretty eclectic," he says. "We have a big cow out front."

Meanwhile Doodle is drawing up plans for an even bigger, bolder work to "just light everybody up." After all, there are plenty hues left in the spectrum. "There's a lot of colors out there," he observes, "and there's a lot of items."

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