For Stoneham artist, ‘Golden Girls’ never ends
EVERETT — Lots of people promise to hit the gym every day. Others vow to floss once a day, or do a daily good deed. Then there are unusual folks who make resolutions that verge on the bizarre: recite the entire list of Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest songs once a day, or take a daily selfie wearing the same bikini.
Somewhere between these extremes lives Mike Denison, 37, dispatcher by day, artist by night. In mid-2013, he set for himself the task of doing a portrait of the late actress Bea Arthur, one of the four costars of the long-defunct situation comedy “The Golden Girls,” once a day for a year.
Not only did he keep that promise — three years later, he’s still going.
How does Denison, who lives in Stoneham, with his wife and two boys, explain his undying love for a sitcom about a quartet of women of a certain age living under one roof in Miami? How did he derive a creative wellspring from characters who snipe at each other for entire episodes, then resolve their problems before bed, in their nightgowns, over cheesecake?
“It’s kind of formed my sense of humor, I suppose; it’s had a profound effect on me,” Denison said of the show in a recent interview.
“The Golden Girls” was the show he watched on TV with his grandmother as a child, and one he now shares, through readily available reruns on cable, with his own sons. Dorothy, the character played by Arthur, was his favorite.
“She’ll just quickly put someone down, in most cases her mother, and just be quick about it,” he said. “That’s how I react to people. I don’t do it with malicious intent. I just kind of make light of situations. And I relate to that.”
Denison readily acknowledges that he got the idea to paint his snarky heroine when he learned that a nude painting of Arthur by the artist John Currin had sold for $1.9 million.
“I was, like, ‘I could paint Bea Arthur!,’ ” Denison recalled. “Before I knew it, that’s what I was doing.”
He called his project “Bea A Day;” and over those first 365 days, he became a prominent member of an active subculture that surrounds “The Golden Girls,” which ended a seven-season run in 1992, but still has an active message board, a fan club, and a podcast.
For the second year, starting in the middle of 2014, he did a daily rendition of costar Betty White, who played Rose, the airhead everyone makes fun of; now he’s back to doing a Bea a day, but he’s also added a third costar, the late Rue McClanahan, who played love-hungry man-eater Blanche, a project he calls “Rue the Day.”
In June, Denison plans to release a coloring book based on his works, which he funded with Kickstarter campaign that surpassed his goal of $1,500 in the first 24 hours and raised more than $20,000. He already has a free app, “Busy Bea Game,” that can be played on a smartphone, and a website where he sells his portraits.
On a recent Monday — day 204 of his current project — Denison sat at a table in Night Shift Brewing , an Everett brew pub, and demonstrated his “one-line drawing” technique.
In the space of two minutes and seven seconds, without lifting his black felt-tip pen from his sketch pad, he drew a portrait of Arthur as Republican presidential contender Donald Trump. Then he added some color, and a caption that combined Trump’s penchant for boastful campaign promises with the Golden Girls’ favorite dessert: “Our Cheesecakes Are Going To Be Yuuuuuuuge.”
“I’ve soaked in all this popular culture all my life, and I like to match things up,” Denison said. “So I’ll put in the those situations, so E.T. will become B.T., make the worlds collide.”
He was referring to one of his favorites, a parody of the signature scene in Steven Spielberg’s science fiction classic: Arthur’s character, Dorothy, is taking her mother, Sophia (played by Estelle Getty) on a bike ride in the sky across the face of a full moon. The caption is Dorothy’s signature refrain, a threat to return her mother to the retirement home she hated: “Shady Pines, Ma.”
Denison said his friends share his love for the show, but his biggest thrill is that his 12-year-old has warmed up to it.
“He’ll say, ‘Dad, can we watch “The Golden Girls” tonight?’ ” Denison said with a trace of pride. “If it’s not a superhero movie, it’s Golden Girls.
“It’s four elderly women who basically make fun of each other and try to make the best out of the worst, I suppose,” he said. “It’s about friendship.”
It’s also a little bit about the money.
Denison has yet to sell his work for more than $200, and some of the drawings on his site cost as little as $10.
But when it came time for him to settle the bill for his beer, he didn’t have to spend a dime.
The pub accepted his Bea-as-Trump sketch as payment.