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Scott Seekins inhales deeply. Softly, in a whimsical, breathy voice he recites, "Briiiitneeeey."
Over his shoulder are dozens of his Britney Spears paintings. Britney in an Eden-like wonderland. Britney in front of pointillistic swaths of red, white, and blue. Pop-art Britney exclaiming, "...SCOTT! I-I...THOUGHT I HEARD...YOUR...VOICE!"
Seekins is cultivating a serious Britney Spears obsession. Since 2001, the local artist and quirky fashion hound has devoted nearly every painting to the pop icon. His fixation is all-consuming. And as Spears's Target Center concert date (for which he has already purchased a ticket) approaches, his self-promotion is relentless.
His goal is getting the princess of pop to notice him before she arrives, ending, Seekins hopes, in a face-to-face encounter. Friends have joined the technophobe's endeavor, pitching in to create a YouTube video showcasing "The Britneys" and posting the paintings on various art websites. Seekins even sent a letter to her management company.
"I'd love to meet Britney," he says. "I'd try not to be gushy, goofy. I think I'd be in control because I've been preparing every day for this moment."
And what would he ask should he meet the object of his fascination?
"Would you marry me?" he says, as a grin erupts underneath his pencil-thin moustache. If he didn't have a ghostly pallor, he would certainly be blushing.
Art has been Seekins's livelihood for decades. He's painted historical landscapes and lively, Lichtensteinian scenes, and has even dabbled in crafting remarkably detailed model train tracks. One of his former favorite muses was Madonna—the real virgin, not the "Like a Virgin" one. This is why the reason for his long-running obsession with Spears at first seems obvious. She is the complex of the Madonna and the whore all wrapped into one.
But Seekins has his own explanations.
"I think she's a phenomenon," he says. "Her course runs parallel to a decline in this country. She's not the cause of it, but a symptom or an indicator. America is starting to recede. There's more interest in her than in really important things in the world."
Sean Smuda, a local photographer and curator of the Shoebox gallery in midtown Minneapolis, says he thinks Seekins paints Spears because she harkens back to the golden age of American morality.
"It's a classic American story," he says. "She was part of the Mouseketeers. It's the transformation of our very culture of innocence, where Disney and anything from the '50s represented a wholesome morality. It was an industry. It was propaganda about the American way of life. The way that Britney continues to evolve carries that weight with it, whether or not she lives up to it."
It's this fairy-tale image that Seekins's art promotes. There are no gravelly portraits of a bald-headed Spears viciously wielding an umbrella or scowling as she checks into rehab. Seekins's Spears is rosy-cheeked perfection. It's American apple pie with a rotten center you only discover once you delve deeper. Seekins paints himself into many of the scenes, where he looks on empathetically, but is never close enough to make his rescue, only to shout empty platitudes. In Survivors, which shows a scantily clad Spears sitting on her knees on the sandy beach of a desert island, Seekins asks, "YOUR HAIR IS SO PRETTY...HOW DID YOU GET IT PRETTY LIKE THAT?" Spears replies, "..JUST LUCKY..I GUESS...."
"It's a fantasy tryst, where I'm either helping her or guiding her or inquiring things," Seekins says, detailing his role in "The Britneys." "I'm listening, but I'm not making her feel like a queen or magically turning her life around. I'm just an observer."
In many ways, Seekins plays the observer in real life. He wears out the soles of his heeled shoes traversing Minneapolis, just to see and be seen. He is a living, breathing, walking canvas who often reflects the banality of our own lives. Everyone knows him. He's the guy who wears black suits in the winter and white suits in the summer. He has thick, dark tendrils of extensions (which a passerby once noted looked like a cat on his head) that spill out above a black headband. He seems nearly omnipresent, adding a colorful (even in black and white) counterpoint to our lives. And people find him fascinating. They spot him on the street or imbibing at his favorite hideout, Nick and Eddie, which is conveniently located below his Loring Park art studio, and report "Seekins sightings" on a Facebook profile devoted to the artist. This is the Cult of Seekins.
"When I was in art school I started wearing the white and black," Seekins says. "There was something about this clothing I was seeing in these shops in St. Paul that spoke to me. And I didn't want to be common-looking. It's all part of that carefully cultivated image. I like the image, but at the same time I see a photograph of myself and it's kind of shocking to me even. It's really out there for this town."
In Minneapolis, at least, the painter is famous for being famous, which might shed light on his interest in Spears. Smuda suggests she is his ideal—an internationally renowned icon who has even her strolls down the sidewalk published in tabloids and celebrity blogs.