Earlier this week, I stumbled across a $177,000 eBay listing for a painting of Jesus Christ cheering up Paul McCartney with a Lamb Chop puppet, which you can read about/see at length here. The painting, which has been on eBay for more than two and a half years (and is returnable within seven days if you're not completely satisfied), was instantly fascinating in itself, but the price was what really grabbed me. I eBay messaged my phone number to the artist, hoping to ask her some questions about it, and she called me.
The following is a condensed transcript of my interview with 54-year-old Kata Billups of Colorado, the painter behind "Jesus Broke Out the Lambchop Puppet and Hired an Angel to Try and Cheer Up a Clinically Depressed Paul McCartney."
Tell me about your background and how you arrived at this painting.
I graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute when I was 19 years old, and that’s one of the best in the country. Then I started trying to find myself. I did murals and portraits, I tried everything. I didn't have an artistic voice. But then I read about a Nashville artist who made badly-painted paintings of himself and his parrot. They were slightly humorous. So I said, "If they want humor, I can give them humor!" I started doing humorous paintings of Elvis and they became an instant success, but soon I got burnt out on my Elvis stuff and I wanted to do paintings of The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, music I grew up with.
But I also wanted to paint Jesus! When I was 42, I went back to grad school thinking, “How the heck do you paint this 'Jesus' character?” Boy, that was the ultimate challenge. In the entire 20th century, less than a handful of famous artists attempted to do it. Manet painted him once and said he’d never do it again. I thought to myself, "How do paint him, especially if you think you know him? What are you going to say about him that hasn’t already been said and that's not going to be cliché?" So this painting is blending my icons (Paul McCartney and Lamb Chop) with my ultimate icon (Jesus Christ).
How did you arrive at the price?
Well, first, I honestly believe it's worth every penny. The price has to do with a book about numbers and scripture that was written around the turn of the century, about 1900, before computers. I chose $177,000 because I believe in the biblical significance of the number seven.
I really believe the painting is significant in the history of art. It's post-modern: I made Jesus like that because I wanted to show a different aspect of Jesus, like Jesus as a friend, and I thought, "What’s a better friend than one who kind of leaves you alone when you're bummed out, but still sits by your side?"
How much buyer interest has there been?
There was a [legally binding offer through eBay] for $100,000 and for some reason I hadn’t checked my computer for a while and it expired. That’s been the biggest sign of interest financially. But as far as human interest, there have been over 800,000 people who have looked at it. I haven’t really souped it up on eBay; I haven’t featured it, which is like what you can do to get a whole bunch of people to look at it.
Do you have more paintings in the pipeline?
I’m doing another with Paul McCartney. It’s Paul McCartney and Yoko, and Yoko is getting beamed up in the sky. This is from actual research that I’ve done on a top secret government program called Project Blue Beam. Basically, the military-industrial complex will beam down religious deities all over the world (Jesus in America, Allah in Saudi Arabia and so on) to implement a New World Order. That's my next painting.