Steve penley’s house, in the Atlanta exurb of Newnan, sits on a narrow lane that winds through a manicured country club. At first glance, it resembles its neighbors on Golfview Drive. But step inside, and a very different scene awaits. Penley, who has made a lucrative career painting colorful, expressionistic renderings of American symbols and conservative personalities, lives in unchecked chaos. His kitchen’s granite countertops are covered with cans of spray paint, bottles of glue, power tools, and rolls of electrical tape. A parlor wall is hung with rows of splatter-painted guitars; once-elegant wood floors are encrusted with paint. The effect is as if a band of paintball-loving squatters had taken over a suburban show home.
“It’s actually cleaner than it usually is,” Penley said as he led me to a room off his overstuffed garage-cum-studio. “This is the chair that I know has no wet paint on it, so that’s your chair,” he told me, indicating an armchair with a busted seat. Penley, who is 50 and has combed-back silver hair and a doleful stare, was nursing a bad hangover and an incipient eye infection. He had appeared the previous night at a conference convened by one of his patrons, Erick Erickson, the influential conservative and RedState .com editor. Although he shared the group’s conservative political views and had even made a brief appearance onstage, he’d felt out of place. “Some of those people were so geeky, I can’t take it,” Penley said. “I felt like I was at a UFO convention. Can’t any hip people be conservative?”