A requirement of living in car-dependent California is tolerating the daily barrage of bumper stickers. Perhaps the lowliest form of cultural signifier, they are designed to shove someone else’s belief system—or preference for reggae—directly down your throat. Often displayed en mass, the effect is a mobile assault of pissing Calvins, snooty collegiate affiliations, and fish that have swallowed Jesus, Darwin, and the Truth.
That the car decal has remained untouched as a subject in American art is surprising. Los Angeles-based artist Brendan Donnelly might be the first to give it its due. In his terrific new solo show at L.A.’s Paul Loya Gallery, he puts a satirical spin on the motifs and slogans we have no choice but to consume while waiting for the light to turn green.
Donnelly composed a series of bumper sticker ‘portraits’ using windshields as his canvas. Each represents a Southern Californian cliché: the white-dreaded Rasta who longboards, the un–closeted gay man, the gun-toting libertarian, and so on. “Farrakhan is my co-pilot,” reads a sticker on a windshield projecting black power ideology. “God Hates Fangs,” reads anotheron the shared vehicle of an underemployedgoth couple.
Asked where the idea came from, Donnelly explains, “I see this form of pop culture on a daily basis. Being a satirist, it was only natural for me to comment.I guess now I’m now the annoying one, but each windshield tells a story about the driver and the society we live in.”
Sourced from junkyards across L.A., each windshield corresponds with its tribe. The goths drive a used Toyota, the angry libertarian a Ford.While many of the decals look familiar, Donnelly created the vast majority himself, hand drawing them or tweaking existing imagery. “At the opening people were asking if I bought the stickers or made them, which is exactly what I hoped for,” he remarks. “They couldn’t immediately tell the difference between my interpretation and what you see on the road.”
It is that blurred line which makes Donnelly’s work so sentient. It teases out the preposterousness of believing that a series of religious symbols, strung together to read “coexist”, might actually bring harmony to the world, let alone the Hollywood Freeway. It pokes fun at the narcissistic undertone of a cartoon family portrait that calls out each member’s name, including the dog’s. It asks why should we care that you voted for Obama, buy a certain energy drink, or take pride in your Irish heritage.
As for the bumper stickers he didn’t make? “The rest were bought at head shops or on eBay. I wish I could take credit for the ‘Nobama’ Nascar bumper sticker, but someone beat me to it—ha.”
Brendan Donnelly is a unique individual. Evidence of this can be seen in his illustration work (which leans heavily on the side of “black metal teenagers working at Orange Julius” and other concepts along the same lines), his graphic design work (he’s created wacked out imagery for brands like Converse, Rome Snowboards, and of course, Altamont, as well bands like FIDLAR and Grizzly Bear), and of course, his mixed media artwork. This month, he put together a collection of that work for his first solo show at Paul Loya gallery in Los Angeles, and it is made up of a mix of custom built car windshields decorated with arrangements of car decals that pull deep from the dark recesses of suburban subcultures – from Burning Man stoners to dark, sad goth teens to even mega-Republican, MMA-loving bros. The rest of the show is made up of simple, black and white paintings arranged on a chain link fence to evoke the sort of community advertisements often found posted on the outside of elementary schools and the like. The show opened Sept 6th and runs through Oct 25th. We sent Brendan our High Five and much like everything else he does, his responses (and his willful disregard for the whole “five things” concept) are, well, unique:
Top five Craigslist posts you’ve ever found:
1. Anyone down to longboard? Just moved to the OC and looking fro new friends.
2. Femme hippie girl seen femme hippie girl (then went to list where they’ll go on their date and that they’ll pay separately).
3. A guy selling a piece of wood with Jesus’s face in the wood grain for 1 million dollars.
4. Are you Asian? Do you rollerblade?
5. Let me JO on your Crocs.
Top five favorite serial killers:
The serial killer direct-to-bargain bin movies which are now on Netflix are so bad they’re good. Can’t tell what’s worse, the acting or the action carried out.
Top five best internet search terms:
I just found out that a stock photo of me (which my friend took in college) is now used on a webMd type site for penis chaffing. Why I was doing that search is a whole other story.
Top five ways Christian school ruined you:
(See childhood photo to the left).
Top five reasons the art world can eat a dick:
I’m not in the “art world” so ask me again in a few years, if I ever make it there and I’m sure I’ll have a list.
Thank you Art Nerd for ranking Brendan Donnelly’s solo exhibition, HOW TO BE A MAGICIAN IN YOUR SPARE TIME as one of the top 7 shows opening this Fall. Please click the link below to see the who else made the list.
Summer can be a boring season for gallery going: many venues take time off; some leave shows up for longer than usual. The group shows that predominate are often uninspiring or exhausting due to curatorial heavy-handedness or shotgun selections of artists. Amid this summer languidness, the more engaging group shows offer opportunities to see work by new artists and find relationships between works that wouldn’t normally be displayed together. One such exhibition, “California Dreaming” at Paul Loya Gallery, is as refreshing as its title and the swimming pool pictured on its postcard seem to imply.
Loya, who curated the show, named it to reflect the fact that three of the artists are California transplants; and he feels that all four share a dark sense of humor embedded in a blithe Californiaesque sensibility. The title also alludes to visionary qualities that pervade the artists’ work. Some of the works are imbued with nostalgic awareness of the ephemeral nature of time; others evoke a longing for some unreachable idea or place.
The latter is especially evident in the work of Lisa Solberg, represented by five large canvases drenched in luminous magentas, violets, blues and greens. Underneath the color fields are layers of drips, splotches and textural vagaries that can only be seen up close, as if the paintings originated as drop cloths and later were stretched and painted over. From afar, the pictures coalesce into a maddeningly evanescent nonobjectivity. Bizarre forms seem to represent things, but they are so vague and blurry that their identities elude the viewer. Like alien swimming pools or walls made of ice covered in graffiti, Solberg’s paintings seem suffused with an otherworldly inner glow, giving the haunting impression that one should be able to look beyond the layers of color, but can’t.
Solberg thinks of each painting as an element that can be combined with others for the creation of something entirely new. For this reason, she titles them after atomic numbers and chemical abbreviations and displays them as diptychs or triptychs, each piece of which could be displayed alone but enhances the others.
Lisa Solberg, “I 53 #1” and “I 53 #2″, 2014. Oil and acrylic on canvas; each canvas 72″x 48”. Image courtesy of Paul Loya Gallery.
Lisa Solberg, “CO 27 #1″;”CO 1 (Cobalt Bomb)”; “CO 27 #2″. Oil and acrylic on canvas; each canvas 72″x 48”. Image courtesy of Paul Loya Gallery.
Cheryl Humphreys also displays multiple pieces that work together as single units. Unlike Solberg’s experiential paintings, Humphreys’ work consists mostly of intimate embossed monoprints whose small size and bas-relief materiality emphasize their object-hood. “Shades of Pink” is a collection of twenty-five pink monoprints whose delicate prettiness and art deco glamour make their salacious imagery all the more startling. Nude female body parts are interspersed with various items that range from mundane (an ice cream cone, a key chain) to dangerous (a razor blade, a pistol, handcuffs). The prints’ small size, reductive form and grid display makes them seem like trading or playing cards for a cartoonish game of masochism and feminine objectification.
Powerful in its simplicity, Humphreys’ print titled “Loading” monumentalizes the ubiquitous circular symbol displayed on computers and smartphones mid-download. Frozen in time, this token of a moment of suspense is reduced to anticlimactic inertia, invoking the absurdity of wistfully continuing to wait for something that one knows will never happen, like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.
Cheryl Humphreys, “Shades of Pink”, 2014. 25 embossed monoprints on hand dyed paper, collectively 30″x 20″. Image courtesy of Paul Loya Gallery.
Cheryl Humphreys, “Loading”, 2014. Embossed monoprint, 10″x 10″. Image courtesy of Paul Loya Gallery.
Similar in spirit to Humphreys’ “Loading,” Gordon Holden’s “Coming of Age” series of collaged posters concerns the passage of time. However, in contrast to Humphreys’ pristine craftsmanship, Holden embraces a rough-hewn aesthetic that is at times comical in its apparent lack of refinement.
Each of his collages consists of halves of two different music posters placed side by side and taped together to create a single poster that is a bifurcate patchwork of music groups from different eras. Hannah Montana is juxtaposed with the Misfits; Justin Bieber with Nirvana; One Direction with Kiss; the Grateful Dead with the Backstreet Boys. In each piece, the masking tape seam holding the posters together is harshly obvious, creating a jagged line that visually divides the halves even as it physically holds them together. This conspicuous disunity highlights the futility of trying to fully reconcile different time periods: both eras coexist in each piece, but they clash; and bringing them together into a single piece necessitated severing half of each so that neither exists in its entirety. At the same time, their combination generates new relationships and elucidates unexpected similarities between the disparate segments’ color and form. Holden’s fragmentary images embody the postmodern idea of popular culture as a recycled pastiche of previous styles, none of which is really much different from the ones that preceded it.
In addition to his posters, Holden is represented by a “Self Portrait” consisting of a low-quality mass-produced canvas with crudely perforated holes for eyes and mouth and hastily scribbled hair and freckles. A single strip of pink duct tape represents the nose; a real orange is haphazardly stuck in the mouth. In spite of its preposterousness, this piece exudes a weird charm. Holden’s humor is self-deprecating, but the joke is as much on the viewer as it is on the artist.
Gordon Holden, “Coming of Age (Backstreets)”, 2014. Cut rock poster, 36″x 24″. Image courtesy of Paul Loya Gallery.
Gordon Holden, “Self Portrait”, 2014. Ink, neon duct tape, orange on torn canvas; 14″x 11″. Image courtesy of Paul Loya Gallery.
Joe Roberts also creates humor-infused collages using source materials from popular culture; however, his source materials are as multifarious as images cut from comic books, political signs, stickers and the artist’s own drawings. Though the artist was educated at the San Francisco Art Institute, his work possesses an idiosyncrasy of form and esoteric symbolism that seem more in line with an outsider artist. Despite their raw construction, each piece is deliberate and so complex that one could spend hours looking at it and still not see every detail nor grasp its overall significance.
A particularly absorbing collage portrays two mystical Mickey Mouse characters gaping at an eerie hallucinogenic vision involving what appears to be a multiple-eyed girl with a ghostlike figure in her head, surrounded by ghouls and aliens. The mice wear wizard hats; their striped bodies look like imitations of Morris Louis paintings. It’s rare to see such a truly creepy and strange portrayal of a character as iconic as Mickey Mouse. Roberts has an unusual talent for depicting popular cultural icons in a way that strips away their kitschy aura and replaces it with a singular uncanniness while maintaining their recognizability.
A magazine cutout of a sphinx next to the right-hand mouse seems to hint at the difficulty of understanding just what is going on in the aforementioned collage. All of Roberts’ collages are untitled, adding to the difficulty of unraveling their meaning. Loya sees them as windows into the artist’s mind; perhaps their meaning is opaque because they are so intensely personal. It is as if they are the end product derived from a system whereby the artist processes his thoughts and experiences through some sort of private theoretical machine, and reifies them in the form of collages. They might be incomprehensible, but they certainly are engrossing.
Joe Roberts, “Untitled”, 2014. Mixed media on board, 23″x 19″. Image courtesy of Paul Loya Gallery.
Joe Roberts, “Untitled”, 2014. Mixed media on board, 16″x19″. Image courtesy of Paul Loya Gallery.
At a glance, Solberg, Humphreys, Holden and Roberts seem like completely divergent artists. However, Loya’s insightful curation weaves their visions together into new interpretative frameworks while maintaining each one’s conceptual integrity. It will be interesting to see the future projects of these artists and curator.
“California Dreaming” is on view through August 23, 2014 at Paul Loya Gallery, 2677 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90034. See paulloyagallery.com for more information.