Mad Styles

One creative artist offers viewers a threefer

"Me, Myself & Eye" purports to be a "3 person show" featuring the work of Andrew Brandou, Dale Andrews, and Howdy Pardner. If the punning title doesn't raise your suspicions, then maybe the slightly formulaic names of the last two artists might tip you off (although patently fake artistic pseudonyms seem to be everywhere). Either way, it's not hard to tell that this "3 person show" is a thin veil for the various efforts of one artist, Brandou. In fact, whether by design or oversight, a wall caption for a painting included in Howdy Pardner's section of the exhibit is attributed to "Andrew Pardner."

When working under his real name, Brandou creates Audubon-style images of wildlife dressed like Japanese hipsters. While eccentric, the paintings and prints are skillfully rendered and have an archival feel. The artist has carefully reproduced the mottled look of aged paper and the muted, naturalistic color schemes of period illustration, but it's hard to imagine a stranger subject. The prowling jaguar in The Jaguar and the Kitten, Hello looks not fierce but silly in a pink, fur-trimmed, jaguar-print hoodie and flounced peasant skirt. The cat's jungle cred is further damaged by his companion, that most docile of felines, Hello Kitty.

Sometimes this anthropomorphism verges on the Disney-esque. In Candy Stripper, Hysteric Glamour & Twenty, three squirrels dressed like trendy teenage girls convene in a tree. Despite the naturalistic execution, you can almost hear the chirpy Chip 'n' Dale voices. As if in acknowledgment, Brandou has perched a tiny, indeterminate animal mysteriously among the branches -- perhaps one of those sexless, species-less creatures that populate Japanese animation.

Still, Audubon and contemporary Japanese pop culture seem odd bedfellows. With the exception of the commercial characters -- Astro Boy also makes an appearance -- the only way we know that Brandou is referencing Japanese culture is the occasional Japanese name in the captions inscribed at the bottom of each image. Some paintings include American pop-cultural references: StarKist's Charlie the Tuna, the ICEE polar bear, the Goodyear blimp. Brandou's eclecticism seems indiscriminate and scattershot. It's not clear what his aim is, beyond creating irreverent, stylistic non sequiturs. The works are beautifully executed but exceedingly weird, and you're left wondering if that's enough.

Here's where the "3 person show" conceit starts to pay off. Working as "Dale Andrews," Brandou reveals his facility in an entirely different idiom. These paintings -- with their smooth lines, rounded forms, and flat areas of color -- look like advertising images from the '30s or '40s. However, like the Audubon images, they're all slightly (or grossly) awry. Andrews' subjects work against the squeaky-clean aesthetic, albeit in fairly uninteresting and predictable ways. In This Is the Butcher, a clean-cut, bow-tied butcher serenely saws a human leg into chunks while a little girl with a baby doll looks on. The style of the illustration and the title inscribed beneath it are designed to remind us of reassuring domestic advertising or a classic elementary school primer. Thus lulled, we're then supposed to be shocked by the gruesome subject matter. But this technique -- pitting style against subject -- feels a little stale. We see similar strategies on Comedy Central all the time.

Brandou's second alter ego, "Howdy Pardner," explores another dated illustration style: the cutesie-poo cartoon images familiar from 1970s greeting cards and children's books. Painted on maple panels, they're reminiscent of decoupage (that artsy-craftsy hobby of gluing cut paper images onto plaques and other surfaces and then lacquering them) and unabashedly kitschy. In Brian Wilson Not War, a brown bunny in a yellow turtleneck and red overalls is caught in the act of altering a graffiti heart containing the words "Mike Love Not War." The bunny has scratched out the words "Mike Love" and replaced them with "Brian Wilson." It seems silly, but this simple, punning gesture sums up the entire show. The painter has taken a pun on the protest slogan one step further with a second substitution: the other Beach Boy. One thing leads to another and to another. Brandou's willingness to see how far associations will take him -- the starting point doesn't matter, as long as he ends up somewhere strange -- is the absurdist spirit that unites each of the "artists" in this show.

Regardless of whether you think such exercises in free association are worthwhile, one thing's for sure: Brandou is a master chameleon. While most illustrators have one signature style, he's able to jump from the painstaking detail and nuance of the Audubon series to the graphic power of Dale Andrews' advertising imagery to the riotous, freewheeling style of Howdy Pardner. Although none of the three displays a fully formed vision -- Brandou's work under his own name comes the closest, and is the most intriguing -- the technical skill on view is enough to give each artist's oeuvre the ring of conviction. If nothing else, "Me, Myself & Eye" raises questions about the importance we attach to a recognizable artistic voice. Perhaps having a consistent style is more about marketing or developing a "brand" than exploring the mind's wandering. Even though we routinely read many things into style -- the way people dress, talk, walk, etc. -- Brandou's split-personality performance shows that it's really no more serious than putting a skirt on a jaguar.

 
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