Mondo Gallery continues to cement itself as the premiere spot in town for cool, alternative art. With its most recent show, which opened Friday and will run until Oct. 6, the collectible art division of Alamo Drafthouse showcased work from two different, but highly specialized artists.
The two artists, Craig Drake, who uses Patrick Nagel’s iconic style to create striking portraits of cinematic heroes, and Robert Brandenburg, who takes existing works — usually flea market oil paintings — and repurposes them with his own twisted sense of humor, were on hand at the opening to talk about their work.
“You can’t beat a black, white and red color combination,” Drake tells me as we both admire his giant O-Ren piece, one of two Kill Bill themed portraits he did for the show. “I didn’t necessarily want to use the Nagel style verbatim, or for that to be the shtick. I wanted to make it darker, move it away from the cheesy '80s stuff he’s known for.”
“I didn’t necessarily want to use the Nagel style verbatim, or for that to be the shtick. I wanted to make it darker, move it away from the cheesy '80s stuff he’s known for.” - Drake
And he pulls that off. None of his work feels boring or familiar. Rather, each piece immediately strikes the viewer as impressive. A sharp contrast of mostly monochromatic tones, with a few extra colors used for a refreshing effect.
Another of Drake’s portraits that has garnered recognition is that of Rick Deckard, the weary, worn down hunter from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. He took a strange approach in depicting the iconic Sci-Fi hero. “Initially, looking at references for Deckard, there’s a lot of like, foreboding shots of him in the rain, with the gun. I thought I’d switch it up.”
He’s right. That image of Deckard, in the soaked trench coat, peeking around a corner is as recognizable as Luke looking out over Tatooine at the planet’s binary sunsets.
Drake instead chose one of his favorite Blade Runner scenes to capture Deckard’s character: “I love the noodles scene,” he says of a somewhat overlooked image from the movie in which the lead character stops off for some ramen in a gritty, dystopian Los Angeles.
“The food scene — there’s just something about it that shows Deckard — he’s getting off work and he’s just a regular ol’ Joe. There he is in this rainy, futuristic, nasty street scene and he’s, like, fucking tired. I love that scene, man, it’s just comforting.”
In contrast, the show’s other featured artist, Robert Brandenburg, has mastered a technique where he takes familiar images — in this case, movie posters — and adds subtle, yet instantly recognizable changes that bring entirely different meaning to the original work.
A prime example is his Gandhi, which can be viewed in the gallery to the right, that completely parodies the dramatic tone of that film in such a brilliantly simple way that you can almost see Brandenburg chuckle to himself thinking of the design.
The 50-something-year-old began honing his craft years ago when he would send modified ad clippings to friends and family as Christmas gifts. “’I’ve done that for the last 20 years,” Brandenburg explains. “Even when I was a kid I was doing that with magazines. I’d just start defacing the pictures or writing funny little word bubbles above the characters.”
“Yeah, my oils would have something gushing blood. I like gore...some kind of violent end for someone. If it’s a nice peaceful scene, it needs something dark to it.” - Brandenburg
Later, we begin talking about Bob Ross’s old show, and what his own version would be. “I used to actually watch some of that, and just laugh." Imitating Bob Ross, "Just put a friendly tree here. And he looks kinda lonely so we’re just going to give him another. It’s just so awful.”
His childhood pastime grew along with his sense of humor, and by the time he was an adult, the gag gifts took on a significantly more graphic tone. “Most of the stuff I sent them was pretty raunchy and X-rated.” He begins retelling a story of one particular clipping he made — one he’s more than a little hesitant to share.
“It was from junk mail for some cable service, and they showed a family watching TV, and they’re on a sofa, and they all have these faces,” Brandenburg continues by mimicking an over-dramatic gasp, typical of what would be put in a cheesy print ad.
“And the blurb was, you know, ‘make TV night something special.’ But I put my own caption, ‘This is how the Wilson family spends their Thursday movie night, watching their favorite porn: White Chicks Crave Black D***s 4.”
We both pause for laughter. “Yeah, I sent that one to my niece.”
It's instantly clear why Brandenburg’s art is so wonderful to look at: He injects his perverse, absurd humor in to every piece in a way that can’t help but produce laughter.
Describing his own version of The Joy of Painting, Branderburg says, “Yeah, my oils would have something gushing blood. I like gore...some kind of violent end for someone. If it’s a nice peaceful scene, it needs something dark to it. Something dead, someone in peril.”
Any fan of the sharp and precise, or of the absurd and hilarious, should head out to the Mondo Gallery before this show ends. It's a range of work just can’t be missed.