Monday, March 31, 2008

Dylan Sisson's Creepy-Cute Creatures

I find Dylan Sisson's corpulent, creepy-cute creatures quite compelling. Mr. Sisson lives in San Francisco and works in animation when he is not doodling on coasters.

This is my Sisson original, entitled "Plunge." What I like best about it is that there's an air of danger as this puffy three-eyed explorer drifts downward into the uncharted depths... but it's not quite clear if he is the menaced – or the menacer. This piece is fairly unique among Sisson's paintings in that it places its subject in a narrative and in a natural environment. Most of Sisson's work is fairly conventional portraiture – albeit lovingly lit portraits of soft, toothy, strange-eyed monsters.

(Some have noted an echo of Nirvana's "Nevermind" album cover.)

I'll let the artist speak for himself a bit, with excerpts from an interview he did earlier this year.

"For years, I doodled little creatures in pen and ink, but never considered it art or important. The creepy cute doodles were a sort of documentation, the residue of gray areas. I preferred to have those guys drawn into the outside world, where I found them much more friendly."

"Over the years I’ve explored lots of subjects and I’ve noticed my favorite subjects are those that mix contrasting themes, like a character that’s on the verge of being cute or being frightening at the same time... I like creating that tension. For example, what’s the difference between a pet and a monster? A pet licks you. A monster eats you."

"Something which is both attractive and repelling at the same time, I find compelling... As an artist, if I can create ambiguity, perhaps with a creature where it’s unclear whether it will eat you or follow you home, then it creates an interesting tension – who’s the predator and who’s prey? Is it safe?"

Some children have imaginary friends. When I was a child, I had a pack of imaginary wolves that lived under my bed. They were nice little boy wolves who wore shorts with suspenders and little girl wolves in red dresses, but they were wolves and they lived under my bed. In my mind's eye, I can still see them bustling around down there with their little wheelbarrows and pickaxes. So perhaps I can appreciate the intersection of creepy and cute more than most. At any rate, I think we will be seeing more of Mr. Sisson – he is entering the world of toys this year at the NY Tokyo Toy Fair.

Here are a few more of Dylan Sisson's creations.

"Uncle Rhubarb"

"Greener Pastures"

"Blah Blah Blah"


"Baker's Dozen"

"Mr. Burble"

Friday, March 28, 2008

How I Became an Art Junkie

Two pieces of art got me hooked on collecting. One was an unsigned amateur dream painting that I bought on eBay about 8 years ago. I just adored it, even though the painter wasn't terribly skilled at painting people. It's so unusual – the Goreyesque couple in a rowboat should really be having a romantic moment, but they seem depressed, possibly even devastated, as if their child has drowned in the lake and they can't find its body. With its odd perspective, queasy green and gold waves, and mysterious falling glow-lights, it really captures the essence of a dream. (This photo doesn't really convey the richness of its color saturation – there is some kind of varnish on the painting that defies photography.)

Untitled by Unknown, oil on panel, circa 1970, found "at a church rummage sale in upstate NY," according to the seller

After that, I knew I needed more art, but I also knew I coudn't afford it. Unfortunately, prints just weren't going to do it for me. The fix I was seeking had something to do with owning a little one-of-a-kind masterpiece and being able to have tactile communication with its surfaces. I wanted to be able to see the brushstrokes and the rough edges and even the little pieces of cat hair that got caught in the paint.

Over the next few years, I bought a lot of naive and primitive art on eBay, most of it quite cheap, in search of the same feeling I got from that first piece – a quest which was largely unsuccessful. Then I lucked into this little gem, which gave me the same rush, and then some.

"The City" by Nicole Wong, oil on board, 2006

By this point, I had realized that, for the most part, eBay and ETSY artists weren't really my cup of tea. Most of them seemed to be pumping out versions of their bestsellers at a rate of one (or more) per day. I wanted paintings that were unique, strange, emotional, inspired, visionary – paintings that wouldn't be replicated a hundred times with slight variations. (This is a complaint I have with a lot of artists in our little lowbrow/pop surrealism universe, as well, of course.)

Frustrated and dissatisfied, I happened across deviantART early last year and soon discovered Dylan Sisson and Sarah Joncas. Fortunately, my financial situation had improved markedly since I began suffering from this little fixation, so I bought a painting from Dylan right away – but Sarah was elusive. She would sell her paintings (to someone else) before she even sent them to the gallery! I followed the Sarah breadcrumb trail to Thinkspace (I had never entered an Art Gallery with the intention to buy in my life) and though her paintings were already sold (for like $350, which is just ridiculous) I soon fell for a Kelly Vivanco painting in that show, and from that point on, each month's budgetary computations have centered around the question, "How much will be left over for art?"

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Andy Kehoe's Murky Mysteries

I've been following Andy Kehoe's work for a while now, and while there was something intriguing about it that I couldn't put my finger on, I hadn't completely fallen for it until last night. Following a link from the Juxtapoz blog, I discovered a new piece that Andy had painted for his February 29th show at Green Lantern Gallery in Chicago called "The Safest Place in the World."

Andy says that this show is about death and the fear of death, and perhaps that's why "Helplessly Ensnared by Murky Mysteries" captivates me. There is a quality of atmosphere to this painting that I hadn't noticed before in Andy's work. Part of that depth comes from its richness of color, which might be attributed to this being one of his first experiments with blending acrylics and oils.

Apart from this new painting, my favorite of his pieces is the remarkable "Finding Hope Here in the Clearing." In Andy's world, this strange flower-bedecked stag-man seems to represent Hope, and is generally accompanied by a little black dog. (Or perhaps Hope is the little black dog?) The composition of this painting is so compelling, and the connection between these two creatures seems so real, that for me, this piece works on a higher emotional plane than much of his work, which can sometimes seem somewhat chilly and remote.

Here is another of the Hope paintings, not quite as dramatically framed as the first one, but still beautiful and emotive, "Hope Rests in Quiet Fields."

Despite the apparent tranquility of the Hope paintings, many of Andy Kehoe's works are quite ominous, even violent. Certainly this empty-eyed man – whose face seems to have been eaten by some kind of black reindeer moss – means you no good as he pulls a pistol from his jacket. According to the title, this is one of those "Sanctioned Marauders." He wants to take something from you. On his lapel is a blue leaf that signifies something... perhaps a badge of power, a symbol of money? Is he a Tax Man? These impenetrable qualities invite endless speculation.

In "Conquering Giants," a shaggy horned man, perhaps the same one being held underwater in "Murky Mysteries," has climbed above the forest canopy to slay some huge elemental creature or forest god with his tiny pistol. Will the creature succumb?

Even Hope is not immune to the depredations of these violent men, as we see in "Assassination of Hope Fails Again." Let us hope that Hope always prevails.

Andy's chilly, autumnal world is red in tooth and claw, inhabited by strange forest gods and demi-gods, as well as savage avatars of war, patriotism, and government regulation that spread danger, madness and fear – yet it is counterbalanced by the tenacious survival of humanity, truth, love and optimism in the face of all that loneliness, despair and death.

In fact, Andy Kehoe's work seems a worthy mirror of our world today.