For decades, West Hollywood artist Garilyn Brune has been drawing images of large women spilling out of tight-fitting dresses, their faces decorated with thick makeup, perfectly applied, and jewels dangling on their fleshy arms and necks.
They’re glamorous and sexy, a bit raunchy and brassy, and, sometimes, they’re men. Always, there’s a story to be imagined. In fact, so lovingly rendered and narrative is Brune’s collection of illustrations, it might be best summed up as a sort of John Waters-meets-Norman Rockwell glimpse of America—a well-articulated presentation not of a country drenched in idealism and fantasy, but of its subcultures fabulously living out their aberrant realities in the glam of the late 1970s onward.
For two months, RTZvegas will host rotating exhibits of work by Brune in The Big, Big World of Garilyn Brune, curated by Las Vegas resident Michael Feder, who first met Brune in the early ’90s and has since been collecting his work. Together they collaborated on a children’s book, Olive Parrot Shares Her Birthday, written by Feder and illustrated by Brune.
But this is the first solo exhibit for Brune, who in his 20s set out to be a fashion designer and received a scholarship to San Francisco’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, then walked away to be an artist.
“This is a guy with a really important life story,” Feder says while flipping through Brune’s portfolio of drawings. “He’s sort of an anti-Norman Rockwell, opposite of Norman Rockwell’s saccharin version of America. One of his big things is size acceptance. And there was no such thing as size acceptance in 1991.”
Brune himself is a large man—a self-described “SuperSized, SuperSexy, BBW Drag Queen”—who has been creating, but never really fully pushing, his art.
His colored pencil and marker drawings of big, beautiful women, aging drag queens, large showgirls and erotically playful women are sprinkled with more serious matters, including homelessness, Rwandan genocide, America’s wealth discrepancies and the Catholic Church’s abuse scandals. Collectively his work veers toward racy, but it was his controversial drawing of a priest performing oral sex on Christ that garnered an Emerging Erotic Artist award from Tom of Finland Foundation and outraged the Catholic Church and others. One of his pieces, titled “Shroud of Shame,” depicts a priest and altar boy and will be part of the RTZvegas exhibit, discreetly displayed with text detailing the scandals.
Most of his work might have been lost had Feder not sent a driver out to Hollywood to pick up Brune’s originals and bring them back to Vegas, where Feder photographed and archived them, turning them into prints and giclées for The Big, Big World of Garilyn Brune.
The Big, Big World of Garilyn Brune. Through July 27; opening reception with the artist June 6, 6-9 p.m. RTZvegas, 1017 S. First Street #195, 592-2164.