Brett Wesley Gallery’s latest exhibit delights in its outsider perspective

Sri Whipple’s “Desert Occurrence”

The Details

Wild at Heart
Three stars
Through January 29, Brett Wesley Gallery, 433-4433

Gosh, it seems trite to launch a discussion of lowbrow. But the fact of the matter is, throw a rock at First Friday and it would be hard to miss some variation of the graffiti-driven, tattoo-inflected, comic-book-drenched vibe.

It makes sense. Las Vegas nurses a perpetual Southern California hangover, aesthetically as well as literally. That region’s car culture gave birth (in part) to the lowbrow look that churns graffiti, tattoo, comics and figuration into outsider-art chic. Locally, unlimited exposure to some of the best designers in the world creates a savvy taste for advertising, design and illustration, all cornerstones of the genre. Our intoxicating media-drenched landscape lends itself to a visual slicing/dicing/julienning of popular imagery, ingesting and redistributing every imaginable strain of Western culture. And lowbrow traditionally positions itself as an “up yours” to elitist notions of art, art making and art training.

When you think about it, Las Vegas and the illustrative pop surrealism of lowbrow are like cheese and macaroni.

Brett Wesley Gallery’s Wild at Heart offers its own variation on the theme. Painting, chroma and comics are at the core of Wild’s heart and Utah’s Sri Whipple makes it look easy. The artist’s “The Rambler Part 3,” a seductive kaleidoscope of rubbery legs, questionable body parts and smoking pipes, is visually delicious. The Rambler in question (Popeye?) careens and boomerangs in a pileup of flesh, all quite beautifully executed. This guy can paint. Whipple’s surreal “Desert Occurrence” is equally alluring, although reminiscent of Inka Essenhigh’s gorgeous Looney Tunes-influenced enamel paintings from the early 2000s.

Utahan Trent Call’s decorative surfaces are process heavy. Translucent and brightly pigmented, softly detailed layers fill the canvas beneath hard-edge comic strip shapes, creating an immersive effect. “Ka-Boom I and II” and “Brick House” transform cartoon quotations into a lacy color-field matrix. Call has a real gift for color, as revealed in the complex hues skimming the surface of the sprightly “Squares & Clouds,” lavender shimmering like a Monet haystack.

Vegas’ Juan Muniz most directly embraces the comic book form in his series of paintings based around a sweet bunny-suited character named “Felipe.” Muniz’s highly illustrative paintings convey fragile urban narratives with honesty and heart. Muniz conveys a disarming sincerity absent from the rest of the show.

Lowbrow traded in its subcultural cache for mainstream art world ubiquity years ago, a look visible as much on the street as it is in the gallery. As such, parts of Wild at Heart feel like well-covered territory. But the best work sidesteps familiarity and reveals talented young artists working hard to generate fresh perspectives on a traditional medium. It’s fun, earnest and bright. If you love painting, you’ll love Wild at Heart.


Danielle Kelly

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