In Nathan Douglas’ Passing By at Brett Wesley Gallery, the LA-based photographer creates a peculiar reality set mostly in urban LA and the Western desert, manufactured from his own dream world or from life around him. Themes of isolation and curiosity are carried out in playful, colorful imagery, hinting at something more complex under the glossy images. A vintage Jolly Chimp toy sits on a gold vinyl couch abandoned riverside under the LA underpass. A Western bunny-masked character in a fringe coat is cast in motion against a blue sky, and a curious lone astronaut explores the desert landscape.
Though Douglas re-creates scenes from dream-based or actual events (including his own experience of feeling isolated after moving to LA from Las Vegas), it’s hard to discern whether the works are completely literal or if the nonsensical just makes sense here.
Most of the exhibit’s images were pulled from two films playing in the gallery, which Douglas wrote and directed in addition to designing the props and costumes. An astronaut in silver walks through a rocky desert, labeling and scanning everyday items he comes across, including a naked woman with whom he attempts to share his Mars Bar. A mechanical horse of the ilk found outside grocery stores—50 cents a ride—gallops through a dreamscape.
The tumbleweed, a symbol of vast, ephemeral Western life, becomes “Tumble Weave” in Douglas’ work: a synthetic hair weave moving across an urban setting, framed by homes in the background. His “No Mercy” features a hot-pink Barbie Jeep (a sort of playtime affluence) set on cinder blocks and stripped of its rims to portray a town so tough that even a child’s toy is fair game.
Douglas’ Face Value show last year at Brett Wesley featured a series of portraits playing with gender identity, fashion, fetish and camp, focusing more on us as individuals. Passing By extends into the collective physical world around us. By mixing his commercial and fine-art photography background, Douglas illustrates the twisted (and sometimes cruel) hilarity of life through pop, camp and glamour.
Passing By Through December 23; Thursday & Friday, noon-6 p.m.; Saturday, noon-4 p.m. Brett Wesley Gallery, 1025 S. First St. #150, 702-482-8844