Saturday, January 12, I drove from Disneyland for Dave MacDowell’s first solo show—“Project Mayhem” at Thinkspace Gallery in Culver City. Attending one of his shows is akin to being a kid in a candy store. It’s hard to know where to start first because there is so much eye candy to savor. His composition style is a visual sugar rush captured on canvas. He literally and figuratively sugar coats his social commentary. But unlike with eating too many sweets, I never get sick of his nutty assortment of depictions that inevitably give me something wonderful to chew on.
If you have never experienced Dave MacDowell’s work before, be warned: -The show was not created for conservative, church-going Republicans. -The art should be viewed like a “Where’s Waldo?” book. -The imagery references do not have to be recognized to be appreciated. -The themes explored can be interpreted in numerous ways. -The artist is a serious painter who doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Dave often lures you in with a dazzling pallet, cartoonish characters, and product brand parody. Then he cold-cocks you when you realize you are looking in a mirror reflection of our dark side. Dave deftly dissects what we consume and what consumes us. Sure, his work makes us smile, makes us nostalgic, and makes us blush. But, he also reminds us that our fractured society is driven by false idols, social morays and a longing for escapism from our monotonous day to day—be it through Disney, drugs, alcohol, sex, or death. The excessive jumble of imagery is intended to represent our society of excess and immediate gratification.
Here are some of my favorite images: -Kids’ cereal cartoon mascots depicted as drug dealers and pimps. -A flash mob of pants-less Bob’s Big Boys serve up burgers and boners. -Wendy, of the Wendy’s fast food chain, is transformed into a blow up sex doll. -A grabbing claw vending machine filled with fake breasts. -Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg beheaded and impaled on a stake.
However, my favorite piece from in the show is entitled “Leave It To Beaver.” Dave painted on portions of an actual female reproductive organ chart to represent the endless politicizing of the abortion issue. Dave also boldly explores our nation’s changing perceptions of African Americans in terms of race relations, role models and entertainers. He touches on segregation, racism, and classism. Not many Caucasian artists seem comfortable commenting on these hot button subjects in their artwork.
For example: -Barrack Obama is depicted as a Terminator-type cyborg. -Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are seen as M&M’s chocolate candies. -Oprah Winfrey is imagined as a burger-eating witch. -Fat Albert appears as the face of gluttony. -Chris Brown and Rihanna are compared to Popeye and Olive Oil.
Then we have “Childhood Wonder”—a sincerely reverent painting that depicts a young Stevie Wonder playing a piano while basking beneath rays of sunshine--bringing to mind the iconic love song “You are the sunshine of my life.”
A regular theme of the paintings’ imagery is a landscape flooded with liquid such as crude oil, milk and gastric juices. Some things are hard to stomach. Dave reveals the contents of the under belly of our fast food society. Happiness has been turned into a commodity that we have been force-fed since we were kids.
For example: -Religion sells us “happiness through fulfillment.” -Disney sells us “The Happiest Place On Earth.” -Dealers and doctors sell us “happy pills.” -Fast food chains sell us “Happy Meals.” -Each year sells us another “Happy Birthday cake.”
Dave MacDowell paints the ugly truth in the most enticing ways possible. It is no accident that in “Rockwell’s America,” Dave portrays artist, Norman Rockwell’s idealized images of America as a threat. He is the anti-Norman Rockwell. His paintings function like a series of funhouse mirrors- exaggerating our reflections just enough as to allow us to nervously laugh at our own expense.
"Project Mayhem” will run through February 2nd at Thinkspace Gallery. See Dave’s past work at www.macdowellstudio.com
Words by Rick Galiher. Artist photo by Sam Graham. All other photos courtsey of the artist.