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Bret Pendleton: Fort Wayne Fecal Face
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
Every era has defined itself, in one way or another, through the rejection of its past. This can be seen to be true regarding generations of people, disrupting technologies, and forms of art. In the 20th century, youth culture absorbed this tendency toward revolution and became known for rejecting the past outright and accepting formerly unacceptable forms of culture, expression, and behavior.
While this process of rejecting the past has produced artistic expressions that we now find incredibly beautiful like Impressionism, the Nabis painters, and the World War-fueled images of Expressionism. However, it has also led to the absurdity of Dada and the unexpected beauty found within Pop Art. Currently, the pluralism found in the contemporary art world is giving rise to systems of cultural production as urban alternative and underground contemporary art, internet-based art, and the pop punk and skateboarding culture influencing the artists associated with Fecal Face, a San Francisco based gallery which went online in the year 2000, and has had an expansive influence since.
As evidence of the contemporary art world’s pervasiveness, Fecal Face’s influence has reached as far as Fort Wayne’s art scene through Bret Pendleton, a 19 year old artist whose work lives somewhere between Raymond Pettibon’s drawings, Barry McGee (widely known among graffiti artists as “Twist”), inside jokes among his friends, and the graphic style of “The Simpsons.” Pendleton’s understanding of art and design lack the academic precision or background that most artists attempt to attain, but the core of his work is advanced and highly stylized, based on his exposure to the art culture found in Fecal Face via the internet. Pendleton is an excellent example of the fact that an artist no longer needs to be cultivated through traditional academic systems when given access to the art world through other means. Similar to the “outsider artist” label, entrepreneurial artists, attracted to the art world for whatever reason, are finding new vehicles for exposure and much lower barriers of entry through websites and the communities which form around them.
Overall, Pendleton’s drawing style and aesthetic tends to remind the viewer of the David Silverman directed animated style of the Simpsons. From the general line quality to the figuration and characterization, Pendleton’s cast of misfits would seem to blend in with the crowd in Springfield. This body of art has mostly taken the form of mixed media drawings on paper, with some painting on found objects. This format lends itself more heavily to Pettibon’s format of cartoonish drawings which sometimes include handwriting and the development of motifs and recurring characters that draw the viewer into an ambiguously overarching storyline within the work. While Pettibon has become famous for the use of characters like Gumby, J. Edgar Hoover, and Charles Manson, Pendleton has created “Fat Satan”, a hilarious and disarming representation of evil incarnate who is sincerely angst ridden over his own insatiable appetite. In this way, Pendleton’s work is perhaps even more sophisticated than he is aware or leads on, creating open-ended conceptual frameworks which can be viewed as self-conscious critiques of youth culture, the alternative and punk music scene, and broader American culture.
Other pieces of Pendleton’s work include “Pebbles & Weeds”, a drawing of a shaved bald man saying, “Still, Most Shit Blows”. This piece is a reference to the Dinosaur Jr. song of the same title and the phrase is a line of lyrics in it. The piece is meant to be an homage to J. Mascis, a pinnacle figure in alternative music, as well as skateboarding culture. “Dang”, a shaved-headed capped figure with the letter “DA”, and “NG” in his wide open eyes speaking the words, “Existence is not certain.” Other pieces along the same line are “Life+Death Pair”. While the critic might see this as a novel attempt to bring up philosophical concepts of existentialism, Pendleton’s oeuvre leads one to think it might also just be chance. The fact that there may be correlations in Pendleton’s work like existential communication, or that it might have just been a random thought in his head seems to make his work all the more amusing and disarming in general. The lo-fi nature of his drawings, and their passive execution of concept end up drawing the viewer in even further. The connections between these reactions to his art and the strategies employed by the Dada movement are also fascinating. This full circle aesthetic exploration from Dada to Pop, Punk to Street art seem to be aggregating naturally in Pendleton’s work, and the recursive nature of the subcultures which he identifies with and has developed locally allows his concepts to be established
While drawings on paper are Pendleton’s obvious strong suit, he has also begun to branch out into digital prints of his work, and painting, mostly on found objects which range from traditional canvases and canvas boards to planks of wood and dislocated car side door mirrors. Although his skill with painting is still growing, the minimal palette and focus on linework make it a natural extension of his current work.
While it can sometimes be difficult to embrace the new trends, emerging styles, and make room for new artists like Pendleton, as an arts community, we must try. It is only through the constant churning through of new ideas and mentalities that we will be able to challenge and assert strong aesthetics and begin to grow a strong network of connections as well as a regional identity within the art world. Due to the establishment and ready access to the arts through the internet, there is a whole generation of makers which have not and will not be coming up through our traditional academic systems. Without understanding the roles that they play and making space for them to challenges the status quo and produce strong new discourse, we will find brain drain and gradual breakdown of community.