Brad Nack has long been a feature of the Santa Barbara arts scene, first as the manager of S.B.-based band Toad the Wet Sprocket and more recently as a visual artist in his own right. Nack is renowned for his annual reindeer series and for animal portraits that are whimsical and light-hearted yet placed in an art historical context that lends them legitimacy. His paintings of cross-eyed lions, confused cows, and quizzical monkeys exude a charm that befits their sweetly childish character, but these works also expertly blend references to such seminal artists as Joan Mir³ and Henri Matisse as well contemporary painters such as Thomas Campbell and Barry McGee.
Nack’s current show at restaurant Roy, The Design of Imagination, showcases an eclectic combination of his trademark anthropomorphized animal paintings as well as a few smaller pieces that surprise the viewer with their technical simplicity. His large-scale works bearing straightforward titles like “Elephant, “Eagle,” and “Small Bear” are colorful, cartoonesque portraits of their subjects in a style that is as much without pretense as their titles. Nack consistently uses a similar technique throughout the show-transparent or textured washes of brightly colored, swirling paint provide a complex background and first layer, while thick, sweeping black lines outline the animal figure. Sometimes the division between background and foreground is deliberate and the subject tightly composed as in “Koala;” in other paintings, such as “Lion” and “Ape,” the layers are chaotic, like two dissonant tunes played simultaneously, resulting in unexpected harmonies.
This ability to achieve such intricacy within simplicity gives Nack’s compositions their depth. But what makes his works so immediately appealing is his talent for capturing the character of his subjects. This feature of his artistry is particularly on display in the show’s smallest works, whose proceeds are dedicated to the Wildlife Care Network. Nack composed these tiny, expressive portraits of birds with a few sweeps of his paintbrush. In one or two lines, he captures a birdlike element of surprise and conveys a distinct personality