The press release for Brad Nack’s current exhibition calls his approach to painting “Pre-Post Modern.” The term is both a cheerful nose thumbing to art historical pretension and an accurate descriptor. Those familiar with Nack’s annual reindeer show will recognize in New Animals the same blend of primitivism and pop art that has won the artist a kind of cult following here on the Central Coast.
A giant elephant with close-set eyes, a prancing green horse, a grotesquely oversized spider: these totemic animals call to mind their cousins immortalized in pre-modern cave paintings. At the same time, there’s a touch of the surreal in “Apes on Beach” — a hairy couple looking ill at ease despite the tropical setting — or “Seal,” in which a black blob reminiscent of an oil slick engulfs the tail of a very nervous pinniped.
There are 40 oil paintings in this show, plus a collection of nearly 30 sketches in watercolor tempera. Thus MichaelKate’s massive warehouse of hip, mid-century furnishings becomes a kind of Humane Society of bullish bulls, wide-eyed owls, slithering snakes, and a chubby bat who hangs upside down near the cash register. In one corner you’ll find “Zorro,” a masked, hunchbacked raccoon wearing a confident smirk. In another “Pig,” who cavorts on spindly legs, his body printed with the same bright rings that adorn quite a few of his companions in this menagerie.
Not everyone would want to go home with austere “Moose” or feral “Cheetah,” but it’s hard to resist “Cat with Red Eyebrow,” who looks like the survivor of a recent scrap, or “Dog with Socket,” whose hind legs have gone airborne — electric shock, or simply business as usual?
No, Nack’s not afraid of splashy color and cute critters, but it’s not all he does, either. Take for example “Elk” and “Cow,” neither one of which seems at first to represent an animal at all. Then there’s “Mice,” in which two round-eared figures stand side by side on a wide prairie, eyeing the viewer in an unsettling way. One seems to rest its hand on its hip, the other raises its paws in a gesture that looks like supplication — or maybe that’s just how it balances upright. “Mice” makes a little bit more sense when you encounter “Humans,” in which man and woman stand shoulder to shoulder without touching. The tree over her head speaks of an old story — something about people and animals living in perfect harmony, that is ’til someone went and messed it all up.
New Animals runs through Sunday, October 2, at MichaelKate Interiors (132 Santa Barbara St.). Call 963-1411 or visit bradnack.com for info.