One of Santa Barbara’s most unique and fabulous holiday traditions is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. I’m talking about Brad Nack’s 100% Reindeer Art Show, which starts on December 8 at Restaurant Roy. Of course, if you want to purchase one of his iconic reindeer paintings, make sure to get there early, as these reasonably priced, quirky works of art tend to sell out rather rapidly.
Brad, who is one of the most delightful people I’ve met this year while reporting these questionnaires, explained the genesis of his reindeer over a fun-filled lunch at Louie’s in the Upham Hotel. It all started in 1997, when Elaine Esbeck, the owner of Frame on De la Vina Street, asked to borrow a small reindeer painting that Brad had painted for the mother of Spencer the Gardener three years before. When Esbeck hung it as part of a winter solstice party, 20 people wanted to buy it. So the next year, Elaine suggested he paint 20 of them.
“I go overboard on things all the time,” says Brad. “Instead of 20, I made 70.” Most sold, and a tradition was born. He was reluctant to do it the second year, but carried forth. “I love how constrained it was — the challenge of having to make each different,” he explains. By the third year, he started getting into it, but then he had to twist Elaine’s arm to host the fourth and fifth years. By the sixth year, he moved the annual show to Roy, and Christi Westerhouse from Frameworks took over framing duties.
Over the course of the year, Brad is working on about 800 different reindeer. he finishes about 150, and then picks 60 to 70 for each show. “They’re easier to start than to finish,” he explains. “I like them to look carefree, and that’s elusive.” He also tells me that to him they’re not reindeer paintings but portraits. “It’s like a film strip,” he elaborates. “I capture a reaction. To me they’re not reindeer, but a human story. There’s something that happened before and after.”
Brad Nack answers the Proust Questionnaire.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
If I could change one thing about myself, I would not be able to choose one thing. I would change a bunch of stuff or just leave it as it is. Sort of like turning in all your tiles in Scrabble.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is somehow, at 59 years old, feeling like I am just starting to get things figured out and starting to make plans for the future that seem realistic and even fun. It is also my biggest downfall.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I overuse surfing terms that are holdovers from being younger. I was also in the nonprofit world for a couple years and almost started using words like “underserved,” “community,” “empowerment,” and those sort of words too much. Those are good words, but when there are too many in one sentence they sound creepy and also lose their meaning.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I do not know what my most marked characteristic is. Maybe napping. Or being lazy or not excelling at paperwork. Or maybe I do not know what this question means.
What do you like most about your job?
I have a bunch of jobs, and I like that I do a lot of different things for work. I have been a manager and producer for Toad The Wet Sprocket and a songwriter for Warner Chappell Music. My first band, The Tan, recorded with two Robbies, Robby Krieger from the Doors and then Robbie Robertson from The Band. I thought Robby from The Doors was much cooler. I worked as the director at The Arts Fund and as an art curator at MichaelKate Interiors. My longest-running job is being a waiter at Roy, off and on for over 20 years. Plus I am working on a movie and a couple music videos. And, I almost forgot, painting art is my main thing.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
My idea of perfect happiness is something I don’t ever think about; there’s always something wrong. Maybe feeling “okay” with the stuff that isn’t going right would be a sort of happiness, but not perfect.
What is your greatest fear?
Being too happy. No, I don’t know. Most of my fears are general background fears, not really “greatest fears,” but I don’t like drowning or falling off of cliffs.
Whom do you most admire?
I don’t really admire anyone that much. I know that sounds sad, but I think everyone can be super-cool and super-annoying and everything between. So, I sort of don’t really admire any one person, as a person to “admire most.”
When I was a kid I realized the people I looked up to, the famous people of that era, would most likely not be fun to actually spend time with or be around. Wait, stop; I am changing my mind; I now realize that this is a work-related question. I bet if I had ever had a real job, there would be people that I worked with that I would admire, so this would change my answer. But I will just leave it for now.
What is your greatest extravagance?
My greatest extravagance is food, which I like and I also feel provides me with a bit of time to myself or a nice place for a conversation with a co-diner. Either way, food is a break from the day and a possible destination, and it tastes good. I stopped eating meat and chicken a long time ago, and I think that has helped this food-loving person from becoming super-overweight.
What is your current state of mind?
My current state of mind is more peaceful than it has been, but I am sort of forcing that to happen. I am maintaining this sense because I find I am more likely to be productive when I take my time.
What is the quality you most like in people?
I like people who are good at communicating and being nice but also at figuring out how to say what they want me to understand. I would like to be like that someday.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
What I most dislike in people is the amount of us. Individually, I generally like people; people are some of my best friends, but there’s just too many of us running around being busy and stressed out and looking for parking and waiting in line. I think 30 people living in a cave is a good, natural amount. I also wonder if that shorter lifespan in nature and under the stars felt like a better and longer “life” than our current traffic-jammed, computerized, mall-walking, phone-clinging lifestyle does.
What do you most value in friends?
I used to have a lot of friends that I really connected with and stayed in touch with all the time. Now I don’t because I know a lifetime’s worth of people. I like the people who make the effort to stay in touch, but I also like to be alone more than I used to. I like the friends that I cannot see for awhile then pick up where we left off. As life goes on, this is important, but I also really value all the friends I haven’t met yet, and I am looking forward to meeting them.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I was talented at music. I worked really hard at music for a time, but I really never even understood what I was not understanding. I really like stories. Songs can be a perfect little place for a story or a vibe or a hint of a story. But nothing comes easy to me with music. I have written a lot of songs, and I think no more than five or six out of maybe 200 are acceptable, and they are not even exceptional. I am thinking of doing a new album. Meanwhile, here’s a link to a song I sang in the ‘80s called “Bad Party”: thetan1.bandcamp.com.
Where would you most like to live?
I would like to say I wanted to live somewhere where I could be of some use. To live in a place that needed help and by working on a project I believed in, I could help to end corruption or slavery or injustice. I haven’t done anything like that yet. Maybe I should have taken this questionnaire earlier in life, or maybe it’s not too late or maybe here is a good place to start. Santa Barbara is pretty messed up in a lot of ways.
What is your most treasured possession?
My most treasured possession is a thing with a future. If my house was burning down, I would consider the dogs and the cat my top things to get out. I’d add in my wife and housemate, Tara and Cory, but they are not possessions. So, I guess things that are alive. I would probably grab the indoor plants out of a burning house before my computer.
Who makes you laugh the most?
Tara makes me laugh the most because she has a great sense of humor that I get. The thing is she’s not always wanting to be funny so it can be pretty elusive. Let’s say her goal is not to be funny all the time, but it just comes out in low-key ways every once in awhile.
What is your motto?
My motto is, “Why do I have to deal with all this crap, and why can’t I do what I want to do?” I honestly think that a lot. I think it’s the motto of the overprivileged white dude, and I need to change it now. If you are also an overprivileged white male in America, please join me in changing our motto.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
The artists that painted the animals on the walls of the caves at Lascaux in France. As I mentioned before, living in a cave always seemed like a good plan, but it would, for me, work best if it was the real deal, not an alternative lifestyle. I do a lot of paintings of animals, so I recognize that those dudes way back, 17,000 years ago, knew what they were doing when it came to painting. They were telling stories about animals. That’s not exactly what I do; instead I paint animals as stories about people. Back then, the animals were in charge of the world; now we are — strange.
On what occasion do you lie?
I usually lie to the press, but mostly for fun. Like a tall tale.
Once, in my mid-thirties, I told a reporter that I was 19 years old and addicted to drugs and that I used the Carrillo Street Recreation Center basketball courts to stay clean and stay out of gangs. Some bigwigs were planning to turn the building into a parking lot.
After the full-page spread with photos on the front of the B section of a local newspaper came out, the parking lot never got made. I had been interviewed by this particular journalist a number of times, and I thought we were just joking around. I guess she didn’t notice how old I was or recognize me, so I just went with it. My parents’ friends kept calling my parents to say how proud they were of me being so open about my addiction. I felt bad because I wasn’t addicted to drugs and it was a lie.