Robbie Conal, acclaimed for his posters featuring caricatures of political figures, has just opened a new exhibit called Apocalypso Facto at Track 16 Gallery at Bergamot station. A press release describes the works as “skeleton drawings…just in time for Halloween, Dia De Los Muertos, and the mid-term elections.”
What Conal has done this time is attach his familiar caricatures of Bush, Condoleezza Rice, etc. to skeleton bodies, also adding touches of color to the basic black, white and gray color palette of the bony creatures. It may be a bit too obvious, but the Day of the Dead motif is grimly appropriate as a way of capturing the perpetrators of a war with grim statistics.
The first picture to greet the eye is “Apocalypso Tango” featuring Dubya and Condi’s heads growing from a single skeleton body engaged in a dance with itself. The color scheme sticks to the black, white and gray except for the vivid red of Condi’s lips. Her expression suggests she is thinking about a secret; Bush’s face looks befuddled. As always, Conal takes pleasure in exaggerating every crevice and flaw he can see in the faces of the infamous – he makes sure we can see Condi’s freckles.
Next we encounter “Enron Geezer Bunny,” a gruesome skeleton with the head of Dick Cheney, holding his heart (dripping blood) in his bony right hand, while a gold pacemaker labeled “Enrongeezer” drips gold blood from his chest. Oh yes, he also wears pink rabbit ears.
“Skull Juggling Rummy” tosses gold glitter and pink skulls, his face a blob of melting pink sludge.
These and other cartoons presented a nightmarish vision of the current administration, and attracted a big crowd on opening night. People stood in the center of the room, drinking wine and talking about their favorite caricatures. Some people eventually discovered the second gallery room containing Conal’s “World Series” drawings of skeletons playing baseball. These had titles like “Sidewinder (Santana),” “My Hero (Doc Ellis’ No-No)” and “Ghost Bat.” While they certainly demonstrated Conal’s skill at drawing the human figure in action (even if that figure was stripped of its skin), the baseball setting did not seem to translate to the Day of the Dead motif with as much success as the political figures. The cheerful skeletons wearing baseball caps simply did not engage the audience in the same way.
This raises an interesting question about the future of Robbie Conal’s career. He’s gone from being the “guerrilla artist” who slapped his posters on walls in the middle of the night, to selling his works for four figures (average asking price on the Apocalypso works – $7000). By now, it’s predictable that he will take any political issue and render the main actors in his patented grotesque style. Combining the caricatures with skeletons makes for a variation but what more can he do with this? The baseball drawings suggest that he wants to move into other areas, but so far people seem to be responding more readily to his familiar lampoons of the politicos we love to hate. Like an actor who can’t shake being identified with one role, Robbie Conal has developed an unshakeable identity as the Man Who Draws Our Nightmares. One hopes that he may yet be able to draw his own dreams.