San Luis Obispo City News

SLO City News, San Luis Obispo Ca. 11/6/08

Monkeys on the brain San Luis Obispo City News, article

By Chelsea Bieker

Ever since Central Coast artist Mark Bryan can remember, he has been troubled by the state of the world. As a result of this perspective, satirical work was the obvious direction for his art, he says.
With an exhibition titled “Monkeys Inside my Head” opening at the Steynberg Gallery this Friday, November 7, from 6 to 9 p.m., Bryan says he is always happy to be show­ing in San Luis Obispo.
“It’s like my hometown place to show,” he says. “The Steynberg Gallery is just a great place, so I’m always excited, and I try to put on a good show—especially for local people. This show is not so political like my other ones. It’s more humorous, and a lot of the paintings are psychological. It should be really entertaining.”
Bryan grew up in Southern California and was raised on Mad magazine and superhero comics. He became immersed in social consciousness and was always attracted to humor as a way to get serious points across, he says.
“It is not so disturbing or brutal as coming right out and depicting what is going on,” he says. “I think satire and humor are good ways to get a message across in a seductive way, so people are entertained and pulled into a picture, and then they start to see what the message might be about.”
Bryan’s primary medium is oil on canvas, and his paintings are somewhat illustrative, with a whimsical tone. Although he usually begins by painting a beautiful landscape, he says, he can never seem to leave it that way.
“There has always been an underlying statement in most of my work, but not all of it,” Bryan says. “Some of my work is just humorous and whimsical; some of them are more serious than others. I’ve always had the inclina­tion to put some kind of message in the work because I’m not that interested in purely decorative work.”
His latest exhibition, which will run through December 28, will consist of mostly new works that can be viewed at Bryan’s personal Web site, www.artofmarkbryan.com. “Some of the prints are pieces that have been sold in other galleries, but not that I have shown here,” he says. “I’m going to show some of my other works that have been seen here that are not in prints—ones that I know people like. There will be a lot of new stuff; most of it’s on the Web site.”
Bryan’s art centers on a common theme of animals in a human world. Rabbits, monkeys and skeletons are common fixtures in many of his paintings. “They are sort of inherently funny things,” he says. “Skeletons are sort of the essence of human beings—the framework—and they are just funny to me. I have somewhat of an evolutionary-atheist-type point of view. I think of human beings as one of the great apes, basical­ly. I portray monkeys in human situations to kind of point that out, and they are also funny and people like them.”
Bryan likens his artistic process to dreaming— just paint­ing and seeing what happens—and says his work can be inter­preted in many ways. “The most popular political work that has had the most impact is” The Mad Tea Party” [in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland],” he says. “I like some of the more subconscious ones. They are more like an adventure to paint, because you don’t even know what they’re going to be until you are done. The Fire Breathers is a painting that is sort of telling a story, but you don’t know what the story is. It looks like an illustration, but it is open to all kinds of interpreta­tions.”
Bryan says his style has really evolved in the past 10 years, and that he finds it hard to place his work in one set category. His work—namely, his “drag baby” paintings—has been known to make people “uncomfortable.”
“For every painting, there is someone somewhere who is going to resonate with it and like it,” he says. “Some paintings are more liked than others. The drag baby has made people uncomfortable, but I just think [the paintings] are funny.”
Bryan’s paintings have a political cartoon sort of look to them, and the intricacy of each detail is astounding. A closer look reveals double meanings everywhere—of both the artistic and political sorts. “I was always kind of interested in more illustrative kind of work that told a story and was about some­thing,” Bryan says. “My work fits somewhere between the fine-art and illustration realms.”