Photo by Jack GouldThe software guy who rented out his former office to Drew Brophy for the artist's two-week show was drinking jungle juice and explaining San Clemente. "It's a wasteland here," he said. "There is no culture here whatsoever. None. So when something like this happens, we get excited."
"This" is a pretty prolific show of your typical surfer's vision of life: fish, lava and some boobies. (To be fair, the boobies are pretty much relegated to commissioned works on surfboards.) There are more than 50 works on display, complemented with some goofily breathless wall texts that have PR bunny (to steal a trenchant term from TheNew York Times Magazine) written all over them. Like this, for instance: "One night, Drew had a dream: to ride a big, gnarly, flaming wave. Dream on!" Or this, about the creatures who live in the deep: "And some of them love to eat surfers!"
Okay, so that's dippy. But with the dippiness comes the sheer fun that's so characteristic of lowbrow art—the kind of work that's coming into its own now that museums have realized people will actually attend their dying institutions if they show it. Brophy takes a page or five from R. Crumb here, Robert Williams there. (The lava flowing from Brophy's almost-impotent volcanoes looks like so much splooge.) It's derivative. It's badass posturing trying unsuccessfully to cover up a happy optimism. It's woefully lacking in misogyny. But Brophy can't hide his Pollyanna essence. He's glad! Glad, I tell you! Glad!
Brophy pools his bright paints so they're almost fluorescent. They're probably hella cool if you kept the black light you had in your dorm room.
Brophy doesn't flog us with cheap, remaindered house paints in vanilla and muddy pea. (I know artists are poor and all, but why are they constantly punishing us by painting gloppy ovals in ocher and beige? Take a sandwich to work, and save the money you'd spend on lunch for some good materials. Hell, in the olden days, artists—and hatters—used to go mad from the toxicity in their pigments. That was commitment!) Brophy's palette is full of spring greens, sunny yellows and the kind of orange that supposedly drives people insane. But his optimistic palette is tempered with machismo. No puss, he! In The Deep, a starfish resting on the violet ocean floor has fangs and one monster eye, and a cheery orange junkyard fish just needs a bowler and a cigar. Moving on, Dog Fish actually does have the cigar and spiked collar. Tuff!
Brophy's got lots of ugly down on the ocean floor, and he paints angry gods (like Pele) who look like the Saturday morning public-service announcement "The Yuck Mouth," reminding kids to brush after every meal. There are skulls and mushroom clouds and the kind of evil tikis that sent Greg tumbling off his board into danger's jaws when the Bradys went to Hawaii.
But Brophy has beautiful lines; his candy colors flow like so much wet nail polish, always pooling into feminine curves. There is no masculine sharpness, no rigid geometry. Prints he created for the surf company Lost (whose logo pops up subliminally in more than one of his works; take that, George W. Bush!) are almost fractal in their obsessive-compulsive repetition.
But Brophy is a surfer, and surfing is filled with macho knuckleheads. And so Brophy denies his essential chick gladness and finds someone to go medieval on: one of the Weekly's favorite whipping boys, Wyland. Why-Land mocks Wyland, but only halfheartedly. Even the wall text claims he's mocking the idea of land as opposed to ocean, but I don't see Brophy living on a boat. Meanwhile, in another room, a large vertical painting features . . . dolphins. Like Wyland dolphins. And not only is it a picture of dolphins, but they also glimmer with flashes of light that look like fairy dust or the gleam off Steve Trevor's blinding white teeth. You know what they say about people in glass houses. . . .
Perhaps it's more an ambivalence than posing. Perhaps Brophy is simply in touch with both sides of his chi. Be true to yourself, Drew Brophy! Be a big puss! You might get beat up a couple of times, but there would be so many little Betties to nurse you back to health that the only way you could get more 'tang was if you told them you were gay! Girls love a challenge, you know.