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Ken Ruzics tikis give us back our very Brady childhood

There are certain things you can count on from hipsters of my generation: excellent beverages, a profound love of X, a yard full of tikis and a passing acquaintance with Shag.

I would posit, also, that we've got a world-view shaped by Carol Brady.

We all know, with our collectible toys (best captured by Ben Stiller in Reality Bites) and our inability to properly yell at our kids, that Gen X has been nostalgic for its childhood since before it actually left its childhood—at least the childhood before our parents divorced. It's a childhood far more realistic than the nonexistent '50s one. Ours is more concerned with bike rides to 7-Eleven and OP shirts and the backyard parties our parents used to throw, complete with roast pig and marijuana, than with women who vacuumed in high pumps and pearls and colored people knowing their place. The '70s may have been marked by malaise, but there was an awful lot of freedom too.

"Arrival of the Pineapple Kings" by Ken Ruzic. Image courtesy Caged Chameleon
"Arrival of the Pineapple Kings" by Ken Ruzic. Image courtesy Caged Chameleon

With our current bloodlust for Iran and our obsessive focus on gas prices, it might as well be '79 all over again. And the Xers are responding to it as they did back then: with Wonka colors and puka shells and a reliance on the goodness of Carol and Mike's generation of kids. I can still remember saying plaintively to my mom, following one of our better family brawls, that I wished we could be more like the Brady Bunch. She actually snarled in response.

Caged Chameleon, a lovely, expansive gallery in a Santa Ana Craftsman home, returns us to the Bradys' thrilling Hawaiian vacation with Ken Ruzic's "Talking Palms and Pineapple Kings." Someone bring a ukulele.

The talking palms don't say much. The pineapple kings say even less; they don't, you see, have mouths. But with dozens of bright cartoon canvases showing a land of happy, with a universe of creatures acting in harmony while doing their creaturely things, you can almost taste the escape. It tastes, of course, of pia coladas.

Ruzic's closed his eyes and found his happy place, and it's a place of teals and forests and glimmering golds. It's a place where dozens of tiki gods and tortoises, pineapple kings and magical fishes join together on epic canvases in a whole Where's Waldoof tiki cosmology. They rattle their bones, they perform small dramas, and they stir cauldrons of (probably cannibal) stew. In the back, always, smiles the Happy Place Made Obvious: Ruzic's Happy Hut.

Take The Sun Visits the Happy Hut. There is the sun, beaming down, happy. There is the Happy Hut; but it is not happy. In the tale Ruzic's spun to go along with his anthropomorphic canvas, the sun explains to the lonesome hut that its tattoos, its inscriptions, its hieroglyphic carvings are friends and family enough, whereupon the tattoos anthropomorphize their own bad selves, jump off the walls, play around like happy monkeys, and then settle down for a night nestled in the Happy Hut. Could there be more beneficence, more cooperation, a happier ending? Maybe it's our Brady heritage, maybe it's our tats, but have you ever heard an Xer advocate nuking Iraq?

KEN RUZIC'S "TALKING PALMS AND PINEAPPLE KINGS" AT CAGED CHAMELEON, 1505 N. MAIN ST., SANTA ANA, (714) 836-5137. ENDING PARTY SEPT. 9. CALL GALLERY FOR HOURS.

 
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