Devilish in the Details
Photo by Rebecca SchoenkopfR.T. Pece (we know him as "Bob") is a slight, stuttery, sandy-blond man. He is shy and quiet, he is very nice, and he plays in one's peripheral vision. It is easy—as slight, stuttery, quiet and shy as he is—to look past him.
Judging by his short films, R.T. Pece is also shockingly funny, with a wealth of perfect detail that is so overabundant most of the time it will fly right past your dizzy li'l head.
Bob gets a whole big gallery at Cal State Fullerton (the Main Gallery, in fact) to wow you with his films and paintings in Definite Ambiguities. The paintings march in unending rows along yards and yards of fresh, white gallery wall. His films show on one TV with a bench before it so you can sit there for an hour, waiting for Fossils 'n Stuff to come around again. One small, darkened room is given over to a video projection of an amusing but unarresting Super-8 flick. It is line drawing as animation and looks quite antique, like Steamboat Willie.
If I were king of Cal State Fullerton, I would have turned the exhibit on its head. Each of Bob's short films would be projected onto its own wall, running in a fantasmic loop of Bob, the sounds melding together in a well-modulated cacophony. His paintings? You could stack them eight feet high in the little projection room. They'd be just fine in there, since they're all practically identical anyway. There is Beaky Duo, Yellow-Tipped Peeker, and Flying Stool and Aggressive Friend. Some are pink, some are yellow, some are apple green or shiny-as-hard-candy sienna. Their titles and their colors and their sweet clunkiness are charming. But they are still all the same, same, same.
I'd be willing to bet that to Bob, each of his paintings is inestimably unique. He probably feels unbounded affection for each creature—squarish, faceless things contained in flat, black, perfect cartoon outlines. They are architectural. They are robotic. They are gorgeously symmetrical. They are as interchangeable as Cabbage Patch Kids—new eye and hair color, and presto!—and just as unceasing in their eternally churning production line. Pece has created charming cartoons peopled with these unanthropomorphized non-beings—and he has never forsaken them for any other subject matter. He should make small clay models of each and sit on the floor and have wars with them. Then he should mass-produce them and sell them with baseball cards. Collect them all! Kids never tire of obsessively needing one of everything, no matter what it might be. Remember milk caps? Bob would make a fortune.
Some of Bob Pece's films center on these same creatures. The one that got its own installation room, for instance, is called Movie of the Paintings, and that's exactly what it is. But his other films! Both Fossils 'n Stuff and UFOs on Your Doorstep are as filled with flash-by-your-eyes funny as the legendary claymation The Wrong Trousers, though on a more DIY, grassroots, almost slacker scale.
In Fossils 'n Stuff, Bob, dressed like an Amish man, is the proprietor of the Pit Stop, a nothing-adjacent "destination" for families that he hopes to make into a fossil-themed amusement park. There is a wealth of supporting documentation (akin to Sandow Birk's multitudes of fabricated go-alongs, from historians' assessments to faux-critical pannings, in his portrayal of the great war between the Californias). For instance, Bob gives us a map of the proposed site, featuring the Pit Stop Family Dinning [sic] and an area for the proposed Smoking Volcano and Polynesian Buffet. He offers a real-estate ad for the site, surrounded by a dozen other ads for shacks and sties and hovels, each winningly described and each accompanying photo equally godforsaken.
In UFOs on Your Doorstep, "R.T. Pece" hawks his UFO pamphlet, "Befriend or Befoe?"—available in three different colors! Pick your favorite! In a bizarre documentary, one woman finds evidence of aliens in her attic: the pointy hats they have left behind. "The hats displayed no aggressive behavior," a deep-voiced narrator narrates, "and seemed to have a friendly personality."
Now, wouldn't you want to see that looped over and over again, to infinity and beyond? Wouldn't you? And then we could all take our creature models and sit on the floor and have wars.
"Definite Ambiguities—Films and Paintings by R.T. Pece" at Cal State Fullerton Main Art Gallery, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 278-3262. Open Mon.-Thurs., noon-4 p.m.; Sat., noon-2 p.m. Through Thurs., May 9. Free.
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