Cartoons, Superheroes, Toys and Cuboids: The Art and Life of Dave Brockett (1963-2018)

Ode to Plastic

Plastic oh plastic
You are so fantastic
Better than metal
Cooler than wood
Secretly, I’d marry you
If I could.

—Dave Brockett

Plastic, cartoons, cereal boxes, superheroes and massive TV watching: if you were born in America in the 1960s, this is probably the “stuff” through which you remember your childhood. The visual artist Dave Brockett, born in 1963, grew up at a time when America was in the midst of a cultural revolution. Fed with cartoons, comic book characters, toys and superheroes, Brockett was a true representative of the pop generation best characterized by intense media saturation. If your earliest childhood memories consist of spending Saturday mornings sitting with an overflowing bowl of sugary cereal while cheering cartoon companions as they flickered across the television screen, you will recognize many of the iconic colors and images in Brockett’s art.

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Deconstructed Tony

It was love and longing for these Saturday morning adventures that led Brockett to the drawing board. Opting against the traditional art school route, the self-taught artist instead traveled to Hollywood to seek inspiration at the feet of his heroes. One such hero was Walter Lantz, the creator of Woody Woodpecker. As part of his training under Lantz, he was schooled in the creation of the Lantz characters, which he taught to children at events for the Special Olympics the Lantz Museum at Universal Studios. It was during those years that Brockett first mastered the tools to create his own body of work, incorporating the bright primary colors and playful imagery reminiscent of the icons he was bombarded with as a child

In the early 90’s, Brockett took up the brush and added a new whimsical dimension to his art. Always curious to expand and alter the perspective from which mass culture images are perceived by the individual mind, he produced work such as the Too Close series, which, along with Mask Men (both below), force the viewer to look at the world through what he called “chocolate milk-colored glasses.”  Offering glimpses of iconic smirks or arched eyebrows, each invites us to play a guessing game: can we recognize the parts while perceiving the whole?

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The use of advertising and cartoon icons, along with puns and other wordplay, remained at the heart of Brockett’s art, whether to convey humorous, political message (Rockem Sockem USA, below left) or subject matters that eventually grew more humanistic and universal. In the simple and yet powerful Love (below right),  four minimalist and cartoonish figures mouth a single letter of the word, echoing the word far beyond its visual depiction.

Over time, Brockett’s desire to speak to this basic belief in the inherent goodness of humanity (a rare currency these days) led him away from purely cartoon images and towards more contemplative works representing pop versions of spiritual deities (Krishna, below right, and Lakshmi, below left) or incorporating what he referred to as his “Cereal Art” into more meditative practices (Breakfast Mandala, below center). Regardless of whether he was poking fun at modern media or celebrating the best qualities of humankind, Brockett’s work maintained an exacting eye for detail, a powerful control of color and an overriding sense of fun.

 

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In addition to his paintings, Brockett was also a collagist who incorporated his love of plastic and obsession with toys and other found objects in often Surrealist styled constructions. One such experiment was his PopFossil Project (below) a series of fossil-like imagery of iconic toys from popular culture meant to convey the connection between the archetypal influence on society of images presented by television and movies.

At the age of 50, Brockett was afflicted with ALS, a progressive motor-neuron disease that resulted in his being bedridden until his death at the age of 54. As hard as life became for him during that difficult period, he continued to explore new ways of expressing his artistic vision any way he could. The last paintings he created were a major departure from his earlier, highly controlled technique. He began to create more impressionistic versions of his beloved, iconic comic book heroes such as Superman, The Incredible Hulk, and Batman.

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Batman
TheHulk
The Hulk

The Cuboids Cartoons: In Memoriam, Dave Brockett 1963-2018

Mostly bedridden but still able to sit at his desk and work on the computer, Brockett’s last work are the Cuboids Cartoons, never exhibited nor published as featured below. The genesis of the Cuboids Cartoons was a fortunate offshoot of another project Brockett was working on. Using a 3D world software application, his first intention was to create a virtual city that had a sleek black car careening around corners in the style of a batman video game that he enjoyed playing. Wanting to add characters to the scenario, he began creating 3D models of people. While working with these characters he would turn on the “wireframe” mode in which the characters are presented as a combination of geometric shapes. The clean simplicity of the outlined figures immediately struck him as more interesting than the fleshed out characters. He developed a technique to work on the wireframe images that resulted in exporting them in a format that he could further manipulate. From there, the possibilities were greatly expanded, and off Brockett went, creating those individual cartoons with punchlines that showcase his particular kind of offbeat humor along with a much deeper philosophical reckoning of human fragility and of life’s inherent transitory nature; in other words, offering us a last, and lasting exploration into our common mortality.

Went to Pieces

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Pep Talk copy

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About the Artist

dave3aDave Brockett (1963-2018) Born in NYC, Dave grew up, lived and exhibited his work all over the United States. His first solo show was at the Loft Gallery in Los Angeles in 1990. That was followed by a group exhibition at the CBGB 313 Gallery in New York City in 1991. His next few years were spent in Santa Fe, New Mexico where he exhibited in group shows at the Handsel Gallery (1993) and the Inn of the Anasazi (1994). This exposure resulted in a solo show in 1994 at the St. Francis Hotel in Santa Fe. Dave returned to New York where his work was included in group shows, including Ozone Gallery (1999) and Ivy Brown Gallery (2007) and solo shows, 257 Space (1998), Off Spring (2000), and mediatwist gallery (2004) as well as installations at many stores, restaurants and other commercial venues including StarFish (1998), Robin de Bois (2001), Bistro St. Marks (2004), Jeffrey (2005), Kitchen Bar (2006), Vesta Lounge (2006) Lotus Salon and Gallery (2011), and the Port Authority Terminal (2012).

To contribute to the Dave Brockett Foundation, please contact info@bunnyhopproductions.com

For more on Dave Brockett’s art, visit davebrockett.com

About the Contributing Author

Bill Farancz is an artist, writer and designer who was a close friend and worked with Dave Brockett for over 30 years as a collaborator on many projects including a children’s book called Peekaboo! He was also the printer of Brockett’s limited editions, and the producer of an exhibition of his work at the mediatwist gallery in New York City. Bill’s work has shown at the Cooper Hewitt Museum, PLP Gallery and A Ramona Studio, all in NYC, and is in the permanent collection of the Museo Internacional De Electrografia, in Cuenca, Spain. He is currently working in Bali creating sculptures and as an assistant editor on video profiles of Southeast Asian artists.

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