California-based artist Mark Bryan has painted colourful scenes of circus characters, alien spaceships, seascapes, landscapes, and hilarious visual takes on everyday phrases like “If Looks Could Kill” and “The Elephant in the Room”. But he is most famous for his satirical works on contemporary politics. These show dictatorial generals, the deteriorating environment, shining cities on hills erected at the expense of a poor working class, republics of highly distracted or heavily indoctrinated citizens, and, most recently, narcissistic presidents with hand mirrors…in baby diapers.
Mark writes: “Although turning inward is my first instinct and love, I can’t always stay inside my head and ignore what’s going on in the world. When the circus turns especially ugly or when a good idea appears, I feel the need and responsibility to make some kind of comment. Humor and satire have been my way to confront serious topics which are often too grim to portray directly.
“There is always some satisfaction for me in pointing out the absurdities of human behavior and making fun of the villains of the day. I don’t know if this kind of work has any effect on the situation, but at least it has a therapeutic value for me and others of like mind…Despite our imperfections and all the trouble we cause ourselves I still have affection and hope for our species. At times I try to overcome my cynical tendencies and create work that explores the positive and mysterious aspects of the human experience.”
An alumnus of the Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles, Mark is a child of the Fifties and Sixties. The pop culture and angst of that period has greatly influenced his style and content. Growing up, he was fascinated by cheesy Sci-Fi and horror movies, super hero comics, Mad Magazine, Salvador Dali, The Twilight zone and Zap Comics – the element of parody in his art is a direct consequence of a deep engagement with such material.
Furthermore, the “duck and cover” mentality of the Red Scare, the constant threat of atomic annihilation, the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, the Kennedy and King assassinations all “provoked a political awareness and a sense that all is not right with the human species.” Study of the Mexican-American Chicano Art Movement made him realise that it was possible to make accessible art with strong social and political messages.
Here are Mark Bryan’s political works (check out his website for other categories). Although these paintings are too quick to point out human flaws and failures, they remain free of darkness and despair. The lens of levity itself becomes something of a potentially redemptive force.
Images used with permission.