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Bunny ears in translation 

Copycats take over the walls of the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art

click to enlarge ART TRAIN :  Lena Rushing copied Dan Woehrle’s copy of John Landon’s painting depicting Linnaea’s. - IMAGE BY LENA RUSHING
  • IMAGE BY LENA RUSHING
  • ART TRAIN : Lena Rushing copied Dan Woehrle’s copy of John Landon’s painting depicting Linnaea’s.

We’ve all played the game--whether thoughtfully and intentionally to prove a point about gossip, or as insipid participants in the endless chain of “he said/she said.” On the evening of June 3, as the respectable gallery-goers hemorrhage from the respectable San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, the schoolyard classic—telephone--is getting turned on its head.

Instigators Neal Breton and Anna Weltner—bearded and blonde, respectively—coordinated the Copy of a Copy Show as the fourth installment of the museum’s Art After Art After Dark series. (In the spirit of transparency and full disclosure, Weltner is New Times own arts editor. But we won’t hold that against the artwork.)

Art After Art After Dark is very much a work in progress, an uncoordinated and angsty teenager plagued with lofty ambitions. Breton initially considered it a manifestation of the local “youth art movement,” a designation he recently modified. The artists of AAAAD are “not necessarily young in age, but have a more contemporary eye,” he amended. Subsisting on the crumbs—food, not talent-wise—of the well-established Art After Dark machine, Weltner and Breton’s shows typically get tossed onto the wall the evening of the event, all set to raucous punk-ish music performed by one of Breton’s friends, or a guy he knows, or even a friend of a friend.

Not so for the Copy of a Copy Show, which will be staged the evening before the event and will remain on the walls for a week afterward.

- BYO CRUMBS:  Art After Art After Dark’s “A copy of a copy show” takes place at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, 1010 Broad St., June 3 from 9 to 11 p.m. -
  • BYO CRUMBS: Art After Art After Dark’s “A copy of a copy show” takes place at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, 1010 Broad St., June 3 from 9 to 11 p.m.

So how does this visual game of telephone work? Breton and Weltner began by compiling a list of artists divided into three “tiers”: a legend tier, and two unnamed tiers beneath that—no insult or superiority implied.

An artist from the second tier draws the name of a legend tier artist (Mark Bryan, Josephine Crawford, Nixson Borah, Russ Pope, Jeff Claassen, and John Landon) from a hat. The second tier artist then creates a copy of the legend artist’s work. The goal is to pay homage to the original piece, but within the artist’s own style, on his or her own creative terms. The third tier artists then draw the name of a second tier artist, and create a copy of the second tier artist’s copy.

If that’s at all baffling, don’t feel too badly. There was, the collaborators confessed, some confusion among the artists.

“Some people were like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’m just going to say OK and then figure it out later,’” said Weltner, who lured a chain of artists into participating by first securing Bryan and shamelessly name-dropping thereafter.

And some of the artists felt they weren’t compatible with the name they drew.

“Some of them were actually pretty upset by it,” admitted Weltner, not at all daunted.

“Some were whiny about who they got. They had no idea how they would approach their task. I encouraged all of them to stop bitching and throw themselves into it,” said Breton, who drew as his legend the much-coveted Bryan—which raises questions as to whether the fact that the names were drawn from Breton’s own Brixton newsboy hat, sized 7 1/4 medium, drew allegations of hat-tampering. Not yet, apparently.

click to enlarge IMAGE BY DAN WOEHRLE
  • IMAGE BY DAN WOEHRLE

Among the more seemingly mismatched artists were John Landon, Lena Rushing, and Dan Woehrle, aka “Stenzskull.” (Several of the artists in Weltner and Breton’s seedy AAAAD world go by alternative handles—“Sawdust,” SOAK,” etc.)

Stenzskull is a stencil artist who favors a grittier street aesthetic. His task of translating Landon’s portrait of Linnaea’s—brightly colored and peopled with abstract faces—was far from simple. But the end result is distinctively Stenzskull, grayscale with minimal spots of color.

Rushing admitted that she’d had her fingers crossed for Bryan; he at least could be counted on to incorporate animals—bunnies and monkeys are his trademark. But instead she drew Landon’s painting of Linnaea’s, altogether devoid of animals. 

“The difficult part was to make the image reflect me and still maintain the ghosts of the other two artists at the same time,” Rushing said.

In the end, she turned to the elements that have come to define her style: “animals, patterns, and a fat dose of imagination.” In lieu of traditional café patrons—you know, humans—Rushing peopled Linnaea’s with ostriches, one balanced ever-so-delicately on a unicycle, the rest filing into the establishment.

click to enlarge IMAGE BY JOHN LANDON
  • IMAGE BY JOHN LANDON

Even Breton had some demons. While trying to replicate Bryan’s My First Bunny, Breton was forced to return to acrylics, which he hadn’t used in two years.

“It was kinda like falling off a bike at first. But he’s the best painter in this area, easily,” Breton said. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to get by with collage and watercolor. I had to depart from that, take a step back from where I was.”

Breton’s bunny has rounded ears, whereas Bryan’s were square. And the lush landscapes that beam from Bryan’s canvases are noticeably absent from Breton’s piece. But Sawdust, who copied Breton’s copy, faithfully returned to the square ears from Bryan’s piece.

What’s lost—or gained—from one copy to another and subsequently reclaimed—or not—is for the viewer to determine. And likely the artists who are, ultimately, their own greatest critics. 

Managing Editor Ashley Schwellenbach is a copy and paste of an original. Send gluesticks to aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

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