In September of last year, I went to the San Jose Museum of Art and saw a wonderful exhibit of eery cartoony art. The art exhibit was called “Tragic Kingdom: The Art of Camille Rose Garcia” and it featured a style of artwork that was seemingly influenced by 1930s Disney cartoons as seen through the eyes of the Addams Family (http://www.sjmusart.org/content/exhibitions/current/exhibition_info.phtml?itemID=328). This exhibit was Garcia’s first exhibit outside of Southern California, where she emerged from a thriving Los Angeles underground scene called “Pop Surrealism”. What I like about her art is the combination of a dark Grimm’s Brother fairy tale feel with a strong political consciousness.
Camille Rose Garcia has two overarching goals with her art: to appeal to a broad spectrum of people, and to make some comments on today’s world. In an interview, she said, “I always wanted to do art that people could relate to, but also carry some social relevance. Like in art school it wasnt’ really about commentary, or if it was, it was really boring, so I really just wanted to create art that was not only super fun to look at, and if ou’re five or fifteen and hated art, you still could like and relate to it…” I think Garcia more than lives up to her ambitions. Her paintings range in size from medium size paintings to mural size paintings, and they are filled with gothic images in these drip like backgrounds. The colors are very bright, yet the images are still very dark. Garcia incorporates ideas from her favorite authors, writers like Philip K. Dick and William Burroughs. She is very much against the policies of George Bush, and her paintings are frequently critiques against rampant militarism, environmental degradation, and the corporate culture.One of my favorite Garcia paintings is Orphaned Nihilist Escape Ship (http://www.sjmusart.org/content/exhibitions/exhibition_infoDetail.phtml?itemID=6019&pastEventImages=no&eventID=328). It’ has these cute bambi type creatures being taken ashore from a sail ship by a morose female figure. It’s a scary world, with drips coming from the sky like teardrops, and menacing pointed head figures looming above the bambi creatures. This painting was part of a series of paintings in her “Plan B” series. It was created in response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Camille Rose Garcia elaborated on her thinking process. “I was already deep into thinking about the collapse of society, the degradation of the environment, and military catastrophes; and it became all too apparent during Katrina that disorder would quickly ensue. ‘Plan B’ suggests an alternative couse of action, a fanciful reaction to the current state of world affairs.” More Blood for the Castle is part of her Ultraviolenceland series, showing these sad witchlike figures carrying a beheaded bambi figure (http://www.sjmusart.org/content/exhibitions/exhibition_infoDetail.phtml?itemID=6019&pastEventImages=no&eventID=328). On the written page, it seems like a sick image, but when I look at the actual painting, I feel more a sense of melancholy. Camille Rose Garcia was commenting on the loss of sensitivity when bombarded by an overload of violence. In the free San Jose Museum handout, Camille Rose Garcia wrote: “I was so tired of the general state of things in America at this point. The war machine was still going strong, pictures of beheadings were a daily occurence, yet it still seemed like we were all trapped in some kind of weird fantasy-world of denial. The word ‘ultraviolence’ is from the movie and book A Clockwork Orange, and is used to describe recreational violence, which is exactly what ‘Shock and Awe’ (the bombing campaign that started the invasion of Iraq) was all about.” It’s been over a half a year since I’ve seen Tragic Kingdom, and the images and ideas of the show still are in my head. Camille Rose Garcia has created great paintings that really take a skewer to the America of the past 8 years. She is performing a vital duty that artists of the past like Goya, George Grosz, or Daumier, did for their society, which is hold up a mirror to faults of that society. Garcia is performing the role that Howard Zinn writes about in his book Artists in Times of War: “So the word transcendent comes to mind when I think of the role of the artist in dealing with the issues of he day. I use that word to suggest that the role of the artist is to transcend conventional wisdom, to transcend the word of the establishment, to transcend the word of the establishment, to transcend the orthodoxy, to go beyond and escape what is handed down by the government or what is said in the media.”