With wry wit, a signature aesthetic and, of course, that classic deadpan humor, Wes Anderson embodies the difference between mere filmmaker and indie auteur. His films have wooed audiences since the ’90s (with his first film being “Bottle Rocket”), and his success has culminated in a cultlike following.
His stylized films take on the motif of the hilariously dysfunctional family, which is why it is no surprise the Anderson aesthetic has often been translated from screen to canvas. In “Bad Dads,” Spoke Gallery’s fourth annual art show, Anderson-inspired works adorn the white walls of the tiny space in San Francisco’s Lower Nob Hill.
Although small, the gallery showcases a vast array of paintings and prints based on Anderson favorites such as “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Works fluctuate from character sketches (such as a profile of a sweatband-clad Richie Tenenbaum behind his famous “I’m going to kill myself tomorrow” quote) to larger, more dramatic movie-poster-style prints. Artists don’t leave out 3-D forms, either. A gorgeous rendering of the research ship, the “Belafonte” from “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” holds its ground in the center of the gallery.
Many paintings draw from Wes Anderson’s latest feature film, “Moonrise Kingdom,” which was released in 2012. The movie, about a young boy who runs away from camp and his female counterpart who attempts to run away from home, even inspired jewelry; Spoke Art has a set of “Camp Ivanhoe Khaki Scouts” rings on sale for $30 apiece. Francoise Hardy records, binoculars and coonskin caps are readily displayed in many paintings, recalling props from the film.
The gallery also features a small corner set up with a picnic basket, a record player and red zebra-print wallpaper (a slight “Tenenbaums” hint among the “Moonrise Kingdom” paraphernalia) that makes for a perfect photo op backdrop.
Although limited, “The Darjeeling Limited” does make an appearance at Spoke. A colorful portrait of Rita (maybe you know her as Sweet Lime) poking her head out the window of a slow-moving train hangs on the wall toward the back of the gallery. Also featured is an adorable piece detailing the Whitman brothers’ luggage with the beloved palm-tree-and-elephant print (and the famous “J.L.W.” monogram, of course).
Smaller characters from Anderson’s films also pop out at viewers unexpectedly. The unfortunate Dudley Heinsbergen from “The Royal Tenenbaums” (“You wanna play some word games or do some experiments on me or anything?”) warrants his own solo portrait, as does the man-eating tiger from “The Darjeeling Limited.” Bill Murray’s melancholy “Tenenbaums” character Raleigh St. Clair appears in the form of a grisaille bust, pitifully (albeit hilariously) toilet-papered. Dalmatian mice scurry into canvas corners. Jaguar sharks swim around puddles of paint.
From their frames, big names Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman greet viewers in their famous getups — whether that be bright tracksuits (Hello, Chas Tenenbaum!), a cowboy hat (a la Eli Cash) or a red beret (an obvious nod to Max Fischer).
The gallery is a shrine to Anderson, drawing upon even the smallest details of his films. (Think Margot Tenenbaum’s severed finger, Suzy Bishop’s shoes and Jack Whitman’s strong Indian cough medicine.) It is the acuteness and sensitivity to the films that compel viewers.
What is it about Anderson’s films that not only touches audiences but also causes fans to dedicate entire galleries to them? What sets the auteur — as stated previously — apart from other filmmakers?
Anderson creates realms for his movies. His characters move in otherworldly ways through a kind of space and time that are neither completely artificial nor steadfastly authentic. They deal with very real problems, yet the dry humor and childlike sets create a distance that sits fantastically well with audiences. Wings and glitter and maps, compasses and jellyfish and garlands, binoculars and feathers and dusty old books — this is the stuff of The Wes Anderson Movie, a glimmering portrait of a perfectly stylized and aesthetically-pleasing life that will never fully be. A whimsical gallery is the closest we can get.
Addy Bhasin covers visual art. Contact her at [email protected].