See more photos in “The Best Art Inspired by Adult Swim.”
Gallery 1988 has hosted plenty of group shows that explore the influence of pop culture. From video games to cult films, Garbage Pail Kids to Watership Down, artists have come together at the Melrose Ave. space with a mission to transforms well-known works into something new.
On Friday night, Gallery 1988 took a slightly different approach. Where group shows often touch on nostalgia and early influences, in “
Adult Swim operates overnight on the same channel that hosts kid-friendly Cartoon Network. Over the past decade, they've remained on the forefront of hip pop culture. With earlier shows, like Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, the network pushed the boundaries of parody while reviving second-tier Hanna-Barbera characters.
Their broadcasts of Family Guy and Futurama certainly paved the way for both shows to come back to life after cancellation. They also helped give anime a big push in the U.S. with shows like Cowboy Bebop and Fullmetal Alchemist and did the same for British comedy by airing The Mighty Boosh and Garth Marenghi's Darkplace.
And if that weren't enough, the network has consistently championed the cutting edge of comedy on both the animated and live action fronts. Shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Boondocks, The Venture Bros. and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! keep people talking.
“It's sort of a common thread between all of the artists we show,” says Jensen Karp, co-owner of Gallery 1988 and curator of the show, of the cable network's influence.
Karp brought up the idea to a friend who worked at Adult Swim, saying that it would be interesting to see his group of artists “breathe different kinds of lives” into characters that have become so ingrained in the minds of late-night TV viewers.
“This is something that we've been doing over the past eight years,” says Karp of the gallery's theme shows, adding that it was only natural that they would eventually tackle the worlds of anthropomorphic fast food, clown doctors and villains who look like butterflies.
With a large group of artists and bountiful inspiration, it took about a year to put the show together. In the end, many of Adult Swim's shows — past and present — made an appearance. Artists referenced the classics, like Space Ghost Coast to Coast and The Brak Show, as well as recent additions, like Childrens Hospital and Black Dynamite.
“It really runs the gamut from Space Ghost to even more obscure stuff,” says Karp, “even stuff I had to Google, which is crazy because I'm a big Adult Swim fan.”
The most frequent source of inspiration, though, was The Venture Bros. The cast of bumbling heroes, villains and teenagers popped out of every corner of the gallery. Even the Venture jet made an appearance, poised alongside an astronaut in Scott Listfield's piece, Shadows of Dangerous Men.
For Listfield, pairing the astronaut character that he's been painting for over a decade with the comedy series made sense.
“When I was a kid, I grew up with a lot of science fiction and cartoons and things like that,” says the Boston-based artist, “and I always thought that I would grow up into a future where I lived on the moon and had a robot best friend and a little robot dog.”
But the world didn't turn out the way he imagined.
“I grew up into my actual adulthood and I was riding the bus to work and going to the laundromat and making Rice-A-Roni in my small apartment.”
Where Listfield's paintings explore a present day that didn't live-up to sci-fi expectations, The Venture Bros. depicts characters who never reached their own expectations. It's a perfect pairing.
“I see a lot of things referenced in my work reflected in theirs,” says Listfield of the show. “Clearly, they grew up watching the same cartoons, Johnny Quest, Thundarr the Barbarian and all these science fiction things.”
But not everyone took on the wildly popular show. For artist Luke Chueh, who told me in an interview last year that he's a fan of the series, taking on The Venture Bros. was “like sacrilege.”
“I couldn't possibly do The Venture Bros. because it's so good,” he says.
Instead, Chueh opted to take on Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The long-running Adult Swim show is significant for the L.A. artist. The first painting in his Rainbow Series, which features a bloody, decapitated bear with a rainbow shooting out of his neck, references the Season 3 episode, “Gee Whiz.”
For this homage to Aqua Teen, Chueh placed his infamous bear in front of a milkshake, burger and fries.
“You want to create something that has a little bit more connectivity than it just being inspired by the show,” says Chueh of his piece. “It has to have elements that make you see or feel or relate to things beyond just that show.”
Having the bear devour Master Shake, Frylock and Meatwad was the perfect solution for Chueh.
“I think we can all relate in one way or another to that experience,” he says with a grin.
Relating to the audience is the thing that Adult Swim does best. The network and the show creators all seem keenly aware that there are a lot of people who don't believe that growing up means giving up the sense of wonder or penchant for odd humor that we embraced as children. It's no wonder that the line to buy prints ran out the gallery door and onto Melrose Ave.
“You're not supposed to make paintings of astronauts or dinosaurs or things like that when you grow up, but that's what I wanted to do,” says Listfield, who also had two pieces inspired by Aqua Teen Hunger Force in the show. “For me, watching Aqua Teen was like, this is not what you're supposed to do as an adult, but they did it. Just in that sense, the freedom of it is inspirational.”