In 1982, Richard Bruland opened a small used-record store and performance space in Reseda called Bebop Records. Jim Carroll, Los Lobos, Exene Cervenka and Jane's Addiction all performed on its tiny stage before the store's mastermind was forced to close up shop in 1990 for not having an entertainment license. Meanwhile, the independent record-store owner was living a double life as a painter, and he now admits that one of the biggest reasons he opened Bebop in the first place was so that he could create page-size posters for the underground performances. Since then, fine-arts galleries have been hosting shows of Bruland's contemporary paintings, including Lora Schlesinger Gallery, which is currently exhibiting a dozen of his works in a show called "WHOA!" At first, the paintings appear to be a striking contrast to Bruland's earlier work with Bebop, but upon closer examination, there's a visible hallmark making its way through all of the art: namely, the visual technique of subtly transitioning colors from light to dark and vice versa.
Today, the Bebop archive includes more than 800 posters, along with letters, photos and related ephemera that have since been donated to California State University, Northridge (CSUN). For the posters, Bruland developed a way of coloring the surface to look like it was airbrushed, so most of the pieces have some sort of visible gradient — a feature that's visible in his work today. Bruland often collaborated with the music artists on the design, although he made all the posters. "What I tried to do was to reflect the bands through their own artwork, if at all possible," he tells L.A. Weekly. "At first, they're very primitive. It took a year or two to really develop the style."
Now, when not teaching acrylic painting at American Jewish University, Bruland paints with pallet knives and house-painting brushes on a small table, rotating constantly around the canvas so each work isn't deliberately painted with any one orientation in mind — at least not in the beginning. After applying gesso to the panels, Bruland evenly applies a thick coat of occasionally tinted acrylic gel over the entire surface. He then uses a flat tool to press and lift the material while it's still wet. After he lets the highly textured surface dry for a bit, Bruland continues painting between strips of masking tape, one color at a time. Keeping track of the sequences of colors, he tapes over the strips he's already applied and repeats the process. "The entire surface, now, is a unified field of all these different colors, with that little residual line from the tape," he explains. "When I sand it off, that's what reveals all that detail." According to Bruland, each painting can take up to two to three weeks to complete, sometimes more.
The end result yields lattice-like, hypnotic artworks that can often appear three-dimensional. One piece in "WHOA!" is even displayed upside-down, while another can be displayed in any four directions. "The reason I want people to have that option is because it depends on what's next to it," Bruland explains. "And sometimes, some of these kind of lead you in certain ways — just the slight angles on those lead you."
While explaining his technique, Bruland is also far from reluctant to bring up memories of his days at Bebop, including the time he accidentally paired a performance featuring Vaginal Davis with a kids novelty band called The Victor Banana. He also fondly recalls a 1985 visit by an LAPD detective in charge of licensing, who met Bruland outside Bebop and demanded to see his entertainment license, just as someone was reciting bad poetry inside. When Bruland admitted he didn't have one, the detective began issuing a citation, then paused to ask if he could go inside and see what was actually happening. According to Bruland, the detective concluded, "'Well, you know, that's not really what I thought you were doing here. That's not entertainment.' Tearing up the citation, the detective continued, 'I thought you were doing shows.'' Meanwhile, Bruland was standing in front of a wall plastered with his posters of the store's former shows while the detective remained oblivious. That brush with the law bought Bruland five more years with Bebop before authorities actually busted him for good in 1990, forcing him to close the store forever.
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However, the end of Bebop certainly didn't stop Bruland from staying true to his calling as an artist. In fact, it looks like it's only made him a better one.
"WHOA!," Lora Schlesinger Gallery, Bergamot Station Art Center, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica; (310) 828-1133, loraschlesinger.com. Tue.- Fri,. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; through July 14.