In two hours, Dan Goodsell has hung at least 260 pieces of art on the walls of Gallery1988 West. He's nowhere near done. By the time his solo show, "Mr. Toast Art Show: Drawings and other stuff by Dan Goodsell," opens tonight, about 670 new works will be in place. At the moment, the L.A.-based artist is adjusting an adorable anthropomorphic Death Star. He made a whole series of those for the show. The bulk of the pieces, though, are small water colors that focus on the humorous, and sometimes awkward, interactions of the characters that he has developed over the years. Amongst them are Shaky Bacon, Joe the Egg and the best known of the lot, Mr. Toast.
For more than a decade, the lives of Mr. Toast and friends have unfolded in web comics, printed comics and on art gallery walls. In this newest collection of works, Mr. Toast picks up a Sex Pistols record at the now-defunct chain record store Licorice Pizza. A boxy TV set gets nostalgic for the days before cable. Shaky Bacon, dressed in a colorful, sci-fi-looking outfit, sheds a tear upon learning that Burning Man has been rained out.
Goodsell created Mr. Toast while he was a student at UC Irvine.The character was inspired by a newspaper photo of a man dressed as a piece of bread as a way of advertising a bakery. This early version of Mr. Toast was used in some drawings and a short film, but he wasn't one of Goodsell's primary concerns. "He didn't have a personality then," Goodsell says.
At the dawn of the 1990s, Goodsell graduated college and he stopped pursuing art. More than a decade passed before he would revisit Mr. Toast and create the project that would define his work. "At a certain point, I said to myself, I have to start doing art again," says Goodsell. "I forced myself."
In 2003, Goodsell launched a webcomic starring the old character he created. He started out by posting one comic a week. At the end of the webcomic's seven-year run, he was posting three times a week. Goodsell's ability to quickly work through an idea and take it to completion increased. "That's what led me to be able to do a show like this," he says. Those 670 new works that Goodsell made came about in less than a year.
Goodsell shows with Gallery1988 often. He contributes to the gallery's incredibly popular group shows based on entertainment franchises. For the past three years, he has worked with them on a large, annual solo show. The Mr. Toast shows are unusual in that they are "cash-and-carry." In other words, you can bring the art home with you immediately after purchase, as opposed to waiting for the exhibition to close. As the works disappear from the walls, Goodsell will create more. He estimates that he will make about 100 new pieces during the show's two-week run. He already has "25 or 30" pieces in progress. Goodsell will be taking commissions during the event as well and plans on working out of the gallery on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The characters themselves are influenced by the mascots of the advertising world. Goodsell notes that while toast isn't necessarily something that would be a marketable product, the name Mr. Toast sounds as though it could be used for that purpose. They are drawn simply, with uncomplicated facial expressions that might prompt the viewer to think of companies like Sanrio. Goodsell recalls going to the Sanrio store at South Coast Plaza in Orange County long before Hello Kitty-mania took shape across the United States. "The culture has changed to embrace that kind of wonderfulness," he says, adding that cute characters are now as much for adults as for kids. He mentions that characters can be cute while commenting on society. That's Goodsell's aim with Mr. Toast and the gang. "I hope they have something to say," he adds.
They do. Goodsell's characters comment on life in a world where technology is constantly changing. Some pine for old days. Others get attached to the gadgets of today. They poke fun at current events and celebrity gossip. They live lives that feel very much like our own.
The stories spun in the comics aren't necessarily related to the ones told inside the gallery. "They exist in multiple universes," Goodsell says of the characters. At 1988, the characters interact with pop culture. In particular, there are lots of Star Wars references. That goes with the mission of the gallery, but it also points to the interests of the artist. But, it's not all movie references in the show. The characters' day-to-day lives are filled with the angst of getting the bills paid and dealing with technology. "I like to sort of examine the small struggles, as opposed to the big things," says Goodsell. "There's not a lot of danger and whatnot. That's not to say that the loss of your kite or the loss of your ice cream cone isn't a life-changing event."
Goodsell works in steps. He'll start off with a pencil drawing. Later on, he'll add the ink. Then, after a period of time passes, he'll color it. Because of the sheer volume of work he makes and the fact that he doesn't do each piece in one sitting, the stories can change in the process. "I got through the pencils of one of these and I didn't know what the joke was because my handwriting was not that legible," he says. "I had to think of a new joke for the image."
The works are reminiscent of one-panel newspaper comics, where a quick joke is augmented by visual cues that play off of a topical subject. "In another day and age, I may well have been a newspaper comic artist," says Goodsell. Instead, he took that influence and built his own model for getting the work into the world, first through the web and, now, in galleries.
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