In “Abandoned Menagerie,” open at Gallery 1988 through April 7, artist N.C. Winters delves deep into his childhood memory for a series of pieces based on pop culture figures of the 1980s. The Carlsbad-based artist paints characters from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gremlins, The Muppets, Super Mario Brothers and more in dark, rich colors. One of the show's standout works, though, is an unusual mash-up of Star Wars and My Little Pony. Infinite Bounty depicts a genderbent Boba Fett. The bounty hunter's helmet peeks out of a rose and she is dressed in a red, Victorian-inspired dress with a cluster of My Little Pony figures springing from her lap.
Before you start shouting, “Brony!,” it's important to note that Winters is unfamiliar both with the recent series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and the Brony phenomenon. The presence of the candy-colored ponies in this painting is based strictly on his recollections of the original toys. His goal was to connect the sweetness of My Little Pony with the original action-packed Star Wars trilogy.
Winters, who was born in 1980, drew heavy inspiration from his own favorite franchises. (He says that he's not as hardcore a Star Wars fan as some people are, but refers to the movies as a “persistent nostalgic memory”). However, in the process of creating the new works, he realized that the references were boy-centric. He wanted something broader.
Knowing full well that there were plenty of girls obsessing over Star Wars in the '80s, he feminized the infamous character with a dress fit for Nellie Oleson and an armload of toys frequently associated with little girls.
Infinite Bounty, which is available as a giclee print in addition to the original acrylic painting, isn't Winters' only Star Wars/MLP mash-up. There's also My Little Vader, an ink drawing that, unfortunately, has already been sold.
Originally from Phoenix, Winters' foray into art was in elementary school, when he would draw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for classmates for a quarter. He describes himself as a “drawer/painter,” having gone from sketching on Trapper Keepers to painting. He studied art in college, but didn't feel a connection to the work of the Masters that popped up in his courses. “I didn't want to paint landscapes or religious imagery,” he explains. “I wanted to paint what I liked.”
It wasn't until Winters moved to California, after a stint on the East Coast, that he discovered an art scene that held the same affection for pop culture as he did. In Southern California, Winters was able to explore his interest in entertainment through his drawings and paintings. For “Abandoned Menagerie,” he even included a self-portrait called Tetrisized, where his face breaks apart into falling puzzle pieces.
Still, Winters says he must constantly ask himself if the references will make sense to the audience. “For every piece you see, there are dozens that I wanted to do,” he says of the show. “I had to ask, Is this too obscure? Does this only appeal to me?”
Winters adds that he doesn't want to explain the references, and he shouldn't. Ultimately, the images Winters channels in his work are universal, at least for the generation that grew up in the 1980s.