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'Malcolm Bucknall: New Works'

The artist's fine technique and odd juxtapositions are enchanted and enchanting

Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Nov. 12, 2010

Arts Review

'Malcolm Bucknall: New Works'

D Berman Gallery, 1701 Guadalupe, 477-8877, www.dbermangallery.com

Through Nov. 24

It's one thing to see a dog wearing a knitted sweater or cats decked out like a punk rock band. These are the cute indignities that pet owners visit upon their quadruped wards, that have become such happy attention fodder via the Internet if not seen on TV or directly in public. Child's play, even if partially utilitarian. But extrapolate the potential for artwork in that scene and increase it by a magnitude of 50: Now you're closer to Malcolm Bucknall territory; now you're standing in D Berman Gallery.

Bucknall creates full-sized portraits, oil on canvas, of Elizabethan figures in the costumes afforded by royals and gentry of the time: so much rich brocade, so many swaths of beaded velvet, such depths of ruffed or lacy texture and fur-lined finery adorning these bodies! Finery as fine, in a different sense, as the paintbrushes that the artist must have used to render such precise detail. But there are no facial images of particular lords and ladies, kings and queens: These painstakingly wrought figures support the heads of birds, of toads, of dogs and cats and reptiles and even, a few times, bizarre insect-mammal combinations that might have recently immigrated from New Crobuzon. Well, until you get to Willie Nelson.

"I'm never sure what direction the latest painting is pointing to," says the artist's statement, "but in this case, the latest is Willie, so I may be searching for other iconic figures. Have artistic license. Can time travel!"

And so there's the elder statesman of local music royalty, looking like a court-attending Lord Eggsanhammington or somesuch, a bright cactus flower in his left hand, a guitar centering the heraldic device in the background, a golden vireo below a banner proclaiming "I didn't come here and I ain't leaving." It's fitting, it's respectful, and it's a riot.

Also at this show, you'll see Bucknall's recent forays into monotone oil painting, where he's working a black-and-white-photography sort of style on his nonhuman-headed subjects and lavishing a bit more obvious humor and acknowledging what he calls "current popular culture interests." These are smaller pieces, painted on wooden panels, no less masterfully created and even more whimsical. What they mostly are, once you get beyond being jarred by the weirdness of the juxtapositions and the high quality of the technique, is: enchanted and enchanting and, still, somehow, very familiar.

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