art: Art With a Smile 

Bruce Wilhelm's work doesn't so much make a point as it does a joke.

Silliness does seem to be a general theme of Bruce Wilhelm's art. A student at VCU, his "Paintings," curated by Gerald Donato, was selected for Main Art's Annual Student Invitational. Wilhelm's works seem to derive from a Pop Art sensibility. They are playful and colorful; they have crisp edges and borrow cartoon figures from popular culture. Yet, unlike Warhol's paintings that focused on celebrities, materiality and the commodification of America, Wilhelm's art seems less concerned with painting a message about society and more interested in simply juxtaposing various objects, forms and colors to create a quirky effect.

"Big Pink Bunny" is a case in point. It is a large wood panel covered in vibrant horizontal stripes. Hovering over the stripes is indeed, a large pink bunny, reminiscent of Jeff Koons' sculptural version, waving cheerily to the viewer and adjacent to a volcano made of what appears to be ice cream. Likewise, in other works, a cartoon rabbit or cat-head float, severed from their bodies, before a cityscape or an abstract plaid background. While it would be difficult to tease out deep philosophical meanings here, the paintings do have an undeniably capricious charm.

Perhaps "Family Values" contains a moralistic message. On a raw wood panel, a family tree of sorts — the heads of a mother, father, son, daughter and dog — are all connected to a television. Each has a cartoon bubble next to their head to relate their thoughts. The father's has "porn" while the dog has "poop" and "Jesus." Slashed across the top is the phrase, "Fishsticks for dinner again!" A commentary on sexual frustration and suburban mediocrity? Perhaps, but the cutesy quality of Wilhelm's designs seems to negate any real cutting-edge issues. The pastel colors, sharp edges and thinly painted forms further add to the whimsical nature of these paintings.

The skull does find its way in several works, creating a type of memento mori. All in life is fleeting — family values, material culture, even the cries of a baby. Speaking of fleetingness, naptime is over and a baby beckons. S

"Paintings" by Bruce Wilhelm continues at Main Art Gallery, 1537 W. Main St. until Aug. 25.


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