A requirement of living in car-dependent California is tolerating the daily barrage of bumper stickers. Perhaps the lowliest form of cultural signifier, they are designed to shove someone else’s belief system—or preference for reggae—directly down your throat. Often displayed en mass, the effect is a mobile assault of pissing Calvins, snooty collegiate affiliations, and fish that have swallowed Jesus, Darwin, and the Truth.
That the car decal has remained untouched as a subject in American art is surprising. Los Angeles-based artist Brendan Donnelly might be the first to give it its due. In his terrific new solo show at L.A.’s Paul Loya Gallery, he puts a satirical spin on the motifs and slogans we have no choice but to consume while waiting for the light to turn green.
Donnelly composed a series of bumper sticker ‘portraits’ using windshields as his canvas. Each represents a Southern Californian cliché: the white-dreaded Rasta who long boards, the un–closeted gay man, the gun-toting libertarian, and so on. “Farrakhan is my co-pilot,” reads a sticker on a windshield projecting black power ideology. “God Hates Fangs,” reads another on the shared vehicle of an underemployed goth couple.
Asked where the idea came from, Donnelly explains, “I see this form of pop culture on a daily basis. Being a satirist, it was only natural for me to comment. I guess now I’m now the annoying one, but each windshield tells a story about the driver and the society we live in.”
Sourced from junkyards across L.A., each windshield corresponds with its tribe. The goths drive a used Toyota, the angry libertarian a Ford. While many of the decals look familiar, Donnelly created the vast majority himself, hand drawing them or tweaking existing imagery. “At the opening people were asking if I bought the stickers or made them, which is exactly what I hoped for,” he remarks. “They couldn’t immediately tell the difference between my interpretation and what you see on the road.”
It is that blurred line which makes Donnelly’s work so sentient. It teases out the preposterousness of believing that a series of religious symbols, strung together to read “coexist”, might actually bring harmony to the world, let alone the Hollywood Freeway. It pokes fun at the narcissistic undertone of a cartoon family portrait that calls out each member’s name, including the dog’s. It asks why should we care that you voted for Obama, buy a certain energy drink, or take pride in your Irish heritage.
As for the bumper stickers he didn’t make? “The rest were bought at head shops or on eBay. I wish I could take credit for the ‘Nobama’ Nascar bumper sticker, but someone beat me to it—ha.”
All images courtesy of Paul Loya Gallery.