Leon fuller, UNTITLED, 1999

mixed media



I didn’t know that Casper was a “friendly duck.” Nor was I aware that Pocahontas, Angelyne, and Jenny McCarthy starred in the hit TV show Seinfeld. Leon Fuller’s parodiable TV-show images hit me smack in the face like a television set gone mad, as I viewed his work in The Richard Heller Gallery of Santa Monica’s Bergemont Station. His several childlike drawings, composed of colored pencils, markers, water colors, and crayons, were saturated with enough Pop Culture to make me want to puke. I had forgotten about Bob Barker of The Spice is Right, and haven’t thought twice about “Midori Yamaguchi” and “Kristi Ito” (ha ha) for ages. Who thinks about ice skaters when the networks aren’t bombarding us with footage from the Winter Olympics? But there before me were drawings including the names of several actors, television shows, and films which I’d forgotten about over the years of entertainment history; they seemed colorful and innocent.

But Fuller’s art does not end with nostalgia. He switches the names of famous celebrities around so we are left with “Pamela Anderson Lee”, “Nicolette Stimpson”, and “Connie Carson”, (the young career woman making a career out of talking to women about women). You get the sense that Fuller grew up as engulfed in TV culture as the rest of us, though he clearly is not lacking in intelligence. The autistic artist taught himself to read at three, to type at six, and his works are filled with humorous subtleties, obviously the demise of an inventive wit. This TV junkie has a whole hell of a lot to say.

The whimsical, light-hearted drawings seem harmless enough. Perhaps they were not meant to shock, to swerve, to evoke cynicism or anger. Still, the rearranging of names and titles makes me wonder if Fuller wasn’t just smacking Hollywood in the face. After all, his pieces smacked me in the face. They did not seem to simply poke pleasant fun at the entertainment culture that has been stuffing our minds with names, names, and more names of actors, titles, directors, producers, and distributors over the years. Three of his pieces consisted of twenty or more rectangular drawings produced on plain paper from a spiral-bound sketch book. These images were push-pinned to the gallery walls, each one playing the part of the ever-buzzing, never-ceasing television screen. How did I feel gazing at all those makeshift TVs? Smothered and sick, sadly aware of how overloaded our passive brains can become when we gorge ourselves on too much TV.

You get the sense that Fuller was sick of digesting these television images. That he needed to spew them back up into someone else’s face. You might say that his autism added to this need to spit out rather than swallow down more information. I sensed his anger. All of Fuller’s drawings are of females, mostly blonde, mostly anorexic-thin, wearing sexy dresses and ass-kicking boots. A portrait of “Pamela Anderson Lee” was formed by taping pieces of paper together, and her lanky body bending vertically in the perimeter of the spliced-together canvas advertising: Valerie Anderson Lee and Company and Associates, a television show produced by “Lime Green”. Several of Fuller’s images focus on women’s shoes, especially boots. And placed between his TV-show images are good old-fashioned commercial breaks. Some of these include “Dr Heather Locklear-Scholl’s Sashay Exercise Sandals” and “Well-Wear Women’s Shoes” sponsored by “Elizabeth Montgomery, the Well-Wear Shoe Lady.” Why do only women appear in these drawings? What do they Semiotically represent? Fame, fortune, the ability to sell? Sell what? Perhaps entertainment in general. Perhaps shoes. Perhaps Fuller believes that only women have the inherent ability to sell—anything, and that is why they flaunt their large breasts and their sleek boots in our consumer faces.

In one of his series, consisting of 36 rectangular images, several abstract drawings appear within the network of TV screens. Some of these images are neat and orderly, including a multicolored, Rubik’s-cube-looking square of tinier squares. Others are chaotic drawings with colors and lines jarring this way and that, letting the viewer experience the frenzied consciousness Fuller exudes through his work. As the piece moves from the left to the right, the abstractions become more and more inextricable, like the overstimuli of TV shows, news broadcasts, and commercial breaks. In the end they are all the same, indistinguishable images bleeding into one relentless screen of Red, Green, and Blue.

“Shut up!”, is what I felt like screaming into the face of these drawings. “Shut up! Turn it off! Leave me alone!” I think many of us feel the same. We cannot distinguish Paramount from Twentieth Century Fox from Hanna-Barbera. We do not care who created what, when they created it, and who starred in this, that, or the other.

Fuller’s commentary on Pop Culture is fresh and accessible. It made me think, laugh, and angry. As a Post-Warhol, Post-McCarthy artist, Leon Fuller paves a way for his own vision and perspective of the entertainment industry. It is subtle, it is childlike, and it draws you in as easily as the ever-buzzing television screen.

Tracy Chabal
Los Angeles, California