Will Bryant’s exhibition, Outta Shape at Companion Gallery is an exuberant spectacle of wacky shapes in fun blues, pinks and yellows. Bryant’s coevals will recognize the vocabulary of zany squiggles and pastels at play as being “so eighties” though they may be less familiar with the Memphis Design group (of Milan, not Tennessee) who established this style. Incidentally, Bryant may also be unfamiliar. Playful and not particularly self-aware, the works Bounce! Kaboing! Zip! Blat! and Thunk! around the space like an imitation Mark Applebaum song.
Bryant seems to want to shout “Try new things! Be silly! Break the rules!” meanwhile the work themselves follow every rule in the graphic designer’s playbook. Each work is balanced and features an appealing palate that either coordinates with or exactly matches its neighbors’. The paintings are hung all catawampus but the balance and spacing of the works reveal the effort that was made to ensure that no two are hung too close or at too kooky an angle. In taking a principle of good clean fun to the extreme, at least two paintings (that I could find) sit on the ledge atop the gallery walls.
Bryant also likes to play with texture. His sculptural forms are spackled with paint like thickly laid icing. Bryant was originally a business major who first came to think of art as a career in college when he switched majors to graphic design. Much of his design work can be found in print media, apparel, textiles and consumer products. In his paintings dribbles and drips of paint serve only to remind that these are not vector files, uploaded and printed to be consumed.
Bryant is an art director (literally, he co-founded an art direction firm called Public School) and each of the works demonstrate his capacity as a visual designer of mass market goods and magazine layouts. This pell-mell exhibition is carefully composed to be visually appealing and, most of all, palatable. It is easy to imagine the patterns in these paintings for sale on bedspreads and T-shirts at Urban Outfitters. It is not easy to imagine them meaning much else.
Like variations of a company logo, the same squiggles, dashes and dots of the paintings make their appearance in sculptural form. Six of Bryant’s sculptures are mounted on heavy wire stands like cafe table numbers and this reinforces the two dimensionality of the sculptures. Flat-faced, they greet the arriving viewer and give the impression of cartoon elements brought to life. Wall-mounted sculptures serve either to break the frame of their color-coordinated paintings or to accessorize them. Everything is on brand and, predictably, a few sculptures also made their way up to that ledge.
Bryant is unapologetic about the role commerce plays in his work. From his website: “His work weaves together humor with commerce, fun, and positivity.” Outta Shape is no exception, Companion is housed in a building that also hosts a bar and small lifestyle shop and Bryant’s products are everywhere, from t-shirts to koozies to paintings on the wall.