Art reference

Gunner Dongieux’s “One Liners” find humor in art

“Why is this one locked up? Kyla Figueroa ’24 asked me as we gazed intently at one of Mohr Gallery’s exhibits on Tuesday night.

“Well…” I hesitated, “It’s Nicolas Cage.” In a cage.”

There was a pause as she recorded the joke before laughing seriously. I started laughing too as she shook her head at the pun.

“Nicolas Cage” an airbrushed portrait of Nicolas Cage behind a window guard, is just one of seven ironic works of art by Gunner Dongieux from 2121 currently on display as “One Liners”. Each work materializes a one-line cultural pun, and many of them are scathing commentaries on the cartoonish traits of our zeitgeist. Dongieux is on the right track to complete his honors in artistic practice. His works explore the strange and the absurd – irreverence as a criticism strategy and laughter as a treatment strategy.

“Matthew, Mark. Luke and John” hung across the room from “Nicolas Caged”. Featuring four pale specters blending into the sooty black background, the painting was dark, mythological and sardonic. Clearly referencing the 1963 album cover of the Beatles, he poked fun at the deification of flawed pop icons by juxtaposing John Lennon with the Hellenistic depiction of the apostles.What struck me were the little stickers of doves across the painting’s otherwise consistent dimensions – small revelations of the highly absurd inclinations of Dongieux.

When asked about the stickers, Dongieux said, “I was interested in including stickers in my formal language as an artist because of how they accentuate the absurdity and kind of stand out.” The artist also used stickers in his “Ancient Aliens” painting, which features boot stickers from “Dora the Explorer.”

“Ancient Aliens” places Jesus Christ next to ET in reference to conspiracy theories linking Jesus to ancient aliens. The artwork reminded me of graffiti with its highly saturated spray painted tidal blues and thick outlines.

“His process is fascinating,” said Nicko Rucker ’21, who was Dongieux’s roommate in New York last year and witnessed the creation ofAncient aliens. “I saw him start off by digging into Google Images and choreographing all these connections, almost like montages of iPhoto memories. And seeing the end product after that is so crazy. The art can be really serious, but this collection is so much fun. It makes me laugh and I really appreciate that.

Dongieux said he was originally interested in more traditional art forms: his work consisted largely of self-portraits and narrative scenes set in New Orleans from the perspective of the teenage Ulysses. In college, his interest shifted to the weird and the absurd. “This change is simply a reflection of my way of perceiving the world. My worldview was a lot cleaner, and now it’s a lot more chaotic,” Dongieux said. He is interested in his inability and that of others to process the cultural moment. Dongieux is inspired by the absurd strategies of art practice teacher Enrique Chagoya, Mike Kelley and Mathieu Malouf.

A popular favorite at Tuesday’s show wasIced Tea,” two portraits of Ice-T, rapper and star of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” floating above a glass of iced tea. Nicha Rattanabut ’24 appreciated the strong colors and brushstrokes in the paint. “This show makes me want to be more aware of pop culture trivia,” she joked. Even at this level of surreal abstraction, there is a harsh realism to the expressions of the portrait.

“Judge, Jury, and Executioner” by Gunner Dongieux ’21 (Photo courtesy of Gunner Dongieux and Lucy Brewer)

Dongieux said “Judge, Jury and Executioner” was his favorite part of the show. The painting depicted Randy Jackson wielding a signed samurai sword, a reference to slapstick comedyHalf Brothers.” Started in the fall, it was the longest project in the collection. “I think the others are really one-liners in a sense, but this one has a lot of conceptual depth about judging and our ideas about judgement,” Dongieux said. The airbrushed work, classically painted face, and painstakingly fine pop outlines make the work intensive to analyze. The subject emerges from the background with a dimension startling, an effect that is further textured by electric crackling pop art.

By contrast, “Liz Lemon,” an airbrushed portrait of Tina Fey with an illustration of Lisa Franklin under her face, took just one day. It is warm in color, with strong assertions of thick yellows and oranges. In “Slap The Bag”, Count Von Count, a Sesame Street puppet, swallows a stream of Franzia-boxed wine, referencing the popular drinking game with the countdown “10, 9, 8, 7, 7,… ”

“I was thinking of all-campus parties in this one,” Dongieux said of “Slap The Bag.” “You know those intense flash photographs in which all you can see is the subject and you get a sense of the crowd behind it?” I looked at the canvas and, indeed, in a collage-style camouflage, there was a hint of crowding beneath the acrylics and spray paint.

Gunner Dongieux jumps with his arms raised in the middle of his featured exhibition at Stanford's Mohr Gallery (Photo courtesy of Gunner Dongieux and Lucy Brewer)
Gunner Dongieux shows his excitement for the opening of his exhibition at Stanford’s Mohr Gallery (Photo courtesy of Gunner Dongieux and Lucy Brewer)

I entered the series wary of postmodernism’s antiheroic cynicism and contempt. Camille Paglia describes “self-cannibalistic pop, with its characteristic sampling and retro fashions” as “often distanced by a protective pose of nervous irony”. Dongieux’s works, however, confidently circumvent the campaign of the new sincerity, possessing an almost post-ironic tone. There’s nothing edgy about the artwork, and it’s certainly not aloof – it’s inviting and hilarious, deeply vital and exciting to talk about. Though dark in their humor, there’s something pleasantly intimate about co-experienced cultural disorientation through laughter.

“I really like how they’re critical without being desperate, and how it resurrects mythological effects in some of them,” Alessandra Portinari told ’24.

The room was buzzing with conversation and movement as people drifted around the room. The little Bluetooth in the corner hummed with indie-rock music. I slipped away quietly – it was a pun.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, reflections, and critiques.