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Wes Anderson Collection: Bad Dads
Oliver Barrett, RaleighCourtesy of Spoke Art

How Wes Anderson’s bad dad figures inspire surreal art

The saturated colours, handmade aesthetic and dysfunctional characters of the iconic director’s cinema are brought to life in an exhibit and book

Fathers play a central role in the work of filmmaker Wes Anderson. Whether surrogate dads or biological fathers, Anderson highlights character’s unfulfilled quests for a male role model to look up to – all among highly stylized, symmetrical scenes, a saturated colour palate and handmade aesthetic. 

Margot, Chaz and Richie of The Royal Tenembaums (2001) each cope with feelings of abandonment towards their father differently – reaching brief reconciliation before his death; Rushmore’s (1998) Max looks to both his actual father – a barber, who he tells everyone is a neuro-surgeon – and the more appealing Mr Blume, a rags to riches, aspirational business man. Sam harks after two men – a scoutmaster and police officer – for support following the death of his mother, who ultimately let him down in Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Dads build you up, they disappoint, they show their humanity, however ugly and disappointing, too.

As Anderson’s surreal oeuvre explores dysfunctional fathers, a visual art show and new book called Bad Dads continues the artistic conversation. The show at San Francisco’s Spoke Gallery first began in 2011, the brainchild of Ken Harman. Since its first opening, the show has welcomed over 400 artists to interpret Anderson’s cinema.

“I’d curated my first art exhibit earlier that year and needed to follow it up with something special. As a fan of both Wes Anderson’s films and my friend’s art, this just seemed like a perfect fit,” he explains. “I reached out to about 75 artists from around the world, many of whom I knew personally, some I just found online and thought they’d be a good addition. From there, I rented a pop up space, installed the show, and the rest is history!”

The exhibit features paintings, sculptures, screen prints and other physical examples of art. Though Anderson’s cinematic opus spans great length and depth, some parts can be difficult to interpret into living pieces of art.

Harman says: “Sometimes elements of Anderson’s films translate well, his unique color palettes, costuming and design are all easy to reinterpret. However, other iconic elements to his films, such as the soundtracks or dialogue, are not so easy to translate into a two-dimensional painting.”

The best of the shows have culminated in the book: Wes Anderson playing cards, a miniature Belafonte from The Life Aquatic (2004), Steve Zissou figurines and a sinister image of a dark-eyed Margot smoking all among its pages.

In the book’s forward, Anderson himself details his own feelings towards the show, stating that it was his own father who first alerted him to what was going on. He also asserts that he’s worked with some of the show’s artists after seeing their pieces, like painter Rich Pellegrino, who created Two Lesbians Masturbating for The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

References to everything from Fantastic Mr Fox, to Grand Budapest Hotel and The Darjeeling Limited are both direct and abstract. New York magazine’s Matt Zoller Seitz details in the book: “The art in this book expresses that sense, intrinsic to all of Wes's films, of an eternal child hidden inside each grownup, plus a related obsession with nostalgia and returning to a naïve state. It also suggests different ways of looking at Wes's characters: as icons, as symbols, as products, as dream figures, as toys that the imagination can play with or that a cruel universe can collect, sell off, or discard.”

The Wes Anderson Collection: Bad Dads by Spoke Art Gallery, is available to buy here