One adjective begs to be affixed to the interior of the War’House Visual Studios: Smurfy. There are Smurfs on every wall, as well as other pop-culture touchstones painted through the prism of the popular ’80s cartoon about diminutive, shirtless blue creatures clad only in white trousers, white sleep caps and occasionally some small item to convey a sense of individuality among the throng.
The exhibit No Smurfin’ Way! opened Sunday, the result of a year’s work by local artist Dandee Danao. Danao’s big sunlit studio will remain Smurf-filled for another week before he opens it up to others; he hopes to have exhibits by local artists about twice a month. It’s a playful space, which was part of the plan: “The idea is to keep it fun in here,” he says.
No Smurfin’ Way! attains that goal. The pieces on the wall pop with bright color. Some of the bold contrasts can be attributed to the fact that Danao is color blind. “Sometimes I get my colors mixed up,” he says. “See?” He holds up a blue bottle of paint now labeled on the bottom: “Smurf blue.”
Danao, 32, moved downtown from Katy two years ago and says he was “completely new to the arts scene here.” He sounds comfortable today: “This is where I belong, this really is my world. I just found it a little late.”
He credits the famed artist/designer KAWS (Brian Donnelly) with influencing his work; there’s a Smurf-related KAWS homage on the walls. While the current exhibit is all Smurf-related, Danao’s interest rests in the breadth of cultural icons from peoples’ youths, many of which are animated figures from The Simpsons and The Flintstones.
Doing such work combines his aesthetic and thematic tastes. “This is what I dig: clean lines, invisible brush strokes,” he says, waving a tattooed arm by one painting.
And the subjects: Danao is able to take a visual with certain emotional weight and put it in a new context. “I guess it’s variations on pop classics,” he says. “Trying to make something new from something people can relate to. I want to bring back memories, but there’s a little more to it than that.”
Prior to this latest project Danao’s pieces were often large. He references a 9-foot Simpsons work he did. Those larger pieces often found a home at the Colton & Farb Gallery. His War’Hous afforded him the opportunity to go smaller, which is fitting given the size of his subjects. “Last year I started these smaller paintings and I just couldn’t stop,” he says. He knew there was a Smurf-related movie in development. That the film opened two weeks before his exhibit was largely luck.
More than 100 pieces comprise No Smurfin’ Way!, and many carry modest prices of $30-$50, which fits nicely with the kid-friendly atmosphere he’s trying to create.
“The idea is for there to be a lot of kids here,” he says, “for there to be families here together. And I didn’t want them to be expensive — the whole idea is for a lot of people to have them.”
No Smurfin’ Way
1-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays
Through Aug. 27
War’House Visual Studios