David Russell Talbott refers to his artwork as "pulpcore." It's a term that speaks to his fixation on the low-brow magazines from the 1920s, '30s and '40s—authored by such renegade literary figures as Ray Bradbury—a genre known for its weaving of social commentary throughout fantasy, horror and crime-focused short stories with colorful, hyperbolic and, at times, comic-like illustrations.
The "pulps" as they were called, because of the cheap-wood paper they were printed on, had a physical grittiness that was appropriate given the subject matter, which wouldn't be found in the glossy, more expensive magazines of the time.
In his annual American Pulpcore series, Talbott pays tribute to the genre by using the pulpy newsprint aesthetic that's a little dull in color to look like the actual pages from magazines past. Each painting has a letter on its left side, so that when all the pieces come together, they read "pulp core." But, within each work, the letter starts the title of the piece; for instance, a painting in his latest series, American Pulp #7, has the letter P that begins the description "Perfect American Family with 2.2 children," and, in the background, it reads "Now Dioxin Free." In another, Talbott satirizes the family road trip—everyone's having such a great time venturing up Highway 101 that they don't notice they've been dragging a transient under the car since Santa Barbara.
"We tend to look at the greatest generation of America' through rose-colored glasses," Talbott says. "My work shows the social dysfunctionality of the time that tends to get overlooked."
Talbott (davidrusselltalbott.com) depicts the dilemmas that mid-century Americans faced—war, excess and the over-glamorization of Hollywood— to poke fun at our lack of progress where these issues are concerned.
In his Hollywood-oriented paintings, he shows the dark side of show business and its idols. The painting "James Dean vs. The Spyders" portrays, in a comic-like action sequence, "one man, two worlds"— the battle between Dean and his Porsche, which cost him his life. Its caption references the Hollywood "myth/rumor" that pieces from Dean's famous car that had survived the crash carried a curse, killing the drivers of future vehicles they inhabited. Another painting shows Marilyn Monroe biting into a strip of film for a Hollywood-eats-its-own message.
For the past three years, Talbott has worked on another series, The Seven Deadly Sins of Pulpcore, and expects to finish the final pieces by the end of this year. These works are larger and have multiple storylines within, all of which depict themes and events from mid-century America, sprinkled with modern-day symbols; in "Avaritia" (Latin for "greed"), a family is pictured on Christmas morning in a grossly capitalistic scene in which love and holiday togetherness are clearly missing.
"My parents are hippies, so that rebellious element has always been there," Talbott says. They taught me to challenge things that are wrong with the world, which is what I'm doing with the Seven Deadly Sins series so that, hopefully, we can learn from the past."
Talbott achieves his precise detailing by sketching first on wood or canvas before filling in background elements and colors. "Serendipity is an artist's best friend," he says of the background details that come about—there are many—versus the elements that require extensive research.
Talbott will unveil a show he's calling I'll Cut a Witch at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 19, at The Tractor Room in Hillcrest (3687 Fifth Ave.), featuring various pulpcore works, including a preview of the Deadly Sins series.