(The following is a little write-up by Brooklyn arts reporter Stephanie Thompson on the recent show I have in Park Slope which ends Friday. Thanks, Steph!)
Who Will Save Us?
The Art of John Tebeau
It could be the bacon or the inviting open doors that draws one first into the new Dizzy’s Diner on the corner of President St. and Park Slope’s bustling 5th Ave. But once inside, the bold poster-style art that screams from the walls is the big star.
The arresting images by John Tebeau, up until July 27, immediately bring a warm smile of recognition followed by a giggle at the artist’s sly clever twists on the
familiar. In the powerful illustrated montage, 1978, there is the full white-toothed smile and solid stand-up breasts of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, power bracelets braced and ready. There is Steve Martin, mouth and eyes open wide, an arrow through his head. There is Cap’n Crunch and the Play-Do primary-colored O-faced grin of Mr. Bill. There too are the gun-toting feather-haired girls of Charlie’s Angels, the Grease logo and John Belushi’s mug atop a “College” sweatshirt. There they all are and there we are, those of us who remember, brought back to a comfortable time and place, secure.
As a longtime illustrator and packaging designer, Mr. Tebeau clearly understands the power of icons and symbols to motivate emotions and drive people to action.
“I try to inspire or excite people with iconography, I want my art to be useful,” Mr. Tebeau said in the same earnest winking tone of his fabulously entertaining images. “If it makes somebody feel better or focuses them in a way, great, then it’s worked.”
Stroh’s, That Seventies Brew
And it has. The blue-skinned James Bond depiction, the purple-hued Duke Ellington, the orangey-red rendering of Star Trek’s Uhura, not to mention the Stroh’s beer can, all goose the diner-goer to stop mid-bite of bacon and reflect on the great motivational power of heroes, superheroes and icons from a certain place and time in history. Time past always seems better, more hopeful somehow. We can see the changes that artists make more easily with hindsight.
Mr. Tebeau’s work is inspired by artists Peter Max, Wes Wilson and Victor Moscoso whose bold posters reflected what he calls the “joyous optimism” of San Francisco in the fast-changing ‘60s and ‘70s.
By hearkening back to that time, Mr. Tebeau well captures that optimism and the necessity of bringing it back again.
“It’s easy to get distracted in life, especially the way it is now, with a lot of stimulus and not all of it good,” he said. For Mr. Tebeau personally and, he believes, universally, images and icons offer up necessary inspiration and focus to drive one’s intended life work.
“I see work as a form of salvation, although maybe that sounds too religious,” Mr. Tebeau said. “But ‘work’ is what you’re supposed to do in life. John D. Rockefeller said, ‘If you want the key to happiness, find something you do fairly well and do it with all your heart and soul.’”
As the regulated work world morphs more and more into unstructured freelance, necessitating greater self-motivation, Mr. Tebeau’s suggestion is actually faith-based: we need to trust and believe in a fair bit of divine intervention.
In Universe, Mr. Tebeau reflects the hand of God offering Adam an Ace of Hearts.
“It’s about good luck and love and the divine, about the unlikely opportunities and interventions that can come into your life that you need to seize and claim, that can help motivate you,” he said.
It is reflective of Mr. Tebeau’s own great joyous optimism that he believes this can happen to people, to anyone.
“If you focus on a vision of what you want, you can bring it to yourself, draw it to you…” he said.
As proof, he offers up the story of an investigative journalist who asked him for a rendering of his hero, Edward R. Murrow. After hanging the image over his
work space, the man went on to win three Edward R. Murrow awards.
Mr. Tebeau is commissioned for such work but also wants to inspire more widely with his images.
“Art doesn’t work if no one sees it,” Mr. Tebeau says, grateful extending thanks to Dizzy’s owner Matheo Pisciotta and his wife, Mary Fraioli.
The couple works with Park Slope-based art curating service Radar Curatorial to set up shows featuring local artists like Mr. Tebeau every three months at the new location on 5th Ave. as well as on the original location at 9th St. and 8th Ave.
“We have such amazing talent in Brooklyn, it’s great to support them,” Ms. Fraioli said.
Her husband agrees. “I say, ‘Buy art, save lives.’” Is the saving just of the starving artists, or is it ourselves, that is the question.
The couple has featured the art and music of staff as well as that of friends and neighbors since they first opened their doors in 1997, among those they gave their start the now well-renown photographer Lori Berkowitz. More recently, they formalized the effort by hiring Michele Jaslow and Spring Hofeldt of Radar and offering wait-staff a 5% commission for any art they sell.
Visit Dizzy’s for the bacon, for sure, but think of buying some salve for the soul as well.