John Padlo is a traditionalist. Schooled at the relatively conservative Academy of Art in San Francisco, he paints still lifes with the same precision and eye for light that characterized the Old Masters. But where Padlo breaks with convention is his subject matter. Instead of over-ripe fruit, a shiny roast duck or stale bread, Padlo, a 37-year-old graphic designer, paints what inspires the modern man--squirt guns and action figures.
"A lot of these things are just dismissed as child junk objects by adults. People don't really look around and think about things like a toy or a soldier [as] a piece of art," explained Padlo. "Somebody had to sculpt the model, cast it. There's a lot of work that goes into that."
And Padlo's bright oil paintings are as good an homage to these nostalgic playthings as any. With a vivacious use of color that seems equally inspired by pulp comics as it is by Dia de los Muertos cemetery shrines, Padlo's pieces depict Batman Pez dispensers, beefy The Atomic Mr. Flare action figures, crying mannequins and flying saucers. But the whimsicality of these toys is muted by the context in which they're placed. Surrounded by vivid roses and delicately positioned toy guns, Padlo's figurines have the awkward, deliberate stillness of a school photo.
"I think artwork has to have fundamental rules to be solid; your shadows should be cool," said Padlo. "I don't want to make any statements when it comes to fundamentals. I'm not interested in breaking away from traditional painting discipline, but at the same time, I do want the colors to pop."
Though this is the first time Padlo's work has been shown publicly, Flying M curators John Warfel and Jeremy "Jerms" Lanningham felt immediately drawn to his creations and offered him a solo show at the Flying M downtown for the month of August.
"John [Padlo] and I are about the same age, so we totally connected on all the subject matter," said Warfel. "Also the painterly style and the vivid colors, I really like the colors."
Another convention Padlo cast off after art school was the notion that all paints should be mixed or muted by the artist after they're squeezed out of the tube. In the UFO painting Cad Red Skies, Padlo lets the bright, unadulterated pigment of cadmium red set an apocalyptic, otherworldly mood. Though his alien spaceship and toy gun imagery might seem like a throwback to 1950s atomic-era kitsch, Padlo insists that, more than anything, these darker themes are a reflection of his inner cynicism.
"I work in marketing, so I hate marketing. I hate the way people sell products. You go into Toys R Us right now and everything is commercial, market-driven. You go into the LEGOs aisle and everything is Star Wars LEGOs," said Padlo. "When I was a kid it was just LEGOs, and your imagination allowed you to build whatever it is you wanted."
But whether it's a yearning for simpler times that inspires Padlo's work or just the playful intersection of modern subject matter and a centuries-old form, his pieces already seem to be resonating with the Flying M crowd.
"While we were hanging the show, there were some immediate responses about how bright and cool it was," explained Warfel. "People were coming up there to check it out and getting in our way, they were so excited to see it."
Exhibit runs through the end of August. Flying M, 500 W. Idaho St., 208-345-4320, flyingmcoffee.com.