Longtime artist and political activist Robbie Conal prefers to create the kind of art that makes people do a double take. Since graduating from Stanford University with a master of fine arts degree in the late ’70s, Conal has focused his talent on political satire, creating humorous yet thought-provoking posters that have papered the streets of cities such as New York, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. But for his upcoming Santa Cruz show at the A.L. Walters Gallery, Conal has chosen to show a softer side of his personality. Entitled with the same moniker as his new book, “Not Your Typical Political Animal,” the month-long gallery show will feature drawings of animals that Conal does as a way to reconnect with the planet. “For 23 years I’ve been doing satirical portraits of people who have a lot of power and abuse it,” Conal says. “This builds up a certain level of cosmic residue that isn’t necessarily always positive. As a break to flush my system and reconnect with some positive vibes from the climate and other living creatures … I did drawings of dogs and cats and other animals as an antidote that helps me reconnect on a more positive level,” the artist explains.
Conal shares that the artwork being featured in this particular exhibition is a tongue-in-cheek series of prints of original drawings he has dubbed “Pet Peeves,” which depicts political figures looking suspiciously like their pets. “I’ve noticed this while doing serious political humor because I come across a lot of photos of politicians. Richard Nixon and Checkers, J. Edgar Hoover and his pug look pretty much alike, Lyndon Johnson and his two beagles, Barbara Bush and her dog Millie, they look exactly alike, and Clinton and his cat Sox,” he says. According to Conal, his wife Deborah Ross and his cat Tyrone inspired him to show this warmer, fuzzier side of his art. “My cat Tyrone is always giving me shit, ‘Hey art boy, enough of this negativity and bad karma.’”
Growing up on Manhattan’s “upper left side” in the ’50s, Conal’s parents were union organizers that were rarely home. “My parents were busy saving the world from capitalist greed and I was raised by Siamese cats,” Conal recalls with a touch of fondness. He also spent a lot of time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, which most certainly shaped his future as an artist. “The only things I could do were play baseball and draw. I wasn’t that good at baseball and I was too little,” he explains, a fact which led him into the career he continues to thrive in today.
Artists always seem to have very specific inspiration for any project that they are working on at any given time, and Conal is no exception. “I am inspired by two things,” he states. “One is because I believe in regular people, and my chosen subject—when I started doing the political satirical posters—is democracy. I would use a combination of an image and text and hopefully create something that was ironically funny. The other thing that people don’t particularly know about me is my love for animals. I believe they’re sentient beings, they have feelings and they are partners with life on the planet and I would like us to treat them that way,” Conal concludes.
The family friendly exhibition, which will feature more than a dozen of Conal’s original works of art, is based on the book, “Not Your Typical Political Animal,” that Conal produced, designed and published. “I did drawings and wrote some stories,” he says. “It’s kind of a personal memoir.”
The exhibit will be on display through Sunday, June 6 at the A.L Walters Gallery, 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz. The event is free and open to the public. For more information call 475-8475 or visit robbieconal.com.
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