My fiancé and I live in Chelsea, known to many as the art gallery epicenter of New York City. Peppering the sidewalks like haphazard splashes of paint on a Pollock canvas, there are almost 350 concurrent exhibitions at any given time. Some Saturdays, with no plan in mind, we meander the avenues neighboring the Hudson River and walk from 20th street until 25th. One such day in February, 2012 we stumbled upon Petzel Gallery.
Anarchy, animation, trash, charcoal, linen and the world of a deranged evil villain collide in the gallery.
Batman Returns, the show by artist Joyce Pensato ran from January 12 – February 25, 2012. Pensato, is an artist born, raised and currently working in Brooklyn. Her proximity to Gotham is not lost on me. “Batman” is a motif that first appeared in Pensato’s drawings as early as the mid-1970’s. “I was resisting working with the traditional still life — apples and pears and all that crap,” she says. Something clicked when she first sketched the caped crusader. “I just fell in love with Batman. I think it was the ears.
My good friend Andrew Springer works for Good Morning America on ABC. He is the guru for all things television and is often spotted reading a hard cover, non-fiction book on the history of the medium. No really, this kid has a killer commute and refuses to switch over to e-books, he likes dog-earing the pages and feeling the paper! But, I digress, Springer is my go-to grand poobah on the history of network television and the rise of certain thematic media trends. He was actually my friend who suggested I do a post on The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s interior design and set design, HERE. I recently asked him for his next suggestions – I was thinking of recreating the look from the oh-so-eighties “Clarissa Explains it All” but he suggested another Nickelodeon classic, Hey Arnold!. He texted me, “Remember his TOTALLY AWESOME bedroom?”. I do remember his bedroom, and I think the space officially accounts for the first time I was ever jealous of a cartoon. I think the creators of the cartoon even knew how cool it was since they dedicated an entire episode to its powers.
The cartoon Hey Arnold! was created by Craig Bartlett (author of Rugrats) and premiered in 1996. It ran for five seasons, had exactly 100 episodes, and…. Bartlett originally set out to become a painter “in the 19th-century sense”, but started pursuing a career in animated films because of inspiration he found during a trip to Italy. It also did not hurt that Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, is Craig Bartlett’s brother-in-law. This new career turn brought him to claymation and Pee-wee’s Playhouse (another cult classic), it turns out Arnold was actually a minor character spun-off from this series, and was originally greenlit as “Arnold Saves the Neighborhood”.
Hey Arnold! takes place in the fictional American city of Hillwood. The nebulous city seems to be based on large, metropolitan cities, including Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and New York City with sporadic references to Nashville, TN and Allentown, PA, as mentioned in the Sally’s Comet Episode. Basically, the city is an amalgam of urban Americana. The series chronicles the life of Arnold, a 4th-grader in a nameless city , who lives in a multi-racial boarding house with his grandparents and a motley assortment of neighbors and friends. He is a reluctant hero, problem solving, and always forced to “do the right thing”. I learned several things from Hey Arnold!; how to spell the word “qualm”, to never eat raspberries, to never try to make a pig listen, how to judge hitting baseballs in the wind, saw my first televised bar mitzvah, the plight of refugees of The Vietnam War and adoption in tore worn countries (Mr. Hyunh and his a daughter, Mai), and a million lessons on ‘not judging a book by its cover’.
“The boy with the cornflower hair. Me beloved, and my despair.” – Helga
Arnold had a very 1960’s to 1970’s anthropomorphic and avocado/orange rug. His walls was a blue green with alien print and ufos on the. His bedspread and blanket were a solid seafoam color. He had a very funky starburst, Eames style clock on one wall. Some of the details were very nifty-fifities diner-esque. He had a dusty pink modular storage unit with space for books, knickknacks and orange drawers. In the middle of the room sat an old car Bench Seat (or diner booth?) in red upholstery. He had a radiator, a fish tank, a PC, flowers, a show rack, an oblong egg chair, and he had track lighting. Somehow both urban, inexpensive, and modern.