PAINTER DICK DETZNER: SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP ART

By Published on .

Dick Detzner had an exhibition at the Yello Gallery in Chicago last month, but there's nothing timid about the paintings he showed. Bob's Big Boy holding the tablets on Mt. Sinai; the Lamentation of Christ as performed by Ronald McDonald, the Hamburglar and Grimace, with a cross of Golden Arches; Christ on a Wheaties box, touted as "The breakfast of saviors." All right, it's not nearly as shocking as Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ," the submerged-in-urine crucifix that got the NEA in hot water in 1989. Nevertheless, if Leo Burnett were still with us, Detzner's stuff would probably fell him like a thunderbolt.

"I'm hoping the humor softens it somewhat," says the softspoken artist, 40. "It's possible that some lawyer might try to bully me," he supposes, but he's not worried about his first amendment rights. He's more worried about his mother. "She's very Catholic, and she wasn't thrilled with this. I'd say it's not attacking religion; it's more of a slam against people becoming too religious about advertising. But when you mess around with religious images, there are some people who are going to be offended no matter what you say." The actual Eucharist table he set up in front of the Wheaties painting in the gallery, where he dispensed milk and cereal to art lovers, probably didn't help, but it was surely a nice touch. "I gave everyone communion," Detzner chuckles.

A Chicago-based, self-employed graphic designer, portrait painter and muralist with a BFA from, of all schools, Notre Dame, Detzner is new to confrontational painting, and almost as new to gallery art. He's been exhibiting for only two years, and this series of seven large oils started only a year ago. Prior to that, he was "working with very straightforward representational themes," mostly interiors, he explains. Then, "pure reality started to get boring to me. I turned to satirical things."

Why attack advertising? Partly because it makes such a great contrast with religious themes, in which brand loyalty and product mania are a sort of "misplaced reverence," Detzner believes. (Creativity's own James Twitchell argues, in his 1995 book, Adcult USA, that advertising has largely taken religion's place.) As for Detzner, he has "a love/hate thing" with advertising. "I don't want to be completely dogmatic about it. I understand that I have a lot of affection for some of these ad characters. They are kind of fun, that's the way they were made. In my kitchen I have a little figurine of Cap'n Crunch, for instance. I do get a kick out of it. But you have to be careful how far you take that in real life, since it exists only as a tool of manipulation." He's never worked in an ad agency. "I always steered clear of agencies," Detzner says. "I heard so many horror stories."

At press time, none of Detzner's paintings had been sold -- they're substantial works, over six feet tall, and they go for $5,800 apiece, complete with handmade hardwood frames -- though he says he's gotten some very positive local press coverage and virtually no complaints from outraged citizenry. His eighth in the series is underway: The Annunciation, with the Virgin Mary holding a First Response pregnancy kit in her hand. He wants to do at least one more show of this work, which is scheduled for February in Chicago. "I'm still waiting to see how this turns out," he says hopefully.

Any ad icons he wouldn't touch in his art? Probably not. "Cap'n Crunch was my favorite cereal when I was a kid," Detzner muses, "but I'm thinking about doing

In this article:
Most Popular