8/30/2012 7:01:00 PM Masterpieces a la Kitty: New exhibit taps into artist's playful side
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
Bret Blevins works on a new creation, “Troglodyte Honeymoon,”in his home studio in Prescott. His latest work is currently on display at the Arts Prescott Cooperative.
By Cindy Barks
With the prospect of an empty nest staring him in the face, local artist Bret Blevins decided he needed something to lighten up his outlook.
So, this past spring, he undertook a project aimed to do exactly that.
"I was trying to think of something that would make people happy," Blevins said.
The result: A new take on some of the art world's masterpieces.
Certainly, these are masterpieces with a twist. In place of the serious expressions on the faces of the card players in Paul Cézanne's famous painting, for instance, are the pointy ears and sly smirks of cats. Likewise with a self-portrait of a pipe-smoking Vincent van Gogh.
Titled "Chuckles and Smiles," the exhibit whimsically shakes up the masterpieces by injecting the spirit of Blevins' favorite animals.
"I have two cats," he explained of his choice of subjects. "They're so quirky; they're almost cartoon characters."
He obviously appreciates the aloof feline persona. "They deign to include you in their lives," he said. "I'm amused by that."
By all accounts, so are other art lovers.
Blevins' show opened this past weekend at the Arts Prescott Cooperative Gallery, 134 S. Montezuma St., featuring about 15 pieces of his art.
Karen Clarkson, a fellow artist who also does public relations for the gallery, was on hand to see the reaction to Blevins' work. "People loved the cats," she said. "It's the expressions on the faces - they seem so lifelike. It was really well-received."
Another local artist, Rowena Tank, noted that Blevins's art never fails to generate plenty of buzz. "It's always fun for the gallery to show Bret's work, because he's nationally known," Tank said. "People from everywhere stop by to see his work. It's quite an event."
To say the new style was a departure for Blevins is a bit of an understatement. Previously, he had spent decades inking intricate scenes of devastation - explosions, fistfights, and car crashes.
For the past three decades, Blevins has worked in the sometimes-frenzied world of illustration for comic books and cartoon animation.
In 1981, at the age of 21, he began working for Marvel Comics, illustrating such comic books as X-Men, Spiderman, The Hulk, The New Mutants, Star Wars, Solomon Kane, Dr. Strange, Conan, Sleepwalker, and Indiana Jones.
"The demands of it were enormous," Blevins, recalling many late nights working on the multiple, complex panels that went into each comic book.
After more than a decade with Marvel, Blevins moved to DC Comics and took on illustrations of Batman, Superman, Starman and others.
Later, a career shift took him into storyboarding for Warner Brothers, Cartoon Network and Disney on animated cartoons such as Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Batman Brave and Bold, Ben 10, X-Men, Disney's Tarzan, and Atlantis.
His cartoon work won him two Emmys, as well as the appreciation of his two children, Timothy, now 23, and Katy, now 18. "My kids loved them too," he said of the cartoons he illustrated.
Throughout most of his career, Blevins worked from home - first from Las Vegas where he spent his high school years, and later in New York City.
In 1991, Blevins and his family moved to Prescott, and he continued working from a home studio and sending his drawings to his contract employers. While the early years had him rushing to send his completed work by Federal Express, Blevins said he now communicates digitally.
Blevins traces his interest in art back to childhood, when he loved to read lushly illustrated books such as "Robin Hood" and "Treasure Island."
Soon, he was trying his own hand at it. "I just drew constantly - certainly from the age of 9 or 10," Blevins said.
The nonstop drawing soon evolved into something more serious.
"I began to send samples when I was 13," Blevins said, explaining that he made contact with a comic book editor during a convention for fantasy art. "He could tell I was serious," Blevins said of the editor. "And I was really determined to do this."
Expectations were high - both from himself and from his family. "I couldn't just be a flibbertigibbet," he said with a laugh.
Along with the usual teenage jobs in fast food joints and restaurants, Blevins augmented his income by doing political cartoons for the Nevada Legal News newspaper. "I did that for three or four years at $5 a cartoon," he said.
Blevins credits books and the occasional workshop with the bulk of his art education.
"It was constant studying on my own," Blevins said, noting that he spent long hours at libraries, reading about art techniques.
In addition, he remembers a high school teacher who was open to his art, and nurtured it.
The recent career shift toward painting occurred as Blevins prepared for his daughter to graduate from Prescott High School and move on to college at the University of Arizona.
"I always enjoyed painting for my own amusement," he said.
Previously, Blevins had taken a life-drawing class at Yavapai College, and later spent three years teaching a drawing class there.
That led to his involvement with the downtown Arts Prescott Cooperative Gallery.
Blevins' show will run through Sept. 26. The gallery, at 134 S. Montezuma, is open from 10 a.m. to 6, seven days a week.