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Dirty candy

Jeff Britton's Guilty Pleasures blurs line between sweetness and sauciness

FOR many, the New Year marks an opportunity to radically change "defective" behavior and habits. It's another second chance to temper our appetite for self-destruction, whether it involves reducing our taste for all-you-can-eat Asian buffets or Sweet Valley High books or trendy, uncomfortable foot apparel. But let's face it: Guilty pleasures make us feel guilty because they're so darn, well, pleasurable. New York City-based painter Jeff Britton understands this, which is why he's cutting against the grain with the unveiling of a new show in Trifecta Gallery called Guilty Pleasures, a show filled with still lifes of naughty toys, sugary candy and half-eaten apples of knowledge.

Britton isn't just limited to still-life paintings; his work ranges from vibrant landscapes to cityscapes to moody interiors to celebratory tributes to the Old Masters (Carvaggio, Rubens, Titian). But for Guilty Pleasures, he decided to install those paintings of his that speak to the idea of having your cake and pretending you're not going to eat it, too.

"I'm interested in color, light and sexually charged imagery," he says, hours before the First Friday debut of his exhibit. "I can also paint in kind of a cartoonish style, and this has always been an idea I've had, but can't say where it comes from exactly. I do know this show deals with what people may not want to do -- eating a bunch of cupcakes, watching porn -- but end up doing anyway."

Britton insists his art heroes are 19th-century painters like Edouard Manet, for the simple and uncontestable reason that there is nothing guiltier or more pleasurable than "The Lunch on the Grass." And like his heroes, Britton refuses to stick with one subject matter only. Which probably explains why he cites a versatile Hollywood filmmaker such as Billy Wilder (The Seven Year Itch, Stalag 17) as another big influence.

"I've never wanted to paint the same thing over and over again, which in art school remains an overriding concept," he explains. "Like Wilder, I think you make a comedy, then you make a drama, then you make a suspense."

Indeed, what Britton offers the viewer -- at least in terms of what he calls "painterly realism" -- is a panorama. His work ranges in size from 2-foot by 2-foot miniatures to larger, 15-foot wide canvases. Looking at such a broad spectrum, you sense the world offers Britton much visual stimulus to draw upon, so much to be inspired by. His work lives up to the dictum uttered by painter and poet William Blake, who urged artists to "have confidences in objects. Do not let yourself be intimidated by the horror of the world. Everything is ordered and correct and must fulfill its destiny in order to attain perfection."


Basically self-taught (he attended art school but never had a real painter for an instructor), Britton frequented museums to learn technique. It wasn't until the age of 22 that he decided to become a painter after perusing his local library for a book about the Great Masters. Now Britton says he paints every single day and, with more than 2,000 completed paintings rendered so far, he possesses a veritable catalogue and a visual arsenal.

"I'm not into the whole rich-and-famous thing," he insists. "I just want to make good work. It's often difficult for me to talk about it, because painting for me is mostly about feeling. Let someone else provide the commentary."

Featuring 32 smaller works (most of them oil-on-wood), Guilty Pleasures has something for everyone. There are some nudes, some delicate and delicious-looking pastries, and even a girl sandwich. It's a small, intimate show packed with light, energy, good humor and fun. Overall, his work is luscious, wet, like it just came off the brush. But for this critic, the best moments are in pieces such as "Two Dolls," in which a child's playthings play with each other rather suggestively, and "Mr. Wee Wee," a toy apparently designed to urinate at will after dropping its pants. And let's not forget "Elf," who proudly sticks his middle finger in the viewer's eye. The expression on the toys' faces is almost funnier than what they're actually doing. Every object simmers in its own subtle humor -- not with irony but glee.

Still, Guilty Pleasures isn't limited to toys. As an artist who ends up spending a great deal of time in hotel rooms, Britton puts a few cityscapes in the mix. There's even a gorgeous nighttime lightscape of the Las Vegas Strip, which Britton painted from the vantage of the 26th floor of the Treasure Island hotel-casino.

"It's exciting for me to be here," Britton went on to say. "I'm a huge Vegas fan, mainly because this city is a painter's paradise. I've been coming to Vegas for 10 years, a lot of it based on the experiences I've had here, which continue to provide inspiration. I've done tons of desertscapes of Red Rock, and it's quite phenomenal to work as a plain-air painter. I think today's artists really need to get outside and stand in the sun more than once in a while."

Last updated on Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 12:09 am


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