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Will Bruno at Smart Objects


In the center of a vast ravine a clown with bright red oversized shoes hovers dejectedly, a small star floating by his head. This character, plopped inexplicably into a luscious desert landscape, isn’t the only anomaly in Will Bruno’s painting, Rugged Beauty (2021). One shirtless man sits hillside, pointing up and the clown and the other floating figurines, each seemingly pulled from a different toy set. Near the clown, a large cane-like symbol sits strangely on top of the scene, as if pulled from some classic rock vinyl album art and forced into a wild landscape. 

The exhibition of paintings on view at Smart Objects in Echo Park, titled Methods for Regional Stewardship, follows similar logic. The artist faithfully paints scenes from New Mexico’s mesas (where he lives) in brushy lavenders and warm ambers, and then collages these vistas with various figures and objects to build invented narratives that explore the history of the region while also inventing their own. 

Bruno is invested in storytelling, and pulls narratives from the area’s Indigenous populations, honoring their histories while also alluding to the violence of colonization and land development. At the same time, as the clown perhaps illustrates, magic and surrealism also feature in those narratives to reinvent and upend staid legacies, tweaking fixed archetypes and reconsidering their meaning. At once dreamy and methodical, Bruno’s painted allegories suggest that new, more equitable and fantastical stories can be told from the pieces and parts of the ones we’ve been telling.

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Photo: Will Bruno, Passing Through (detail) (2021). Image courtesy of the artist and Smart Objects, Los Angeles.