Top Drawer

Artist, radio personality and professional speed-talker Bill Amundson has built a career out of just being Bill, which in his case means being a self-deprecating, compulsive, middle-aged Midwesterner of Norwegian descent with a distinct inability to either shut up or stop drawing. What comes out--and out and out and out--is a kind of ongoing improvised performance art spawned by Amundson's own comical observations on the vapid vagaries of suburban life. And nothing is safe from his exacting, powder-hued pencils.

A tiny corner of Amundson's Promethean output will go on display Friday as part of a three-person drawing exhibition at the Emmanuel Gallery. Viewers there are bound to find incredibly detailed pencil works culled from any of his various ongoing series, which might include what he describes as "drawings of sad, desperate, pathetic, scary gentlemen" (most of whom appear to be himself), or ghastly pastel rows of suburban homes topped with billboards announcing "The Nelsons--Like a Rock" and "Absolut Hansons," or Babel-esque fast-food restaurant play-places rendered under the obsessively creepy influence of Hieronymous Bosch, or tiny, postcard-sized art trucks hauling miniature--hey, these are transistorized--parodies of Dali, Calder or Mondrian classics. Whatever the subject matter, they all share a signature exactitude so striking even the artist admits there's something slightly sick about it. "But," he offers with a mixture of fear and pluck, "I hope it's more than a nervous disorder."

Interestingly enough, the social commentary Amundson spews isn't totally jaded or acerbic, it's...reflective--a mixture of sharp-toothed bite and pink, gummy, healthy middle-American nostalgia. A kind of weary distress weaves its way through his motormouthed observations. Ultimately, it's a stunningly clear-eyed viewpoint he presents, especially since he dropped alcohol from his diet cold turkey a couple of years ago. And, Amundson adds, bifocals help, too.

Of his self-described anal-retentive, graphomaniacal tendencies, Amundson says, "I've become this grotesque drawing machine." His larger drawings take about two weeks of intense eight- to ten-hour days to complete, a process he says is less than glamorous. "I wish I could be a regular flamboyant artist type instead of this person hunched over a drawing table all the time," he muses. "But my studio is a table. What's exciting about that?"

Amundson groups his work under the banner of "suburban regionalism," a movement of which he says he's probably the sole proponent. "Nobody seems eager to glom on to it," he quips. But he's quick to defend the designation. "Artists who do landscapes don't actually do the landscape that's out there," he explains. "For every waterfall or moose you see, there are fifty or sixty Fazoli's restaurants."

So for Amundson, it's all a matter of telling it like it is. And that's exactly what he'll continue to do. "The blander and more banal it is, the better," he says. But once his work is out there to be seen, he doesn't take responsibility for public reaction. "To some people, they're not even humorous or horrifying," he says. "To them, that's just the way it is."

--Froyd

Draw, recent drawings by Bill Amundson, Mark Brasuell and Elizabeth Buhr, Emmanuel Gallery, 10th and Lawrence, Auraria campus, July 10-August 7. Opening reception July 10, 5-8 p.m.

 
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