Cody Garcia’s BFA show, “Willy B. Lucky,” had a good dose of cartoonish verve. The brightest splashes of color were four cut-paper scenes following the adventures of the show’s titular character, Willy, making his way through a casino. The one wall without the cut-paper pictures was painted with nearly life-size silhouettes of casino denizens, bored dealers and unctuous servers and gambling shmoes. Cody set up the gallery for maximum casino ambiance, stationing a bartender in one corner, setting up a couple round tables with red tablecloths, and piping in rat pack music (the music murmured like a haunted historical echo of the Cal-Neva, which had just shut its doors a couple weeks before). Outside the gallery was a small ceramic sculpture of an old man with a pair of cards balanced in one hand, frozen in the moment before he’s about to slap them on the table.
Cody’s interested in being a character designer, and the show was a good distillation of lessons he’s learned at school, through online courses, and with his own disciplined practiced and research. As far as influences go, I know he admired Lou Romano’s design work for “Up”(which we were fortunate to see in person during a small student visit to Pixar we were able to arrange last year, thanks to the graces of Erica Milsom), the exaggerated plasticity of the characters owes something to the rubber-band anatomy of Tex Avery, and I thought I could detect some of the geometry of Mary Blair’s designs for Disney in the flat boldness of his compositions. The cut paper technique really seemed to suit him, forcing him to concentrate on dynamic, essential shapes. There was a wonderful playfulness in how Cody pried certain pieces of the paper up from the two-dimensional surfaces of the images, so that a cigar or a die-throwing hand might jut out of the picture plane, casting its own shadow over the proceedings. I enjoyed the way he curved arms into elbowless tubes, loop-de-loops of form that swooped you through the activity of each vignette.
(Cody mentioned he identified with Willy somewhat, though I’ve never known Cody to sport a mustache. Below, a model recreates his posture as a caricature, complete with levitating tie action. It was amusing, when the reception was in full swing, to see the painted silhouettes blending with the live audience in the dim light.)
The humor in the images was pretty gentle (and this is probably my own bias against Casino culture rearing its head). I can go for kitsch and camp in certain doses and distillations, but Casinos usually defeat me. The tackiness is too close an objective correlative to naked human misery in that milieu — something to do with the alchemical properties of hard liquor, cigarette smoke, and flop sweat. Cody shows some traces of the gruesome here and there (most directly in the silhouette of a woman slouched in front of her small pile of chips, hooked up to an oxygen machine by a thin tube that squiggles up into her nostril), but the images are more of a rib-nudging than real satire. Cody has a sense of humor that’s sharper and more perverse in person than what usually shows up on his drawing board.
On the other hand, too much poison in the images might have cramped his style as a host. Anyone who has seen his spot-on caricatures of his friends (popping up on his sketchbook, his blog, and the occasional classroom whiteboard) could intuit the social dimension of his work. He needed to put on an art show, but he also wanted to put on a party. Dressed in black with a ruby red bowtie, he clearly enjoyed being master of ceremonies for a night. Like Willy — in one picture enthusiastically ordering a round — for the time being, the drinks were on him.