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This article was published 12/3/2010 (4076 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For more than a decade, local artist Robert Pasternak has been dreaming up and packaging imaginary products, many in the style of retro candies, toys and novelties.
There's Fun Gum that looks exactly like pink bubble gum, but is actually modelling clay. Inside the wrapper, instead of a Bazooka Joe comic, you get tiny, illustrated instructions for something playfully absurd to do with your "gum," such as use it as an Assyrian writing tablet.
There are Eye Chew Booklets in yellow, Chiclet-parodying "wackages." Each contains 26 Micro Minty Books -- teeny-tiny art books by the miniature-loving Pasternak.
There are functioning gumball machines that dispense treasures such as a plastic capsule containing "63 Secrets of the Universe."
Like Wonka, the fictional candy wizard, Pasternak often giggles with childlike delight when showing off his creations. Asked his age, the father of three replies with a question: "Twelve? Eleven? Nah, I'm 46."
His just-opened retrospective show at Martha Street Studio, titled Pasternak's Visual Chew and running to April 23, is "merchandised" like a store. But every item, rather than being mass-produced, is painstakingly designed, printed, cut, glued or bagged by Pasternak in his "Nakfactorium" studio, located next door to the Nutty Club candy factory.
"It's very time-consuming," admits the largely self-taught "pop surrealist," whose similarly talented older brother went down a more conventional path as an industrial designer.
The slightly built artist, whose grey goatee gives him an elfin quality, has earned his living predominantly as a graphic designer. Strongly influenced by comic-book art, he is also known for metaphysical paintings, illustrations for science-fiction magazines and book jackets, an experimental film and quirky collages of found materials.
He loves the moment when a gallery-goer approaches one of his products thinking it's something familiar -- often in a nostalgic way -- and then realizes it's something goofy or absurd.
"I think it triggers an emotional delight. It's like, 'Wow, I didn't look at it like that.' It looks ordinary and everyday, but it's not. You realize, and take home with you, that maybe not everything is as it seems."
The title Visual Chew reflects his belief that art is something tangibly absorbed, as if inhaled or eaten. "These are all mind-altering substances," he says. "They're things to chew on."
Some of his products, like a "third eye" to stick on your forehead, are like mail-order gag items advertised in comic books. Others are more jarringly surreal, such as his carefully packaged items normally considered worthless garbage, like "fully poseable" cigarette butts.
Some of his creations, such as bookmarks that look exactly like slices of bacon, have obvious commercial potential. He has made, for instance, 17 faux "luscious nougat" lollipops spattered with paint, perfectly mimicking the style of influential painter Jackson Pollock.
"Fine Art Never Tasted So Good" reads the box for Pollicks (get it?). It's just the kind of witty, art-referencing gift that sells in museum and gallery gift shops everywhere. But Pasternak won't be going on TV's Dragon's Den anytime soon to find investors and launch it. He'd like an art-loving businessperson to take that on.
"I would love for these things to be reproduced in the thousands -- or the millions," he says. "These are prototypes for something real. But I need to keep creating. I can't get bogged down."
The artworks in Visual Chew are actually for sale, at prices such as $25 for a Pollick.
Pasternak's Visual Chew
Martha Street Studio
To April 23