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Bartalos’ Special Effects’ Work Comes To University Art Museum

Published: September 3, 2013

CSULB’s University Art Museum (UAM) has organized a major new exhibition titled “Gabe Bartalos: Abhorrence and Obsession,” which will open on Saturday, Sept. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the UAM. The exhibition will showcase more than 20 years of Bartalos’ special effects including eight works from Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster” cycle and numerous works from such horror classics as “Brain Damage” (1998), “Frankenhooker” (1990), “Basket Case 2” (1990) and “Basket Case 3” (1992), among others.

On opening night at the Carpenter Performing Art Center, Bartalos will be in conversation with artist and filmmaker Matthew Barney, an event that begins at 8 p.m. Admission to the center event is $15 general and $50 for VIP reserved seating and a private reception. The pair will explore the role of special effects in such films as Barney’s “Cremaster Cycle” (1995-2002). The exhibit concludes on Dec. 8.

Because the exhibit overlaps Halloween, the UAM worked with the Long Beach Cinematheque to organize a “zombie walk” in conjunction with a series of horror films to leading up to Halloween.

“There is something here for students, something here for adults and something here for art historians,” said UAM Director Christopher Scoates.

Bartalos is a prosthetic effects artist who specializes in creature design and explicit gore, Scoates explained. In 2004, Bartalos made his directorial debut with the surrealistic film “Skinned Deep” which he wrote and produced. The exhibit represents the artist’s first show in a museum context and expands the UAM’s interest in blurring the boundaries between the visual arts, film and popular culture.

“For more than 20 years, Bartalos has broken new ground and created constantly evolving character and sets—part set design, part art installation—that tie the psychology of emotional responses to the visual effects of the moving image,” Scoates said. “He ventures into unexplored territory and opens up a new dialogue that pushes us to rethink our ideas about visual effects and character design in relation to film, the visual arts and the film audience.”

Gabe Bartalos Work
Surgeon General, a character from the film “Skinned Deep,” was made of latex rubber, fiberglass, cloth and acrylic paint.

When visitors approach the UAM’s front door in September, Scoates thinks they will realize quickly that they are entering a different kind of space.

“The show will open with ‘the Loughton Candidate’ from ‘Cremaster 4′—a tap-dancing, red-haired satyr with the body of a man and the face of a goat, dressed in a white Edwardian suit,” he said. “Also on display will be a full-sized `zombie horse’ from ‘Cremaster 3′ in which in extraordinary tour de force of prosthetic special-effects make-up, Bartalos transformed full-size horses into rotting carcasses galloping around the race track.”

“The Loughton Candidate” will have company. “The viewer is going to be immersed in an experience,” predicted Bartalos. “We’ll have full body duplicates from ‘Cremaster 4’ and ’3.’ We’re taking an entire set from my new film ‘St. Bernard’ in all of its mosaic detail. We’re also creating backdrops, frames, and pedestals to compliment the themes of the films that I’ve been a part of.”

Bartalos’ pride in his work is evident. “I think people will be pretty thrilled with the reconstruction of the ‘zombie horse’ from ‘Cremaster 3.’ When we originally did the ‘zombie horses,’ we used prosthetics and spandex suits and applied it to real horses,” he said. “For the exhibit, we’re taking a replica fiberglass horse, gouging it up, going back to the original molds and running pieces from them. What’s great about showing the replica for the exhibit is that you can see deeply into the anatomy and really get the three-dimensional feel that you couldn’t get from watching the film.”

Gabe Bartalos Work
Uncle Ed, a character from the 2013 film “Saint Bernard,” was made up of silicone rubber, fiberglass, oil paint, brass and dental acrylic.

Bartalos feels excited and privileged to see his work featured at the UAM. “I remember attending the Brian Eno exhibit a few years back and thought it was organized very well,” he said. “Chris Scoates handled it very well; he has a great sense of taste. I’m very glad that I’m working closely with him on designing the show.”

A modern prosthetics artist, Bartalos finds inspiration in the innovations of a fast-changing industry.

“Early on in special effects production, the materials used to make synthetic skin began with just painting on skin,” Bartalos recalled. “Fast-forward a bit and derma-wax or morticians’ wax, which gave a full three-dimensional representation, was used but was very fragile and tended to melt off during production. Then you have the introduction of latex rubber which could be devised into molds and added to skin; these are three-dimensional alterations that would stay on with adhesives.

“With ‘The Planet of the Apes’ in the late ’60s, this latex got mixed with foam. Now it was soft and spongy and contoured to the face so you can actually get expression. Later on, urethanes came along, to where you could pigment. Then there was something called skinflex—skinflex two and three—all of which were amazing to pigment, but very hard to apply. And finally, there was the advent of silicone and then plasticizers that allow the application to have wider flexibility. This allowed artists to make strikingly real parts, or wild and fantastical parts that can be distorted. It’s actually quite fun.”

Bartalos hopes visitors come away with an appreciation for the art behind the gore.

“I hope viewers get the sense that, even if it is a severed head flying through the air covered in blood, there was an artist behind it who cares about it,” he said. “If blood and gore are used, I don’t disguise it. I do it to communicate to the audience that we’re in a visceral moment and a life-threatening situation with consequences. I hope that they notice that a bloody stump is anatomically sculpted and there was care taken in crafting it. At the exhibit, I hope they walk up to the different pieces and take a close look at the extreme detail to see what makes something believable. I hope they see that the exhibit is a celebration of the arts and sculpture.”

Exhibitions like “Abhorrence and Obsession,” Scoates believes, “blur the boundaries between visual arts and design, technology and contemporary culture. The exhibition will be intellectually stimulating, creating an important discussion around contemporary art, horror film and popular culture.”

–Richard Manly