LOS ANGELES — Perched atop the Prism Gallery is a giant, yellow face with slender eyelashes, narrow eyes and prominent nose. It competes for attention against the many billboards and vehicles along this stretch of Sunset Blvd. The squinty eyes and yellow complexion are outlandishly drawn, but the portraiture here, and many others in the gallery, are never callous or misleading. The Los Angeles gallery’s solo exhibition Miss You features paintings, embroidery and installation art by twin brothers Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo, or Os Gêmeos, whose fantastical imagery blends street-level portraiture and magical realism.
Inside the gallery, the walls are painted in bright red-orange and yellow. Bulbous faces protrude from the floor while a large, cube-shaped head hangs from the ceiling. Seen from above, the round patch of hair on the teardrop faces resembles a pupil and eyeball. The effect should be eerie, but drawn in the cartoonish style of Os Gêmeos, the faces look inviting and serene. Against one corner of the first floor, a set of curtains leads to a furnished bedroom. The room contains a small library and electronic organ, with pictures and postcards lining the shelves and walls. Hanging above the bed are a pair of yellow and green blazers which ostensibly belong to the artists.
While music plays in the background, a large projection displays dizzying patterns and floating heads which visitors can manipulate by touching the screen. Among the many books and images one is inclined to glean the brothers’ inspiration and sources. A framed portrait of the Madonna may have taken some part in the painting Imperio Eukaryota, which depicts an elegant, naked woman whose torso, save for her shoulders and left breast, is wrapped in 3D geometric patterns. A sunburst halo of red and yellows radiates from the woman’s cap.
Os Gêmeos typically draw faces with cylindrical lips and eyes set wide apart, a look that is not always flattering but is remarkably expressive. Their characters distinguish themselves by particular styles of clothing, which can range from bright purple suits to colorful checkered patterns. Many of the paintings in the show are portraits of men who resemble women (or vice versa), like “Amidalite Dos Santos & Antonio Pouca Testa,” which depicts a masculine subject with a fruit pattern dress and blonde wig. These paintings feel very much like portraits of real people encountered on the streets of Brazil, although their clothing and hairstyles can make them feel outside of the present, like Mr. Popping and Boogaloo Donut, which features two men in b-boy outfits posing against a backdrop of vast ocean.
Other works extend the brothers’ imaginations into the fantastic and surreal. A high-ceilinged wall set against a set of stairs depicts a sweeping aerial view of rolling clouds. In the foreground, tendrils from a tall tree dissolve into a bed frame, upon which a naked boy, wearing only a ski mask, stands spread-eagled with tiny birds perched on his wrists as if assisting flight. Similarly, “Viagem Ao Centro Da Terra (Travel to the Center of the Earth)” features a boatsman rushing down a tapestry of swirling colors, while in “Do Outro Lado Da Lua (The Other Side of the Moon),” a naked man wades through the stripes and angles of what looks like a Sol Lewitt painting.
The rear wall of the second floor contains the Pandolfo brothers’ embroidery works. Some just feature intricate needlepoint patterns while others are more figurative, fleshing out a crowd of faces or picturing a domestic scene of a tree-lined fence and house. While impressive in their meticulous handiwork, these embroidery pieces seem most out of sync with the other pieces, lacking their dreamy pictorial forms. My favorite work, “Untitled,” embraces both Os Gêmeos’ surrealist angle and intricate craft. Blanketed against a cloud of floating images, a boy is surrounded by sketches and fragments of dreams, the many details of which require long and close examination.
Over the years, Os Gêmeos have expanded their work to encompass the gallery and museum, most recently in MOCA Los Angeles’ Art in the Streets exhibit. While the brothers’ art may be most striking in settings most starved for beauty or fantasy, places like city streets or on the side of buildings, the gallery space allow the brothers to more sensorially transport the viewer into their surreal, dreamlike imaginations.
Os Gêmeos: Miss You runs until March 24 at the Prism Gallery (8746 W. Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, Los Angeles).