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The Claytons: SoCal's painting brothers

May 7, 2011 |  7:00 am

ClayRob and Christian Clayton enjoy a killer view of the San Gabriel Mountains from their La Crescenta studio, but the brothers rarely gaze into the distance for inspiration. The source material for their twitchy exercises in Social Surrealism lingers just outside the door of their Honolulu Avenue  storefront.

Christian remembers the impetus for one recent show: “This horrible motorcycle accident happened right out front. We ran out and saw the guy who got banged up. After the ambulance came and got him we came back in here we were both ‘Arrgghh, my God!’ and started talking about the idea of diagnosing our paintings from this sense of urgency, as if we were both EMTs.”

And by “diagnose,” Christian means one brother paints over, reworks, adds to or takes away from whatever the other one comes up with. The my-turn/your-turn methodology results in jittery, candy-colored dreamscapes peopled with anxious characters that have earned the brothers a growing corps of followers. Part of a Southern California cohort of artists who erode distinctions between fine art and populist graphics, the Claytons infuse impish surface charm with currents of dread, discontent and intimations of mortality. A sampling of their work will be on display at Pasadena Museum of California Art’s “Clayton Brothers: Inside Out” retrospective beginning May 15.

Dressed in near-identical newsboy caps, paint-splattered jeans and track shoes, their arms saturated with tattoos applied by musician-inker “Big Frank,” the brothers radiate a go-with-the-flow alertness that makes it easy to picture them 30 years ago, when, as teenagers on spring break from hometown Denver, they’d rent a cheap motel room in Santa Monica and soak up the city’s skateboard and punk rock scene.

For the Arts & Books profile, go here.

— Hugh Hart


Brothers Christian, left and Rob; Credit:Michael Robinson Chavez/LA Times