Recently, I met Marc Trujillo, a Los Angeles-based painter who exuberantly contradicts most narrative art with its emphasis on drama and desire. An "urban landscape" and figurative painter, he depicts neither striking vistas nor compelling characters. Instead, he focuses on gas stations, super markets, and shopping malls—those urban and suburban shelters for transitory souls. The paintings appear photo-realistic. But Trujillo mediates them by changing spaces, lighting, surfaces, characters, and gestures, all in service to his vision and the mood he wishes to convey. In these banal places, he notes, most people are thinking of where they're going, not where they are in the present. "I like to paint purgatories," he says, "rather than destination points like the Grand Canyon. I draw from the middle ground of experience. Extremes play into sentimentality."
Trujillo also remains remarkably interested in narrative—or at least the inversion of our traditional notions of drama. He cites Peter Brueghel's "Fall of Icarus" (c.1558) as a visualization of his storytelling philosophy. In the Greek myth, Icarus crashes into the sea after the sun melts his homemade wax wings. But in the bustling scene Brueghel painted, Icarus is just a small, incidental splash. With gentle wit, Brueghel seems to say that the story doesn't really matter.
However Trujillo does play with the idea of storytelling in much of his work, and he has had a gallery show called "Seeing & Reading" with Chris Ware, his good friend and a prodigious comic-book artist and writer. Notably, Ware makes a cameo in one of Trujillo's Wendy's fast food restaurant paintings—a witty homage to Ware's high school employer.
But where Ware simplifies his forms almost into hieroglyphics to keep the flow of the story moving, Trujillo deliberately muffles that flow by his intense rendering of details except in the signage. In his paintings, most of the text is obscured. We wile away in Trujillo's eerily beautiful, familiar spaces—the mercury vapor lights of gas stations, the cement floors of mass shopping centers, and passing buses, presumably going nowhere.