Co-create a country and wind up compared to ... Butt-head? Co-run a country and wind up compared to ... Alfalfa?
And Vanna White? And Burger King?
Have it his way.
"I always try to find some that are a little more of a curveball, a little more irreverent," says New York artist and ex-ad man John Nieman, who dared toss John Adams, one of America's founding fathers, in with an animated dunce, and an ex-vice president, Al Gore, in with a cowlicked Little Rascal. "But I'm not trying to piss people off."
Hey, no offense taken. Can't speak for John and Al, though even they might be amused by "Second Bananas," which lists an eclectic slew of sidekicks that also includes Rochester, Barney Rubble, the Sundance Kid, Rhoda Morgenstern and Wilbur, the human confidant to the chatty equine star of "Mr. Ed."
Superimposed over a painting of bananas.
That's one of 22 such intriguing inventions that cleverly pair words, images and themed groupings in "The Art of Lists" exhibit at the Charleston Heights Arts Center.
"He's being humorous with what he's using to compare things with," says Jeanne Voltura, gallery coordinator for the city of Las Vegas. "He's doing it in a fun way, not a negative way, but it's got an intelligent edge to it."
Abstract, interpretive, moody, challenging, angry, reflective, difficult -- all those things "art" is expected to be? Not in "Art of Lists," which is straightforward and often puckish, eliciting giggles and chuckles from gallery-goers. An ad man's sensibilities suffuse his lists that are often derived from the names of popular products or common consumables he's painted to accompany them.
Over an image of pastry "Tarts": an amusing compilation ranging from soapy Erica Kane to porn princess Jenna Jameson, Britney Spears to Monica Lewinsky, Jessica Simpson to Jessica Rabbit and Miss Piggy to Stiffler's horny mom from "America Pie."
"A lot of it is juxtaposition of an image and words because that's the way an ad works," says Nieman, the retired chief creative officer of D'Arcy Worldwide, a marketing/advertising agency, and now a full-time artist and novelist.
"The visual is king. If there's not something interesting from 15 feet away, it's not going to work. But if the image is good enough, I get a kick out of somebody who comes a little closer and gets a residual tickle out of it and says, 'There's another layer here that is sort of interesting.' "
Over Hershey's chocolate Kisses: Halle Berry and Adrien Brody (that notable Oscar ceremony smooch the latter planted on the former); Marilyn Monroe and Las Vegas' own Tony Curtis; "The Graduate's" Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin; Shrek and Fiona; and TV's first interracial buss between "Star Trek's" Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura.
And -- clearly unimpeded by political correctness -- over a Chunky Bar: Oprah Winfrey, Porky Pig, Queen Latifah, Fatty Arbuckle and Rosie O'Donnell.
Maintaining the sweets image in "Lifesavers," Nieman thematically shifts focus as a painting of the fruity candies accompanies a list ranging from firemen, nurses and police officers to condoms, donors and spouses.
"I went through (a supermarket's) candy aisle and found that almost every single one had a double meaning," Nieman says. "Whether it was Chunkys or Snickers or Kisses, I had a fun time coming up with the lists to fit the image. Finally, I had to get out of the candy aisle or I'd get too fat."
Over a roll of Smarties: Albert Einstein ('natch), TV's Christiane (misspelled as "Christian") Amanpour, William Safire, James Woods, Vaclav Havel and St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.
Over Good & Plenty: books in a library, opinions, laws, new diets, undocumented workers and New York delis.
Choosing exhibits from among artists' submitted proposals, Voltura notes: "There are some where I say, 'This would really challenge people,' and others where I say, 'Well, it will be popular.' I try to be thoughtful about the gallery exhibits for this city, trying to get people interested. His paintings are not above and beyond excellent, but there's technical and visual quality there."
While some entries are not people-oriented -- one called "Brownie Points" includes such suckup lines as "I learned from you the master," "Have you lost a lot of weight?" and "Teacher, you forgot to give us homework" -- many bounce off pop culture, luring an audience beyond hard-core art lovers.
"I love it, I'm a creature and a victim of it," Nieman says. "I was raised on it. It's so damn American."
Doesn't get much more American than John Adams. And Butt-head.
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.