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Review: Be More Brando, Thomas Goddard

(September 01, 2015)

Review: Be More Brando - Thomas Goddard
Esgyn/Uprisings, MOSTYN, Llandudno - runs to 8 November 2015

Be More Brando, Thomas Goddard - image: Richard Cynon Jones
Installation photographer: Richard Cynan Jones
image: © MOSTYN, Cymru | Wales

For his solo show in MOSTYN's gallery 6, Thomas Goddard has created new work. MOSTYN's vision is to open dialogue on contemporary life through contemporary art exhibitions, learning and engagement, for people of all ages and backgrounds. Goddard, then, was an obvious choice as the latest artist to be given a spot in MOSTYN's 'Esgyn/Uprisings' programme.

It has a long history. When Mostyn Art Gallery was founded in 1901 as home to the work of the Gwynedd Ladies' Arts Society – Lady Augusta Mostyn's response to the Cambrian Academy's 'men only' policy – it became the first art gallery in the world to be built specifically to show women's artwork. Although the building only continued as a gallery until 1913, Oriel Mostyn Gallery re-opened on the same site in 1979.

MOSTYN exterior © MOSTYN, Cymru | Walesimage: © MOSTYN, Cymru | Wales

In 2010 it had a very successful refurbishment (and re-branding, as MOSTYN), which won Ellis Williams Architects the Gold Medal for Architecture at the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol, Wrecsam, in 2011. What you see now is a mixture of Grade II listed red-brick and terracotta splendour, successfully combined with modern concrete and wood.

The galleries are large, airy spaces and the variety of exhibitions, clean facilities and ground-floor shop make the place as attractive as an elegant Edwardian department store. The staff are knowledgeable and approachable, making the building and it contents welcoming and gratifying.

Born in Cardiff in 1980, Goddard is now based in Swansea. Unpretentious and energetic, the Welsh artist creates work in many media: from film to performance art; print to digital art; and installation. The objects and documentation we see are his thoughts, discoveries and conclusions, from his practice as an artist made manifest.

Goddard finds contemporary life an inspiration; he seems to live by the Socratic edict, "The unexamined life is not worth living …", and part of the fascination is that in contemporary times the majority seem content to not seek truth, but accept the easy entertainment.

Famous people become part cultural reference points; we agree to certain responses to them e.g. Dalai Lama equals good; Katie Hopkins equals bad. However, a shared perception is no more real just because many people agree.

Goddard's Be More Brando uses Marlon Brando as an example for us to examine these wider issues.

Be More Brando is an installation comprising a room behind a 1970s beaded curtain, a video projection, wall projection, framed photograph and two large forms. Feeling it was a proper screen entrance, I parted the curtain with my hand at eye level, letting the beads fall noisily as I walked into the darkened gallery to sit on the wooden bench.


Being Brando, Thomas Goddard Being Brando, Thomas Goddard
Still from Being Brando, 2015
 HD Video, 3 mins 28 secs
Still from Being Brando, 2015
HD Video, 3 mins 28 secs

What comes to mind when you hear 'Be more Brando'? Is it a command or an encouragement? To be more what? Tough, silent, starry, scary, fat, cool, masculine, mysterious, mischievous and iconic?

I'm not a Brando fan per se. I don't seek out his films. I hear 'Be more Brando' and images come to mind: his sturdy shoulders filling his jacket as the intensely brooding dockworker in On the Waterfront; the desperate man in a tight white T-shirt, howling "Stella..!" in A Streetcar Named Desire, opposite Vivien Leigh; sitting on a bike for The Wild One; as Don Corleone in The Godfather. Brando is iconic; proven here, as my reference point for these last two owe far more to poster sales than to cinema.

But the man himself? As a method actor there is something in his every performance, but can I recall him as himself? I have a vague recollection of seeing him on a chat show once, looking into the interviewer's eyes in a challenging way, giving a powerful silence with just a hint of playfulness about his lips.

Be More Brando, Tom Goddard
Installation image: courtesy of the artist

Being Brando, Thomas Goddard
Still from Being Brando, 2015
 HD Video, 3 mins 28 secs

He once said, "The only thing an actor owes his public is not to bore them." We don't know him. Into this void fell a myth.

Think of him in the dark in Apocalypse Now; bald head side-lit and framed in inky blackness, creating a composition reminiscent of a Caravaggio. Brando is iconic in an almost religious sense, the poster boy for poster boys, worshipped on a thousand walls.

Goddard's show comes with a limited edition print run of this image, possibly re-enacted by Goddard himself, possibly the real deal. I never examined the Brando original closely enough to tell the difference. I suspect the decision to produce the poster is a knowing nod to the role of poster in the mythology and fame of the image of Brando. How the owner and viewer of a poster or artwork interpret and project their ideas onto the image and the person depicted in the image is pause for thought. Also, if you want to 'Be More Brando', whatever that means to you, you can use this as daily inspiration.

Tom Hank's character in You've Got Mail, impersonating Brando and saying "go to the mattresses", is one illustration that Brando is a reference point. Once, I reminded my uncle he was also my godfather and he said, "Am I?" And I said, "They made you an offer you couldn't refuse."

Goddard has collected Brando impersonations. In his selection we see ones we all know, and ones we don't. James Belushi filling his cheeks with cotton wool balls and turning to face us with a maniacal eye. I recall this one and you see it aped over and over; but it's never as good.

Diane Keaton in Sleeper is more convincingly androgynous being Brando here than she ever was in Annie Hall. She makes her small frame big and you see essence of gorilla and Brando's Americanism.

 Being Brando, Thomas Goddard - Diane Keaton
Diane Keaton
Still from Being Brando, 2015
 HD Video, 3 mins 28 secs

Each impression shows you more about the perception of the persona, and adds to it. Each impression is a portrait. And so, this collection is a gallery of portraits by known and unknown artists; some more successful than others. Goddard explains, "The impersonations show the extent to which Brando's performances have disseminated popular culture. Being Brando looks at the need to imitate - imitation as a way to take on another character, either through desire to worship or to forget oneself."

A single photographic portrait hangs in gallery 6. The caption lets you know this is Brando, born 1980, the same age as Goddard. This man from India works in Bangkok. He wears a swimming cap and a satin dressing gown and hides most of his face in a pose comparable to the Apocalypse Now image on the adjacent wall. Maybe Brando is a stage or working name he chose; maybe it is his birth name. In any event, it is part of his identity and shows how far the Brando 'brand' has travelled.


Be More Brando - Facepalm

The image Brando Facepalm is a self-portrait of the artist, taken in the guise of Marlon Brando himself, as the eponymous character in The Island of Dr Moreau. Brando was famously in the much-troubled 1996 production of the film version of H. G. Wells' book, originally directed by Richard Stanley (great grandson of Henry Morton Stanley, the Welsh journalist and explorer from Dinbych). Goddard says it "relates to my interest in Victorian writers re-imagining their own society and envisaging utopian futures. This also ties into previous film and performance work made in collaboration with Barnaby Dicker; The Farthest Point of Navigation … with an idea at the back of it, which considered Wales as the 'dark heart' of Great Britain." The photograph's format was originally intended as a riff on the Women's Art Society's exhibition, currently showing downstairs at MOSTYN, which presented an image of each participant proudly placed within their rented golden frame. Goddard says, "The use of Brando's Doctor Moreau visually reflects the contrast between his God-like status and his tragic life."

A sculpture depicting a pair of balls covered in cotton wool is also displayed. This is the classic cheek-filling Brando, and possible references to the masculinity of Brando … when you impersonate him you grow a pair. They bring a touch of juvenile humour due to their intimidating size, and cuddly approachability. I think Belushi would approve.

Jennifer Pearce, September 2015

Esgyn/Uprisings' Thomas Goddard Be More Brando runs until 8 November 2015 in Gallery 6 MOSTYN. Curated by Alfredo Cramerotti, Director MOSTYN, and supported by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation


MOSTYN exterior © MOSTYN, Cymru | Wales MOSTYN © MOSTYN, Cymru | Wales
image: © MOSTYN, Cymru | Wales image: © MOSTYN, Cymru | Wales

Of Gallery 6, MOSTYN say; "Housed in the upper level of MOSTYN, Gallery 6 is dedicated to presenting the work of young and emerging artists, all of whom are yet to have a solo exhibition in an institutional setting, either nationally or internationally. The Gallery 6 space and its associated programme, entitled 'Uprisings', provide the opportunity for an artist to work under professional conditions, and to present their work to a larger audience. For the audience too, Gallery 6 will provide a platform for discovery. It will bring to MOSTYN a diverse range of artists, at the very forefront of contemporary art practice, from both home and away. Gallery 6 would not be possible without the generous support of Esmée Fairbairn Foundation."


MOSTYN gallery interior © MOSTYN, Cymru | Wales
Gallery interior
image: © MOSTYN, Cymru | Wales

MOSTYN's current exhibitions include: a museum-quailty piece on the social history and development of the postcard; a showcase of contemporary art by women; and two excellent, intriguing shows by other contemporary artists.

MOSTYN has brought the history of sharing art with the populace of the town and visitors into the now.

Just a short walk from the train station and promenade, it is well worth a visit.

Jennifer Pearce, July 2015
12 Stryd Vaughan Street
LL30 1AB

Open Tue – Sun, 10.30 till 5, admission free

Jennifer Pearce is the founder of Art Club and can be followed on Twitter

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