Both Like and Unlike Man: Galen Pehrson's Uncanny Cartoons

Read an excerpt from Ed Winstead's story on the work of artist and animator Galen Pehrson, courtesy of FOUNDATIONS.

by Ed Winstead
May 5 2016, 4:50pm

Talk Show, Galen Pehrson. All images courtesy of Ruins 

What Las Vegas once was for fantasies born of the '90s (Showgirls, Mars Attacks!, Con Air, Swingers, and Vegas Vacation, especially), a Clintonian dreamscape of boomtime excess and libidinal indulgence, Los Angeles is today. The context is a little different though, and so is its flavor, as we are now solidly post-collapse. It's hard to shake the impression of another unforeseen disaster, a return to quotidian muck, lurking around the corner. The second-tallest building in Vegas is the unfinished Fontainebleau, 68 stories looming at the north end of the strip, begun in 2007 and bankrupt in 2009. It's quite the metaphor. The whole city went tits-up almost overnight; foreclosures were doled out a lot faster than good hands, and by early 2010 unemployment jumped to a near-unthinkable 14%, which kind of put the brakes on the daydreaming. There was a necessary, collective recalibration that really lent itself to LA. What I'm saying is that there's some bitterness to our fantasies now.

Ediza, Film Still from The Caged Pillows. Galen Pehrson

So when we think of success, sudden and emancipatory, we think of Los Angeles, which might be why people keep moving there. It's also where Galen Pehrson lives, making his psychedelic Pynchonesque cartoons. He's done animated videos with Devendra Banhart, Talib Kweli, and Death Grips, and exhibited films at LA's Museum of Contemporary Art. Cartoons are of course the ultra fantasy, the absolute invention. They are Vegas to the nth in that respect—film to the nth, even—totally unconstrained by anything at all.


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Pehrson, pulling from influences as diverse as René Laloux, Sally Cruikshank, and Len Lye, to name just a few, totally embraces that capacity. His approach is less Fantasia, though, and more Miss Lonelyhearts. Pehrson's LA is strung out, bloodshot, ennui, and second-hand smoke—a place of predators and sycophants, desperate strivers and the catatonic famous. So it's fun that they're mostly ducks.

Forrest, Film Still from The Caged Pillows

An LA inhabited by anthropomorphic animals is an intrinsically funny idea, hence its popularity, from Pehrson's work to BoJack Horseman to the annual furry convention at the LA County Fairplex. There is, on the one hand, the city's artificiality—botox, face lifts, lipo, the works—which tends to give certain age-averse Angelinos an animalistic look. There's showbiz on the other, red in tooth and claw, schadenfreude and sex. How many times has Perez Hilton been called a shark? The paparazzi, vultures? I don't suspect such metaphors are often made with ducks, though that’s Pehrson's go-to. His music video for Devendra Banhart, "Mondo Taurobolium," follows a pair of them: anactor, the eponymous Mondo BoJack by way of James Dean with a Brad Pitt circa-1991 haircut and his girlfriend Gale, both of them in the grip of an existential crisis that has lasted, it'd seem, for a while.

Read the full story in FOUNDATIONS magazine

This story appears in the newest issue of FOUNDATIONS.

Order a copy online or pick one up at NADA New York (May 5 - 8).

Featuring Ivana Basic, Hannah Black, Cecile B. Evans, Martha Friedman, Mark Thomas Gibson, Deanna Havas, Encyclopedia Inc, Elizabeth Jaeger, Benjamin Asam Kellog, Tuomas A. Laitinen, Nicolas Lobo, Courtney Malik, Rose Marcus, Jayson Musson, Ariana Papademetropoulos, Oliver Payne, Galen Pehrson, Angelo Plessas, Puppies Puppies, David Rappeneau, Sean Raspet, Mindy Rose Schwartz, and Queer Thoughts.


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Galen Pehrson
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Ed Winstead