Sam Branton: Shades of Noir

Boys, forget the whale, 2009.
Courtesy of Sesame Gallery


In Sam Branton’s drawings, normal human character interact casually with strange creatures dressed in dated formal garb, under dreamy circumstance. “Erotica Beastia” is the 24-year-old, Oxford-based artist’s debut solo show at London’s Sesame Gallery, and Branton presents evocative, soft, shadowy charcoal images of two mutant hitmen, a Bogart look-alike consulting an alien scientist, and a Lauren Bacall-like fox surrounded by fuzzy-faced space-creatures. The scenes are dense with detail, and inspired by Kiss Me Deadly, Key Largo, The Third Man, and other masterpieces of the noir genre.

The drawings’ bizarre pull comes from Branton’s mixture of appropriated noir imagery with uncanny sci-fi patische. Some of his characters have  the genre’s typical craggy features; others have completely distorted faces that melt into nothingness or morph into swollen testicles, penises, mutant flowers or grotesque heads of Hubba-Bubba squeeze toys, which private dicks with literal dickheadsare less a case of black-and-white puerile art than genuine noir. But Branton’s skillful draftsmanship enable him to create completely contained, plausible, complex narratives in soft grey or pastel charcoal and pencil that summon up references from film and art history while creating perverse and comic counterpoints. In a previous body of work, Branton incorporated a cast of endearing, deranged, and pornographic cartoons into meticulous reproductions of luscious and lusty Baroque, Renaissance and Rococo paintings. He drew adorable happy faces on the heads of human-sized genitals clothed in proper gentlemanly attire and portrayed scenes of beautifully dressed genitals playing, fighting and frolicking with an abandon that the Marquis de Sade would envy. Though the mood at the Sesame Gallery is more dark than decadent, the alien aspects of Branton’s first solo show bring to life the Surreal elements of a supremely grounded genre.

Erotica Beastia is open through August 8. Sesame Gallery is located at 354 Upper Street, London.