Dave Pollot populates thrift store paintings with pop culture icons.
Mario, Bowser and other MarioKart characters careen through a pastoral forest. A Gremlin looks out from an otherwise staid collection of fruit bowls and flower vases. X-Men’s Magneto scans a picturesque beach with a metal detector. Welcome to the art landscape of Dave Pollot, who creatively places pop culture icons into thrift store art scenes.
The New York artist’s favorite films and TV shows slip into his paintings and murals, from Star Wars to Batman to Ghostbusters to Deadpool. What makes his pieces stand out is how seamlessly these cultural stars find their way into background artwork that you wouldn’t glancest at twice. Pollot embraces that ho-hum thrift store look as the ideal setting to let movie and TV characters display a different shade to their personalities.
For example, the creepy girl from The Ring isn’t slinking out of a TV in a Dave Pollot piece but staring out at a beautiful serene lake. Has she found peace yet? Are her days of terrorizing people behind her?
Or in his take on Edward Hopper’s well-known Nighthawks painting, Pollot replaces the man sitting next to the lady in red with Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street (see below). Suddenly the diner painting has been infused with a sinister tone the original never had.
“With every piece I like to change the meaning of the original painting,” Pollot says in an interview from his upstate New York home. “A serene beach is one thing, but when you add Mario staring off into the distance, it adds something else to the artwork.”
Pollot spends around 100 hours per piece, and for commissioned murals it may take up to 140 hours. He’ll find the original art in thrift stores, whether they are somewhat famous pieces or unknown ones. He’ll then sketch the pop culture characters he’ll eventually insert into the nature-filled scenes, and fine-tune the sketch on an iPad Pro.
“Sometimes I’ll know where the character goes first, or sometimes I’ll work with the idea of the thrift store painting first, and see where the character can fit,” he says.
While he used to be a software engineer, Pollot became a full-time artist in early 2017, with his wife assisting him on the business tasks. “We set it up so we saved money for years so income wouldn’t be this huge pressure on us,” Pollot says.
Drawing was always a pastime for Pollot, especially when he was growing up in poverty, he recalls. His father often watched painter Bob Ross on television, and young Dave would visit his local library to pore through art books on Renaissance painters, particularly Michelangelo. He was adept at reproducing pop culture characters, a skill he brought into his adulthood.
His family often shopped at thrift stores, but when Pollot grew up and studied computer science, his association with those discount stores drifted away. So when his wife brought home a thrift store painting in 2010, the artistic wheels in Pollot’s brain began churning and he decided to play around with the outdoor settings of those paintings.
In fact, his most personal piece, which isn’t for sale, shows a cork stopper unplugging the ocean. “Growing up poor, we didn’t always shower — to save money — so our clothes would be washed in the tub and I always remember that cork stopper from my childhood,” he says.
Pollot was the kind of film-and-TV junkie who cared more about the characters than about the actors who played them. He never got caught up in celebrity gossip and instead steered his attention to fantastical films, including sci-fi and horror movies. “I watched Labyrinth countless times. I always loved Evil Dead and video games.”
You can spot Pollot’s influences during a casual stroll through his Instagram feed or his Etsy shop. Star Wars characters are often the most popular figures appearing in his work, and Pollot will also pinch from his upbringing on horror films, illustrating villains such as Chucky from Child’s Play and Pinhead from Hellraiser.
What Dave Pollot brings to today’s art scene is a sharp eye for what makes an engaging work. He’s not just dropping in pop icons for the heck of it; rather, by populating an average scene with a monumental eye-grabber like Dr. Who’s TARDIS or Pac-Man, he’s rearranging our beliefs on both art and mainstream culture.
A sense of humor pervades Pollot’s artwork, too. When you know of Magneto’s power to attract metal, it’s comical to see him using a metal detector like some kind of bored nonmutant. Bert and Ernie replace Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in a gun-toting pose from Pulp Fiction, adding a shine of farcical menace to characters we associate with reciting the alphabet.
Some of his pieces act as inside jokes, especially for those who grew up in the 1990s. A portrait of ducks flying across a lake doesn’t seem inherently pop cultural until you study the ducks closely and realize they’re painted as pixelated figures similar to the animals in the Nintendo video game Duck Hunt.
These paintings may be winking at you, nudging your ribs lightly with “You get it?” Others might even act as nostalgic reminders of big-screen heroes and gaming legacies long forgotten, such as Pollot’s Mortal Kombat battle scene overlooking sailboats nestled calmly in water.
Pollot recently adapted characters from Westworld, and he has released a piece from a new project he’s been mulling for years. “Called ‘Unnatural Selection,’ I want to paint unlikely hybrids in the animal kingdom, such as giraffes with quirky legs,” he explains.
Dave Pollot fans know a winning idea when we see one. It’s only a matter of time before we see more hybrid animals popping up in our social media feeds, with captions such as “Cool! Have you heard of this artist Dave Pollot?!”