Flamboyant, friendly and full of colour, Bob Flambé’s new exhibition at Dundee’s Kathryn Rattray Gallery is causing quite the fuss.
Performance poet Bob opened his whimsically-titled new exhibition, The Strange Affair of Brian and Barbara’s Bank Holiday BBQ, on Friday August 13.
But the masked poet and painter – whose “real” identity is kept tightly under-wraps – was anything but unlucky on the night.
With Bob’s weird and wacky creations drawing a crowd of between 50 and 75 people, the opening was a bumper event for the Meadow Mill gallery.
“The opening was unreal,” says owner Kathryn Rattray. “It was crazy! There was dogs, there was kids, everything was going on. It started selling well immediately, but I wasn’t expecting there to be so many people!
“I think for a lot of creatives in the city, this was one of the first exhibition openings they’d been to, given that the lockdown measures had really relaxed.
“It just felt really sort of back in time, almost, when you could just go and enjoy yourself. There was a real feeling of Brooklyn in the ’80s or something!”
Brian and Barbara’s Bank Holiday BBQ
The surreal figures and crazy canvases adorning the walls certainly look like something from an ’80s fever dream.
The exhibition, which was made over the course of lockdown, feels like an explosion of imagination.
“Lockdown!” exclaims Bob, gesturing around the gallery. “What do I do? How do I stay happy?
“I used to be a technician in the art college over at Duncan of Jordanstone. For over a decade, I collected canvases, paints, brushes, and stored them in a bedroom.
“So the pandemic arrived and I realised the bedroom was big enough and I had enough materials that I could make art again. So I made art again!
“And this is the result of that – about 30 paintings and sculptures.”
For down-to-earth Bob, “every painting is like a puzzle”, and his day job as a painter and decorator plays a huge part in helping him solve them.
For example, his huge canvas piece, ‘Barbara wasn’t sure she should have taken that second pill’, almost didn’t make the cut – until he attacked it with some leftover paint in a furstration.
“I started off with almost like a Medusa figure, a headless female. But it wasn’t really working, it was a bit too pushy,” Bob explains.
“I was frustrated, and I had some pink paint on my roller from work. I realised the pink worked with the background, and I just attacked the canvas with my roller. Then at the end, I realised: ‘Oh, I’ve solved it!’”
But despite umbrella-headed sculptures and Medusa-like paintings, perhaps the trippiest character of the exhibition is Bob himself.
Who is the man behind the mask?
Wearing a traffic-cone-coloured mane and covered head-to-toe in a costume of fluttering leaflets, Bob’s a sight to behold. So, what’s the deal with the get-up?
“I’m a performance poet and I like visually-rich stimuli. So I wear a mask and I create a costume on the day of every performance,” Bob explains.
“The mask is a 3D model of my own face, so it just slips off. It looks a little bit wacky and weird! There’s not a lot of logic involved, it’s slightly surreal.
“I think I look a bit like the lead singer of Wizzard in around mid-’73 – but friendly!”
Elusive, fast-talking and hilarious – he regales us with tales of working in a Cornish monkey sanctuary in between paintings – Bob Flambé certainly is a character. But who is the man behind the mask?
He remains tight-lipped about his identity, but does tell me that he has exhibited work in the DCA and internationally, under a different name. For anyone wondering if this means we’ve crossed paths before, we haven’t – at least, I don’t think so.
In any case, whoever Bob is, his artwork is a feast for the eyes.
“Once I found Bob – I like the letter ‘b’, I’m not really sure why – I embraced Bob. And now all of the artwork and performing that I do is Bob’s,” he says coyly.
“So it’s a little bit like a friendly demonic possession!”
The Strange Affair of Brian and Barbara’s Bank Holiday BBQ is showing at the Kathryn Rattray Gallery, at Meadow Mill, Dundee, until August 29 2021.