For gay painter Robert Deyber, language cliches inspire his witty art

STEVEN LINDSEY | Contributing Writer [email protected]

Martin Lawrence Gallery at the Galleria, 13550 Dallas Parkway (inside Sak’s 5th Ave.) June 27, 2–4 p.m.
RSVP at 972-716-5335

Painter Robert Deybe

HORSE SENSE | Painter Robert Deyber, below, employs an Old Masters style but his works are subtly humorous riffs on English language cliches.

Writers are taught to avoid clichés like the plague. But painter Robert Deyber welcomes them with open arms. And why shouldn’t he? His paintings — what he calls “visual interpretations” — put a humorous, often twisted spin on clichés, euphemisms and idioms.

The former airline industry executive lost his job after Sept. 11, 2001, as the nation was bonding in a time of great loss. One phrase popped up repeatedly in the media: “We need to start thinking outside the box.”

“After I heard it for, like, the 300th time, I started sketching what I thought it would look like,” Deyber says. “I realized there are so many wacky colloquialisms and phrases, I wondered if somebody was visually interpreting them. When I realized nobody was, I knew I was onto something.”

At first glance, his art look like serene landscapes of Old Masters. But there’s something in the foreground that changes them. Even after hundreds of paintings, one work still has a special place in his heart.

“Every artist will refer to their Mona Lisa moment, and on the cover of my book, there’s a painting that’s titled Bad Hare Day. I still think it’s probably my favorite,” he says.

In it, a lone rabbit sits with a lit match in its mouth while in the distance, two houses are engulfed in flames. It’s haunting. It’s beautiful. It’s hilarious.

With an endless supply of clichés and other phrases already in existence, and thousands entering the popular lexicon all the time, Deyber’s got so much material that he can barely keep up with demand. But that doesn’t stop people from giving him suggestions.

“Every time I’m at an opening, people are thrusting paper into my pocket,” Deyber says. “Ninety-nine percent of the time I’ve already got a sketch of what they give me, but sometimes there’s something I haven’t thought of. Or something I hadn’t figured out how to render in visual form.”

Debyer has a devoted gay following, too. Among his most popular paintings are Cock and Balls, which features a rooster with colorful balls next to it; Cock Tease, which shows a rooster being taunted by a dangling ear of corn; and Light in the Loafers, depicting a pair of trousers and the person’s legs are floating up out of the top of the image.

“There’s so many funny [gay euphemisms],” he says. “I’ve been kind of removed from the gay scene for so long, I’ve just been hibernating in my farm house in Connecticut with my partner and painting away, so I’m sure there are all these expressions that I’m not aware of in the gay community.”

Deyber better be prepared for his gallery appearance this weekend. He just might get more gay euphemism suggestions than he knows what to do with.

On second thought, he’ll know exactly what to do with them.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 25, 2010.