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Morning Breath

Strange Hands From Brooklyn

Grab your toothbrush and Listerine! The Shooting Gallery is hosting Manos Extranas, an exhibition of new works from Morning Breath, aka Doug Cunningham and Jason Noto, a Brooklyn-based design duo with a penchant for the lo-fi aspect of graffiti, comic book, and skate culture.

In their own words, the Morning Breath signature style is “a dismantling of classic American typography and illustration,” constructed in a way that preserves the retro look and feel, only “broken down in a way that would never have taken place 40 years ago.”

Manos Extranas (or “Strange Hands”) includes nearly 20 medium and large paintings and multilayered silkscreens on wood panel. Each piece began as a vintage advertisement found through diligent flea market scouring in search of cheap, off-color, back-of-the-magazine type ads peddling diet aids, get-rich-quick schemes, beauty enhancers and other gimmicky, adult-targeted paraphernalia.

After the initial underpainting of signage in various stages of completion, Noto and Cunningham spent four months taking turns laying down illustration over typography over illustration.

“We just start building, layering and layering,” Cunningham says. “Jason primarily does the typography and design, and I’ll do the illustration part. Sometimes we’ll block in areas with acrylic paint and silkscreen on top of that, bring in some hand-drawn elements, working with inks to create more overlap in the imagery. Whereas in the past we’d do things that were very random, more of an accidental coming-together, now we’re pushing it deliberately, but still in a way that the aesthetic stays and looks very accidental.”

This repetitive, back-and-forth process would eventually form the basis for their reconstruction of the old into something completely altered and brand new, yet somehow still familiar. Noto likens it to creating a language that makes sense as a whole, even though the composite pieces are unfamiliar.

“Although these are new works, we want to create the feeling that they’re cropped-in signs that have been painted over,” Cunningham says. “Even in the scheme of our whole jumbling of words and imagery, it starts to make a visual sense that is wrong in its own right way.”

Which is exactly where the exhibition’s title becomes most apt: with the connection between, for example, religion and pornography, and the idea of making existing “oddities” that much stranger.

“A lot of old advertisements promised things to people that were false; they had a very strange way of going about it,” Noto says. “So we change the lettering and juxtapose different words — strange, bizarre words — that when pushed into the middle of an ad almost become religious. It’s flipping the context of the ad, so all of a sudden the viewer is looking at it and almost feeling kind of grossed out.”

The genesis of Morning Breath began in the 90s, when Noto and Cunningham met as designers for San Francisco-based Think Skateboards. Upon realizing their shared interest in 70s and 80s iconography, and compatible, tandem working style, the two began a bicoastal artistic collaboration when Noto headed back East, only to be joined by Cunningham shortly thereafter.

When they’re not working on the finer-art side of things, the pair focuses on the commercial design. Their body of work includes album art and packaging design for Slayer, AFI, Placebo and the Foo Fighters, as well as graphics for Zoo York Skateboards and Ride Snowboards.

Now through January 1, 2011.