“Some day we’ll go off radar and live in the woods…” The Connor Brothers latest exhibition is their most playful yet

No dinosaur haters allowed!

“I think that’s pretty much the first question we ask when we meet people,” say the Connor Brothers. “‘What’s your favourite dinosaur?’” This is half a sign of actual paleontological intrigue, one suspects. (And if pushed, I have always favoured a diplodocus.) But it’s also an enquiry of a different sort. Are you still young at heart? Are you able to slip into that childlike sensibility where the hierarchy of extinct beasts is more significant than any conversation about current affairs, the weather, a tube strike?
Can you, in short, come out and play with us?

The Connor Brothers — an artistic duo made up of Mike Snelle and and James Golding — have sometimes been described as ‘playful’ in their outlook. You’ll know them best for their wry, sly reimaginings of pulp-fiction book covers or 1950s femme fatales, paired with contemporary anxieties and epitaphs in block capitals: ‘JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE PARANOID, DOESN’T MEAN THEY’RE NOT AFTER YOU’ looming large over a sultry portrait of a red-lipped heroine. These images have a certain cheek among the chicness; a knowing, winking pose among the poise which has become the Connor Brother’s calling card, in many ways. But it’s a sensibility that bleeds off the canvas, too. When they initially broke into the art scene in 2011, the pair identified as Franklyn and Brendan Connor, two brothers brought up in a Californian Christian cult known only as ‘The Family.’ They marketed their pithy, punchy works as a form of self-therapy — paintings and prints that borrowed from (and altered) the world around them in order to make sense of it all.

In a way, then, the duo’s latest exhibition is the natural, pleasing conclusion of that story arc. The pairing of potent imagery with pithy social commentary is still alive and well in ‘Mythomania’, which opens at Maddox Gallery on Westbourne Grove on the 23rd June. (There will also be a brilliant raffle, by the way, to win an original artwork in support of the Teenage Cancer Trust.) But now the artists feel no need to therapise under a pseudonym — they’re being entirely themselves, at work and at play. Using childlike ‘regression’ sketches set in bold, vibrant colours and crayola-grade scrawls, the pair render dinosaurs, dragons and vast beasts alongside highly-modern anxieties and buzzwords. The power is in the innocent incongruity — a sort of uncanny valley effect, not dissimilar to watching your toddler nephew nimbly navigating an iPad. And from the youthful exuberance of the pictures a central concern leaps out. Aren’t we all just kids, playing at being adults — and isn’t that half the problem? And should we just return to a simpler time — a prelapsarian, pre-digital age that now seems as distant as the land of the dinosaurs? In an exclusive interview with Gentleman’s Journal, the brothers discuss living through the age of anxiety, Cartel members-turned-therapists, and moving into the woods for good.

GJ: Mythomania has its origins in some art therapy sessions you did during lockdown. Can you tell us a bit more about those sessions, and why you found the images that came out of them so intriguing?

CB: We’re no strangers to therapy. We’ve both struggled at various times in our lives. In fact we were both guests of the same psychiatric unit a couple of years apart. An artist friend of ours had talked about this New York art therapist who used to be involved with a Mexican Cartel but then had a kind of religious experience whilst looking at a stolen Rembrandt and became an art therapist. He sounded cool so we did some sessions with him over zoom. He told us to make sixty second drawings but to ignore our conscious brain which would try to control the process, and let our unconscious mind direct the drawing. It was funny because the first thing both of us drew was a dinosaur. After a few sessions we had a bunch of these sketches that looked like they were made by people who’d escaped psychiatric units, which they kind of were. They just felt honest and fresh and sort of alive in this really special way, kind of vulnerable or something, so we decided to explore and develop them a bit further and ended up with this body of work.

Do you still own any of your actual drawings/ creations from childhood? And what was the first piece of art you remember making as a kid that you were particularly proud of?

I don’t have any drawings from childhood, or anything at all from childhood. I did start a magazine about dinosaurs when I was ten called It Is, Are You? which I’m pretty proud of. James has a bunch. He’s got way more talent than I have in that way, and came from a creative family. He’s always made some kind of artwork since childhood. 

Why do you think it is so potent to pair childlike imagery with modern anxieties and obsessions?

Maybe it’s just that we all feel in some way like we’re just kids trying to play at being grown ups, and that is part of what drives all of our neurosis — the dichotomy between who we suspect we are deep inside, and who we need to be to function in the adult world. Or maybe it’s just that a T -Rex that says Maverick is cool as fuck looking.

There is something particularly boyish to the drawings — particularly the focus on dinosaurs and  dragons. Is that deliberate?

Ok so, we have this rule, if you don’t like dinosaurs we can’t be friends. It’s pretty much the first question we ask when we meet people: ‘what’s your favourite dinosaur?’ We don’t think dinosaurs are boyish. We think they’re universally interesting. Maybe in the 80s dinosaurs were considered for boys, but thankfully the culture has moved on. Here’s a weird fact: 87% of art collectors are men, but 64% of dinosaur collectors are women.

Are we living in an age of anxiety? And what do you see as the antidote to this modern condition?

For sure we live in an age of anxiety. The world is fucked in myriad ways and we can all feel it. The antidote is to live in the woods. We talk about it a lot. Going off radar and going full feral. Throwing our phones away and all that. I hope we do it someday soon.

How has social media changed how we see and think about art?

It’s changed it in ways we’re only just beginning to understand. One thing it’s done is undermine the traditional gatekeepers and given more power to artists and collectors. This is both a good and a bad thing. We’re kind of old now, and scared of social media, and for the most part think that on balance, it’s been a destructive nefarious force on our culture, and encourages the worst parts of us to come to the fore. But that’s what old people always say about change.

The Connor Brothers and Maddox Gallery have teamed up with Teenage Cancer Trust and will run a raffle for the duration of the exhibition to win ‘Rebel, 2022’. A raffle ticket costs £50, which will pay for an hour of nursing care at the Trust— a cause close to The Connor Brothers. To enter the raffle, which opens on Friday 24th, click here.

Further Reading