For 30 years, Al Bardin has owned Bardin Painting, a Riverwest-based housepainting business. Consequently, for three decades, he brushed walls, walls and more walls.
Last February, Bardin was injured in a car accident and unable to work for a while. While nursing a painful chest injury, Bardin spent a lot of time at home and one day, on a whim, he decided to try his paints and brushes on canvas.
"I thought to myself that I could listen to the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix over and over or I could be productive," says Bardin.
Productive, it turns out, is an understatement.
Since February, Bardin cranked out hundreds of paintings, most of which are edgy-but-lovable monsters, lizards and what one 7-year-old describes as "germ faces."
Bardin's affordable prices and darkly whimsical subject matter make his paintings appealing and accessible for adults and children alike. Plus, his unpretentious personality and workman’s approach to creativity make his work authentic products of Milwaukee.
"People put too much emphasis into the meaning of art," says Bardin. "I drive around, see shapes and draw ‘em out. I’m not even sure what they are, but they’re for everyone else to figure out anyway."
Bardin’s style is in step with the popular Uglydolls and the film "Where The Wild Things Are." Like the plot of the film, based on the classic Maurice Sendak book, Bardin’s work addresses both the joys and sorrows of childhood.
"I just take a sad song and make it better," he says.
Bardin's art caught the attention of Jeff Kurcel, who asked him to be a part of Open Canvas 2009, a fundraiser for the Milwauke Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) scholarship program and the William F. Eisner Museum of Advertising & Design. The event is Saturday, Nov. 21, from 6 to 11 p.m. at 320 E. Buffalo St.
This summer, Bardin rented booth space at the East Side Open Market and between the market, his Web site and word-of-mouth, sold more than 60 of his pieces. Bardin says sales are not a priority for him, which is reflected in his prices that range from $75 to $150.
However, despite impressive sales numbers, Bardin remains humble.
"I’m not an artist, I’m really just a painter," he says. "But people are happy when they buy these and so I keep going."
Bardin says prior to his monster paintings, he was creative only a few other times in his life. As a kid, Bardin attended the now-defunct Layton School of Art, a well-respected art school that operated for more than 50 years, which he describes as "an arty school for hippies." Later, he created his own business logo that features a large hand holding a paintbrush.
Bardin also claims to have invented the lawn sign, but then again, he insists -- with twinkling, laughing eyes -- that Jean-Michel Basquiat stole his creative ideas even though they were conceptualized 20 years after Basquiat's death.
"I forgive ol’ Basquiat. After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery," he says.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.