Artist’s philosophy not just for the birds

A gallery opening will feature a few of Michael Bedard's famous "Sitting Ducks" images. Pictured is "Survival of the Fittest."

In a white concrete house that clings to the cliffs above Rambla Pacifico, Michael Bedard sketches and paints and sculpts. Art is not confined to his two studios there. It covers the white walls, shiny wood floors, and rustic tabletops, almost integral to this unusual house.

“The backdrop is incredibly dramatic, constantly changing,” he says, referring not to the geology, one hopes, but to the vast expanse of sky and sea beyond huge windows and decks that jut out like the prow of a ship over the steep canyon.

Bedard is talking about a new exhibit opening Oct. 17 at Malibu resident Mike Fazio’s Vintage Animation Gallery in the Third Street Promenade. It will feature new works and a few of his famous “Sitting Ducks.” Introduced nearly 25 years ago, the first pictured three, innocent big-billed ducks sipping drinks poolside, seemingly in denial of the group of bullet holes above their heads. The series of best-selling posters eventually spawned an animated TV series, which debuted on the Cartoon Network last spring and is now shown in 48 international markets. A spin-off on his children’s book of the same title, now in its fifth printing, Bedard says he found the deadlines arduous but is very happy with the result. The show uses 3-D modeling and computer-generated technology and is arguably the best looking animated show on TV. Like the book, the show features an unlikely friendship between ducks and alligators, two creatures on opposite ends of the food chain. It’s funny but it also works on several levels.

“Parents write to us they can watch it with their kids,” Bedard says. “Using humor, I tried to carry the philosophy as much as I could, especially with the duck characters. It’s fun to look at, but the situations deal with fear and vulnerability. Most humor is based on relief of pain.”

The show is the basis of a video game in development with the French company, LSP Games, for Play Station 2, scheduled for release later this year. How Bedard came to be involved with video games, which he hates, is another story.

“I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than play video games,” he told an American producer who was hoping to use Bedard’s characters for a new game. “What you’re doing is teaching our kids to deal with problems by violently destroying the obstacle rather than doing anything clever. I don’t find that particularly creative. Why would you want my little ducks for that?”

He suggested they develop a game that involved elements of chess and strategy and race games, where it was actually fun instead. They weren’t interested but LSP followed this concept for the new “Sitting Ducks” video game. Bedard admits to being technologically challenged, but designed the interiors and 3-D models and set the philosophy of the show: No shoot-em-ups.

“It pushed them to be creative,” he said. “That’s why I’m proud of it.”

In fact, you don’t even have to play a game to enjoy the virtual reality of wandering around the city, going into the Decoy Cafe and meeting the characters, riding a Vespa. In fact, Bedard’s wife, Liz, bought him a Vespa for Christmas. It was so much fun, he bought one for her and they regularly ride them to the Farmers Market or on picnics.

This is the opposite of driving his little yellow Lotus 7 in time trials at Willow Springs which he says taught him how to handle a car purposely out of control, as on wet ground.

“The groups I go with, everybody drives respectfully. It’s more like that sort of focused Zen moment in skiing when you forget you’re skiing, you’re almost like flying,” he says. “Before, I used to drive through the canyons too fast. Now I leave that to the racetrack, and I know the limitations of myself and the car.”

His newest creation is “Quatro,” which he describes as a kind of contemporary dodo bird with four legs, a beak like a parrot and a headdress like Zeus. Sometimes he is striped like a zebra.

“I’m trying to create a mythology around this character,” Bedard says. “Its origins are part of the mystery. Possibly, they are metaphysical tricksters that the gods occasionally send down when things are getting too serious.”

Already available in paintings and posters, Quatro is now a life-size sculpture distributed through select galleries and the OXO Art Publishing Web site.

“Everyone who acquires one is asked to photograph it in a special spot, anything one chooses: funny beautiful, silly, meaningful, whatever,” Bedard says.

The photo will become a work of art to be posted on a special “Quatro Sightings” Web site. The photographer becomes a co-creator.

So how did Bedard become fascinated with odd birds?

“When I first moved to Topanga, I had some ducks. But a huge mastiff moved in and killed the neighbor’s chicken, so I built a cage for them,” he says.

Then one day the mastiff came after his ducks but one little duck refused to be intimidated, or eaten.

“The mastiff was right upon him, but the duck puffs himself up and quacks at the dog and finally chases him away,” Bedard says. “By bluff and attitude we triumph.”

Are there any new birds in the works?

“I don’t know, characters just come to you. It’s almost like they exist in another plane,” he says. “I’ve learned that accidents in both my art and my life have opened up new possibilities beyond what I had previously imagined. Accidents can be looked at as gifts that lead us from predictable places to unexpected surprises.”

Michael Bedard exhibit opens with a reception Friday at Vintage Animation Gallery, Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. It runs through November. OXO Art Publishing is on the Web at