Art beat: Heightened reality

We’ll call him WACSO.

He has a real name (Robb Burnham) and a day job (creative director for Downtown advertising agency Kruskopf Coontz), but Southwest Journal readers know him as WACSO, the illustrator who has brightened our pages for several years now. Besides, he’d prefer to keep the two identities separate.

“For a long time I wouldn’t tell anybody who I was,” he said during a recent meeting at a Downtown coffee shop. “But it gets out, especially nowadays.”

Nowadays, WACSO’s logo — a small red oval filled with white, gothic font letters — is popping up everywhere. The Tangletown resident’s loose, computer-aided drawings are seen not just in this paper but on foodie website The Heavy Table, in ads for American Express, on Dunn Bros coffee cups and wrapping the cover of United Airlines’ in-flight magazine, Hemispheres, among other places.

Now, for the first time, they are hanging on the walls of a gallery. The WACSO exhibition at Gallery 360 features 27 images that first appeared in The Journal and Southwest Journal, framed and printed in limited editions.

Decoded, the WACSO acronym (“Walkin’ Around, Checkin’ Stuff Out”) is less a savvy ad man’s slogan than a humble mission statement for an illustrator who professes an interest in the mundane.

“I’d like to be walking around Paris right now, but I’m not,” he said. “… There’s good stuff everywhere. It’s just a matter of finding it.”

He is drawn to bench-sitters, dog walkers and café denizens, describing the human figure with a meandering, gestural line. He is a patient, meticulous drawer of big-city bars and hole-in-the-wall cafeterias, recording every burger on a griddle, brick in a wall, bottle behind a bar and every burning light bulb in a flamboyant, mid-century business sign.

WACSO’s slice-of-life sketches start with photographs, often shot discreetly with his camera phone.

“I tend to be a pretty shy person, (and) if you start drawing in public people want to know what you’re doing,” he said. “I’m really not into that.”

The actual drawing takes place on his home computer, using a Wacom tablet, a process that allows WACSO to “play with reality a little bit.” He will highlight important details with splashes of flat, vibrant color or combine multiple photos of a space taken from one position, resulting in a fish-eyed panorama — two WACSO trademarks.

His subtle tweaks elevate everyday scenes of life in Minneapolis. Seen through WACSO’s eyes, Southwest is just a little more colorful.

Go see it
“WACSO (Walkin’ Around, Checkin’ Stuff Out): An Illustrative View of Minneapolis,” runs through May 29 at Gallery 360, 3011 W. 50th St. 925-2400.