A quirky invasion is underway in Pembroke Pines this month involving bombs. Not the nuclear warfare variety, because that would not be a fun story, but rather a whimsical installation affectionately called "Face Bombing."
Artist Todd Brittingham climbs 20-foot ladders to adhere smiley faces to park trees and buildings, leaving his mark for the public. It's amusing to see a tree with a cartoonish face planted on it or City Hall's façade now-wide-eyed, goofy face peering at you.
Jill Slaughter, the city's curator of special projects, says, "You can't help but laugh and smile. Everyone likes to smile and feel good, and that's what face-bombing is bringing to Pembroke Pines."
Brittingham is a Fort Lauderdale-based artist who studied at Ringling School of Design. He is better-known for whimsical paintings, bronze sculptures, and large-scale earthworks that he calls "sky messages" — like drawings in sand that are best appreciated from the vantage point of a helicopter.
Face bombing, he says, was born when "I took a trip to the mountains in North Carolina and found this old burned-down house, and all that was left was a chimney, this amazing two-story chimney. So I knew there was something that could be done with it. My grandmother sewed for me some eyes from felt, a foot across or so, and I stuck them on the chimney." The face bombs are merely made of two black and white eyes and a red mouth, which costs around $3 per face.
When he returned to South Florida, he would walk around with those felt eyes and put them up at random places, sometimes leaving them up just long enough to take a photograph before taking them down. Those who frequent Wynwood may have seen a few face bombs he left there during last Art Basel. Just last month, he hit up Key West, adding more flair to an already quirky town.
Slaughter met Brittingham two years ago at a group art show and decided to hire him for this citywide public art project as a companion effort to her upcoming exhibition, "About Face: Portraiture," a tribute show to war veterans that opens October 4 at Studio 18 in Pembroke Pines.
"Jill called me up and said, 'Hey, you should come face bomb our town,' " Brittingham recalls. "I wasn't even calling it that, but she came up with the name."
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The artist says he loves stepping back after he adheres his mark with nontoxic glue and observing people's reactions. Typically, it's a smile, a chuckle, and a bit of confusion. Brittingham looks at buildings as sculptures — ones that can be adjusted, tweaked, and played with. His special treatment can completely change their feel and energy.
"With $3, he can transform the world," says Slaughter, who sourced funds for this project through Pembroke Pines' parks and recreation budget.
The city definitely isn't Wynwood — but that's what's awesome about it. Brittingham gave props to Slaughter, who has trained at the San Francisco Art Institute and won scholarships from the Whitney Museum and the Brooklyn Museum, for working to bring up a decidedly untrendy district. "I think what Jill is doing, bringing quality artists to her area, bringing art out to the public, and enriching Pembroke Pines, is a step in the right direction," he says.
To help spread cheer and build momentum for "About Face," Brittingham began bombing Pines Recreation Center on September 5 and continued at six other locations, including the city's fire department headquarters, various park trees, City Hall, and of course Studio 18, where he will show some of his work and photographs of his face bombs as part of Slaughter's exhibition.