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Happy Birthday Alan Aldridge -- The Man with the Kaleidoscope Eyes

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 1, 2012 04:00pm | Post a Comment

Today is the 69th birthday of English artist, graphic designer and illustrator, Alan Aldridge (click here to visit his site). His distinct airbrush work adorned numerous books and albums in the 1960s and '70s and helped define the aesthetic of the era -- equal parts whimsy and menace.

Aldridge appeals to me, in part, due to the way he draws upon older artists from very different traditions. The grotesque, fantastical characters echo the febrile visions of Dutch Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch. The invasive, sometimes threatening vegetation reminds me of the vegetable portraits of Italian Mannerist Giuseppe Arcimboldo. The soft, velvety folds and textures of clothing remind me of French Neoclassicist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres's almost single-minded focus on mastering the technique of depicting textiles.
 
As a young child, when I was first exposed to Aldridge, I hadn't yet heard of any of those artists. I don't remember ever even asking who Alan Aldridge was, but it was clear even that his particular synthesis of influences and ability to simultaneously captivate and repulse was immediately recognizable as the work of one artist, whatever work it adorned.

     

Aldridge was born in East London in 1943. One of his first jobs as an illustrator was for The Sunday Times. He was hired in 1965 by Penguin Books' chief editor, Tony Godwin, to serve as art director after impressing them with his freelance covers. Examples of his work can be seen on numerous science-fiction revised editions c. 1967 and The Penguin Book of Comics (1967), and The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics (1969).

Obscured by Clowes

Posted by Charles Reece, June 1, 2012 02:59pm | Post a Comment

One of my favorite cartoonists was on Michael Krasny's Forum last Wednesday. Listen below:

Giving up the Ghost: Ghost World

Posted by Charles Reece, April 15, 2012 11:57pm | Post a Comment
   

[This essay originally appeared as part of a roundtable over at The Hooded Utilitarian.]

Reading Daniel Clowes' Ghost World again got me to thinking about John Barth’s nihilist novel, The End of the Road. The latter begins at a bus station; the former ends at a bus stop. And much like Barth’s protagonist, Jacob Horner, Enid spends the duration of the story searching for an identity, but only succeeds in finding what she’s not. Horner is a middle-aged academic type who’s managed to think himself into a hole, not seeing any potential action as better grounded than another -- sort of an infinite regress of self. Thus, he’s sitting in a bus station in a state of existential paralysis, not able to even come up with a good reason to get on a bus and leave his former (non-) life behind. The abiding gloom that pervades all of Ghost World's vignettes -- undercutting Enid’s hipper-than-thou detachment from those around her -- is a sense that she’s headed to the same destination as Horner: nowhere.

I figure there must be some consilience here, since kinukitty’s main reason for not liking Clowes’ book -- that it’s neither real nor funny -- reminds me of Barth’s prefatory defense of his story:

Jacob Horner […] embodies my conviction that one may reach such a degree of self-estrangement as to feel no coherent antecedent for the first-person-singular pronoun. […] If the reader regards [this] egregious [condition] (as embodied by the [narrator]) as merely psychopathological -- that is, as symptomatic rather than emblematic -- the [novel] make[s] no moral-dramatic sense. [p. viii]

I realize that if one has to defend something as funny, it’s never going to make it so to those not laughing. This is particularly true of existentialist humor, since it’s kind of the obverse of prat falls, namely only funny when it happens to me. So I’m going to stick to the reality of Enid’s predicament. The End of the Road is a bit abstract, where Horner goes through a series of fanciful psychotherapeutic treatments in search of a cure (the search is, of course, at the insistence of a psychiatrist). The most relevant of these is mythotherapy, which involves acting in a chosen character role with the purpose of having it stick through habituation -- an irrational solution to a rational psychosis. Clowes treats the identity formation of teenagers in much the same way, but with a recognizant teen who, like Horner, can’t ignore the ontological arbitrariness undergirding the whole process. Just because teens regularly slip into an adult role without much of a hitch doesn’t mean that there’s not a good deal of truth in her depicted inertia.

To be sure, this is a bourgeois dilemma, requiring enough leisure time to reflect on the construction of one’s identity. The working class has to learn their roles quickly if they want to endure. A day laborer in Horner’s place would simply starve. Class division is explicitly drawn out in Enid’s moribund friendship with Becky. Becky just assumes she’ll have to work after high school, whereas Enid’s dad is pressuring her into college. Enid’s intellectual background is alluded to when discussing her dad’s political interests, which she equates to sports. As she explains, since her family would be the “first ones they’d have shot” during a revolution, there’s little point to true political commitment. A choice between academia or the workforce isn’t any more significant. Becky relates to Enid’s views in much the same way that someone who desires the privileges money affords will act towards those who have always taken their wealth for granted. Becky may affect her friend’s class-based despondency, but she begins to be “cured” upon going to work. Meanwhile, Enid continues her search for an authentic self in the same manner that she began the book, analyzing pop culture:


Just like the rest of us, Enid was born into the media-saturated “Society of the Spectacle,” which makes it damn hard to distinguish the real from its image (“spectacle”). There are plenty who’ve given up the fight, claiming that the shadows on Plato’s cave are reality. It’s this crisis that leads to ironic detachment. Consider what R. Fiore calls the Warhol and Anti-Warhol Effects, which Slavoj Žižek suggests, in The Fragile Absolute, are two sides of the same coin. As sublime imagery became increasingly commodified (think a well-made BMW ad), modern artists increasingly focused on holding the place of Art intact (renewing or creating the “there there,” to borrow a reference from the aforementoned kinukitty). This was done, as a way of separating itself from the beatification of crass commercialism, by filling the spot with crud: a toilet, coke cans and the like. It has the (“Warhol”) effect of focusing the attention on the constraints, or construct, of Art, rather than the depicted object. Capital is quick to adapt, of course, so this shock tactic is of diminishing returns. If I’m correctly following Žižek’s Lacanese, this wide-scale commercial co-optation of not just the aesthetic Sublime, but pretty much anything that once gave off a sense of “authenticity,” has resulted in our no longer being able to identify ourselves in relation to these (formerly) Master Signifiers. Instead, the Self has become fractured, its consistency

sustained by relationship to the pure remainder/trash/excess, to some ‘undignifed’, inherently comic, little bit of the Real; such an identification with the leftover, of course, introduces the mocking-comic mode of existence, the parodic process of the constant subversion of all firm symbolic identifications. [p. 39]

Enid Coleslaw, in other words. Her problem is that she can’t give up the Cartesian ghost; she’s looking for the old-fashioned Cogito, while living in a postmodern world. She tries to define herself by attempting paradoxically to establish defining connections through an ironic detachment from pop culture detritus, as if she can divine an auratic dimension to an anachronism like the Hubba Hubba Diner with its long-haired waiter, Weird Al. Or consider how she “authentically” dresses as a parody of 70s punk. These things can only sustain an identity if a person already believes (or acts as if she believes) in their significance, which is exactly what Enid can’t do. All signifiers carry equal weight, which I suggest is hardly a flaw in her reasoning. Hell, it’s not even possible to call her condition “nihilism” without conjuring thoughts of Mike Myers on SNL, or those three phony Germans antagonizing The Dude with a ferret. Mass culture has even detached us from our detachment. Thus, Enid’s one true act (to borrow from the Lacanians again) is to get on the bus, cutting all her symbolic ties: a symbolic suicide. I’m inclined to see all of this as a good deal more than superficial tragedy. But, then again, one might point out that I have the time to blog about a comic book.

Inside Look At Billy Sprague's Space Themed Album Cover Art Installation At As Is Exhibitions

Posted by Billyjam, October 12, 2011 10:20am | Post a Comment

At Friday (Oct 7th) evening's art opening of Billy Sprague's space themed album cover exhibit at North Oakland's As Is Exhibitions gallery space at 4707 Telegraph Ave. so many people showed up to catch the unique album cover exhibit by the avid record collector / Amoeba Berkeley employee, that for much of the night the large crowd spilled outside onto the Telegraph Avenue sidewalk. It was the perfect night for Billy's opening since the Bay Area early October weather was in Indian Summer mode, plus it was First Friday's in Oakland with art openings everywhere including right next door at Smokey's Tangle art space that shares a doorway with the 4707 space. Among the large crowd that showed up at the event were many of Billy Sprague's fellow Ameobites. "Tom McKwon, Shawn Williams, Big Tunde, Gail, Marc Weinstein & family, Ryan Stark, Kent Randolph, Ramon, Lori and Steve, Ian, Ranon, Rebecca & Matt plus a bunch of ex-employees," (including DJ Inti) all converged at the last Friday's packed opening reported the curator.

Like all the other lifelong music collectors I was drawn in by all of these amazing album covers - many I already knew but a lot I had never even seen before like Music for Sleepwalkers Only which - one of Sprague's personal faves that he accurately describes as, "a great mostly black galactic cover with three sleeping pills floating in space in a rather phallic manner."

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Ron English's Brand New Homo Hunk Art Celebrates End of US Military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy

Posted by Billyjam, September 21, 2011 02:55pm | Post a Comment

Without missing a beat today Ron English unveiled his brand new piece of art (Homo Hunk) in celebration of yesterday's (Sept 20th, 2011) historic ruling that repealed the US military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy which banned gays from serving openly in the military since 1993 when it was passed by Congress and signed into law under then-president Bill Clinton. Under Barack Obama, yesterday's ruling ushered in what the Pentagon has heralded as "a new era in the American armed forces."

From yesterday until today  English was busy working on his new art piece which unveiled today via his website popganda.com. The above comic book cover styled art that is titled The Incredible Homosexual Hunk (aka Homo Hunk) with the text "an army of one no more!" that can "fight for your right to fight" was created from scratch yesterday and today by the artist. But if you look on the popaganda website you will see that he already had the pink army recruitment poster that's already been wheatepasted several times across the country in true Ron English  guerrilla art style. 
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