Fiesta in the Air

Plate 53, “Fiesta en el ayre (“fiesta in the air”). “Buelan buelan” (“they fly they fly”). El Toro Mariposa (The Butterfly Bull),  Francisco de Goya, between 1824 and 1828

 
 

It is a sketch of a black bull, caught in mid-leap, with what seems to be a bouquet of faces and butterflies flowering from its back. The idea of a toro mariposa might suggest a sexual ambiguity. The drawing, simple but with a great expressiveness, was created during Goya’s voluntary exile in Bordeaux. As the auction house Christie’s quotes: ” the composition is the perfect expression of Goya’s reputation as the first truly modern artist with a surrealism that prefigures Odilon Redon and a searching line that anticipates the young Picasso.” The auction house sold the drawing in 2006 and next year it was acquired by the Prado.

In his Bordeaux albums, Goya abandoned the medium of pen, brush, and ink he had used in earlier private drawings in favor of black crayon—a choice undoubtedly inspired by his work in lithography. This softer medium allowed for greater breadth of execution and compensated for a certain loss of manual dexterity. The drawings from Album G are inscribed with short, enigmatic texts, as in most of the earlier albums; in Album H he signed the sheets but wrote inscriptions on only six. The figural style here is energetic and cartoonish, rather than classical and correct. Flashes of satire and mockery — recalling the spirit of his famous prints, Los Caprichos — run through the sheets. These intimate, freely executed works draw us into the artist’s stream of consciousness as he reacts to novel sights in Bordeaux, revisits long-standing themes, and conjures enigmatic images out of his imagination to puzzle his friends.

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A Distinguished Soul

Femme au Papillon, (Woman with Butterfly), Antoine Watteau, Circa 1716-1717

 
 

“Watteau, ce carnaval où bien des coeurs illustres,
Comme des papillons, errent en flamboyant,
Décors frais et légers éclairés par des lustres
Qui versent la folie à ce bal tournoyant ;…”

(“Watteau, carnival where many a distinguished soul
Flutters like a butterfly, lost in the brilliance
Of chandeliers shedding frivolity on the cool,
Clear decors enclosing the changes in the dance…”)

Charles Baudelaire
Les Phares (Les Beacons)

 
 

Butterflies wander freely around space. They move from thing to thing and aren’t touched by time or history. Les Phares begins by invoking a symbolist kind of garden. And in each stanza, Charles Baudelaire evokes several great artists such as Peter Paul Rubens, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrant, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Pierre Paul Puget, Antoine Watteau, Francisco de Goya, and Eugène Delacroix.

The stanza on Watteau invokes butterflies. Watteau, in this stanza, is associated with the carnival where “many a distinguished soul flutters like a butterfly, lost in brilliance.” Besides acrobats, jugglers, and side show performers, we often find the clown. And one of Watteau’s most famous series of paintings takes Commedia dell’arte as their subject. One of the most famous of these, is his painting of Pierrot. Baudelaire, no doubt, was aware of this work, and wrote about it in his famous essay The Painter of Modern Life.

A Dog Named Pain

A Dog Named Pain contains moments of intense beauty in which we note risk but also the grandeur of men who had surrendered to art with truly passion”
Ernesto Sabato

 
 

The drawings were made using Staedler pens and white card boards. Aute spent five years illustrating all the panels for the film

 
 

A Dog Called Pain is a film drawn and animated by singer/songwriter and artist turned filmmaker, Luis Eduardo Aute, who made more than four thousand drawings which were later processed with the digital technology for rending into 2D and 3D. It was a colossal enterprise that began with the first drawings in 1995. Aute has dedicated the past two years wholly to the film. The film borrows its name from the dog owned by the late Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

The film, comprising seven stories or portraits, is focused on the artist-model relationship, and continuity is supplied by the dog, co-star of nearly all the episodes. Luis Eduardo Aute reconsiders the relations of such painters as Francisco de Goya, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Joaquín Sorolla, Julio Romero de Torres, Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dalí, and Diego Velázquez with their models, their environments, and their times. This reconsideration is, above all, a movie, and it employs the most classic film language, but at the same time it is a reflection about art and artists, their inner lives and their worlds.

In addition, homage is made in the film to such cinematic greats as Serguéi Eisenstein, Luis Buñuel, Groucho Marx and Woody Allen. One of the great triumphs of A Dog Called Pain is the sheer beauty of Aute’s projected images. Intimately paced, viewing the film is like a cinematic walk through a museum. At times, long-held images will have subtle movements such as a blink of an eye that creates the effect of the movie screen as a canvas. Nominated for a 2001 Goya (Spain’s Oscars) for Best Animated Film, A Dog Called Pain is a unique work of art.

The film, an exciting blend of humour, violence and sex – in a word, of art. The story employs the simplest resources of cinema, and is the singular creation of an artist in love with the camera, as well as with music and painting, two fields in which he has gained fame. Luis Eduardo Aute is a living Spanish national treasure, acclaimed and loved for his music, artwork and poetry.

Crumbs Off a Master’s Table

Robert Crumb’s Self-portrait

 
 

Walt Kelly

 
 

Popeye, The Sailor(1933)

 
 

Uncle Scrooge

 
 

Harvey Kurtzman’s comic

 
 

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Robert Crumb, being as irreverent as he is, made his first sketches imitating the candid contours taken from animated characters created by E. C. Seglar (Popeye), Walt Kelly (Pogo), Carl Barks (Donald Duck) and many more artists from the same batch. What better source for a young boy, whose only amusement and motivation relies on comic books and nothing else?

 
 

Crumb brothers

 
 

This delight was fomented by Robert Crumb’s older brother, Charles. But it was Robert, who, on a most uncommon occasion, asserted his authority on Charles and pressed him to point toward a new direction. Eventually, Robert, Charles and Maxon (the younger brother who is also a talented illustrator) drew scenes from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. The Crumb brothers’ newly created version of the novel was presented to the rest of “Crumb Comic Company” members: Carol and Sandy; their sisters. Those times would be joyous for the party of five; the sons and daughters of Charles Vincent, their draconian U.S. Marine and Beatrice, their ultra-catholic mother with family ties to Andrew Jackson.

 
 

Girl Standing at the Window (1925), Salvador Dalí

 
 

Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity (1954), Dalí

 
 

 
 

Robert Crumb was born on August 30, 1943, in Philadelphia, the city where America declared its independence from the English crown and fittingly, Robert declared his own independence as soon as he could. At an early age he liberated himself from the religious beliefs and severe discipline that would be a spanner in his childhood works. Crumb did serve in the Army, though little of that time is worth noting.

Crumb’s personal and artistic transcendence occurred when he was still very much an introverted and shy boy. But like Stevenson’s Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, young Robert turned into a fearless ‘monster’ while he was drawing. That peculiar hormonal boiling, felt by every adolescent, ran alongside society’s collective interest in sex which was in the air at that time. 1955’s Kinsey Report and the debut of Playboy magazine with Marilyn Monroe on the cover and centerfold in 1953 literally thrust the topic of sex squarely in the public eye.

There are some critics who have vehemently compared him with the great satirists François Rabelais, Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain. The fact is, nobody can be indifferent in front of a Crumb drawing (you love it or you hate it). Due to the polarized reception of his work, he has been wrongly accused by some of misogyny, meanness and downright immaturity. That lack of understanding is actually due to the overwhelming honesty expressed in his drawings. For someone with a narrow, square mind it might be uncomfortable or difficult to digest Mr. Crumb’s autobiographic Epicureanism, as it is rife with explicit sexual connotations. As for subjects, style and generation, he is closer to Henry Miller, Céline, Norman Mailer and Charles Bukowski (who Crumb would later collaborate with). To a man, none of the aforementioned has been known to be interested in pleasing well-mannered crowds or being politically corrects.

 
 

 
 

In his youth, Crumb often showed his classmates the comics he was doing. In one of those panels was the prototype of what later became the milestone character from the crumbianesque iconography: Fritz the Cat. (Initially titled Fred the Cat.) He kept the idea in the inkwell until 1965, when he decided to publish it in Help!, a magazine by James Warren. A year before, Crumb illustrated his Big Yum Yum Book, which he drew in 1963 and which was finished the year he met Dana, his first wife.

Help! showcased several artists whose works were part of the counter-culture movement of the comic underground: Skip Williamson, Gilbert Shelton and Jay Lynch. Along with Crumb they would quake the foundations of comics, a land heretofore strictly reserved to children and teen readers but not anymore. Before Help! Crumb launched Foo, a humorous fanzine inspired by Mad. As a staunch follower of Harvey Kurtzman, illustrator and director of Mad, Crumb concocted a plan to get an interview with Kurtzman, who was impressed enough that he employed him at the subversively juvenile magazine.

 
 

Mr. Natural

 
 

In 1967 he moved to the hippie movement epicenter, San Francisco, where Mr. Natural was born. Philadelphia’s Yarrowstalks had provided the fertile ground from which would spring, Mr. Natural. Throughout this period, Crumb tried hard to be hip; he wanted to enjoy free love, but alas, he couldn´t get laid. He claimed he didn’t fit in because he looked like a cop from the “vice squad.” Janis Joplin (by this time, he had drawn the artwork for Big Brother and The Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills album cover) once asked him: “Crumb, what’s the matter, don’t you like girls?” She advised him to get with the program; grow his hair long, wear billowy shirts, satin jackets and platform shoes but Crumb, an iconoclast, refused to wear the fashions of the day.

 
 

 
 

Although he eschewed the trappings of hippiedom, Crumb experimented heavily with LSD. It was while he was having a “bad trip” in 1965 or 1966 thereabouts, that Robert Crumb’s style of drawing changed radically. He began sketching characters that were more cartoonish, wearing high-heel shoes and images he never drew before. Crumb’s comic artwork started to elicit harsh commentary. Numerous critics cited his pictures of overly sexualized women, often in subservient roles, calling him “the chief sexist of underground comics”. It could be said that on one hand, due to the LSD, he lost consistency but, on the other hand, he was able to create comics thoughtlessly. He didn’t give a damn if they were silly. He only cared about his sordid epiphany and those ideas were immediately accepted. Psychedelic and hippie aesthetic were in bloom all around Fog City.

 
 

And talking about shoes, in 2009 Crumb collaborated with a collection for Vans. Model Sk8 Hi (Mr. Natural‘s artwork featured on both the upper and the sole) and Slip-on (Fritz the Cat art extended all over the upper)

 
 

Despite the smashing success of the film and the societal borders it overstepped (it was the first “X Rated” animated movie), Crumb loathed the cinematographic adaptation of Fritz the Cat (1972), directed by Ralph Bakshi. During the seventies Crumb and his second wife, Aline Kominsky, lived in isolation on a farm far from the city. Aline shared his passion for illustration. During this time, somewhat surprisingly to those who didn’t know him, Crumb opted not to design a sleeve for The Rolling Stones. He was developing an autobiographic comic book based on his troubles with women. He admitted cynically that those troubles finished when he finally achieved his fame.

Robert Crumb is a famous, if compulsive, collector of early blues recordings and he founded his own old-timey revival band, R. Crumb and His Cheap Suits Serenaders in which he plays the banjo. Serendipitously, thanks to his addiction to old recordings, Crumb would meet Harvey Pekar at a record shop. Together, they would create the epic comic book American Splendor (1976) with Pekar writing the text and Crumb illustrating the panels.

In March 1981, Crumb created the comics anthology, Weirdo. After only ten issues, Crumb handed over the direction of the magazine to Peter Bagge who had approached him with the same youthful exuberance which Crumb had exhibited when he met Kurtzman at Mad. After 17 issues, the editorial reins went to Crumb’s wife, cartoonist Aline Kominsky-Crumb (except for issue #25, which was again edited by Bagge). The three editorial tenures were known respectively as Personal Confessions, the Coming of the Bad Boys, and the Twisted Sisters.

In 1993, Crumb and Aline settled down in a small village near Sauve, in the south of France. It was there that Terry Zwigoff went looking for Mr. Natural’s author to get permission for Zwigoff to do a documentary about his life and work, simply titled Crumb (1994). The film was critically acclaimed, winning the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at 1995’s Sundance festival, Best Documentary 1995 by the National Board of Review and many other awards for non-fiction and documentary films. Zwigoff would continue to pay homage to Crumb in Ghost World (2000), his adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ eponymous graphic novel. Zwigoff added a character into the plot: Seymour, a blues music collector performed by Steve Buscemi.

Crumb-Kominsy couple conceived an “editorial child”, Self-Loathing Comics. It is, as the name suggests, a dark humor series about their experiences in the French village where they live.

In 2012 Crumb appeared on 5 episodes of John’s Old Time Radio Show where he talked about old music, sex, aliens, Bigfoot and played 78rpm records from his record room in Southern France.

Although Robert Crumb is not publishing as often as he used to, whenever he does it, he never disappoints the gourmands of Made in USA comics.

 
 

 

English grammar corrections by Paul Klees

Natural Selection

Walton Ford, a "rara avis"

 
 

Walton Ford was born in New York’s asphalt jungle at the end of the 60’s. He graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA degree. Though he first inspired to be a filmmaker, Ford would soon trade his camera for brushes, palettes, canvas and any other artistic supplies for printing and painting stills taken from wildlife.

 
 

Falling Bough

 
 

Even as a toddler he felt fascinated by fauna. His parents encouraged his love of nature by taking him on Canadian getaways and to the Museum of Natural History in New York. Thanks to frequent visits to those places, his devotion for Akeley’s dioramas grew up. Biologist and sculptor Carl Ethen Akeley is considered the father of modern taxidermy.

 
 

Litographic folio by Audubon

 

Illustration by Edward Lear

 
 

At first glance, Walton Ford’s stunning high definition and large scale watercolors evoke 19th century naturalistic plates made by John James Audubon, George Catlin or Edward Lear. This makes sense, as Walton drew his inspiration from them. When we stare at his pieces, a brand new world is revealed: a complex, uncanny and disturbing one, full of symbols, hidden jokes and references to operatic characteristics related to natural history representative themes.

 
 

Page from the original Pancha Tantra

 

Pancha Tantra cover

 

Pancha Tantra

 
 

Beasts and birds that wander around in the life-size paintings of this contemporary artist are never mere subjects, but dynamic actors that struggle in great allegorical fights. They are an extensive set of plates that subsequently were scraped together for a de-luxe limited edition of the book Pancha Tantra, released by Taschen. Pancha Tantra is a 3rd century anthology of Hindu animal tales, written in Sanskrit, centuries before La Fontaine or Aesop wrote their fables.

 
 

Space Monkeys

 
 

Watercolor techniques demand precision and Walton’s work is nothing if not precise. He stays away from unfinished or sketchy allure. Paradoxically, that kind of impressive hyperrealism that seems an impromptu note is very typical of him. It happens because he thinks nature is always unpredictable. Sometimes wild life is cruel, untamed, irrational, tender, perturbing… in other words, always multifaceted. Nature is never static, although he may paint an animal posing in fraganti.

 
 

Avatars, The Birds of India

 

The Orientalist

 

Baba

 

Buddha Purmina

 
 

Marginalia written with elegant old-fashioned calligraphy is an infallible element of his drawings. In these annotations he synthesizes the rest of the exposed message. It is an epilogue, a key that allows decoding the mystery around the image.

 
 

The Red Kite

 

Bula Matari

 

Boca Grande

 

Borondino

 

Serprent Eaters

 

A cabin boy to Barbary

 

An encounter with Du Chaillu

 

La forga de un rebelde

 
 

His pieces have political commentaries. He said, “I use a source that comes from the period that suits the natural history image, like this Alexander Kingslake book called Eothen, which is a beautiful book. And I try to bring it up to date and think about how it affects the way we think today and how similar the nineteenth century is to now. That moment of empire is almost the same. That moment of fear and first contact and misunderstanding and misapprehension is exactly what we’re going through right now. And we haven’t seemed to figure anything more or less out since then. You still feel like you would be carefully shot and carelessly buried if you made the wrong move.”

 
 

Madagascar

 

Eothen

 
 

Besides Eothen, there are other sources of backing: Benjamin Franklin’s letters; Leonardo da Vinci’s diaries; testimonies from a zoo manager; excerpts from José Martí, Ernest Hemingway or Marquis of Sade’s books; or The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals by E.P. Evans (1906). In Walton Ford’s paintings we can notice an approach to Goya, Rembrandt, Brueghel, Durer, or even Robert Crumb’s humor. Nonetheless, Walton insists that Audubon (the Haitian artist who claimed to be a Jacques Louis David pupil) is his main inspiration.

 

 

Chaumière de Dolmancé

 
 

“Part of the reason I got interested in using watercolor is that I was interested in painting things that looked like Audubons. They were like fake Audubons, but I twisted the subject matter a bit, and got inside his head, and tried to paint as if it was really his tortured soul portrayed. As if his hand betrayed him, and he painted what he didn’t want to expose about himself. And it was very important to me to make them look like Audubons, to make them look like they were a hundred years old—like he painted them but that they escaped out of him. Almost like A Picture of Dorian Gray, but a natural history image.”

 
 

Ornithomancy

 
 

“And once I was sort of finished with that, I realized that I sort of did those for my own amusement. And I was doing bigger oil paintings; I was doing constructions at that time. I was doing all kinds of stuff, trying to find my way. You go through these periods in your artistic evolution where you’re trying a bunch of different things out. And that was just one of the things I was trying out at that time. And I felt like it was more successful than most of the other things I attempted to do, partly because I had all these years of drawing, since I was a little kid. So, they were more convincing, right off the bat.”