Tuesday, April 28, 2020


I had no interest in posting a picture by celebrity artist Julian Schnabel.  Then I read the following in the New Art Examiner:
Wishing to reproduce a work of art by Julian Schnabel....[w]e phoned the Pace Gallery in New York, Mr. Schnabel's dealer, and requested a photograph of any of his recent work.  Their response? "All requests for a photograph of Julian Schnabel's work must be made in writing along with the complete textual passage that discusses him; these requests are forwarded to the artist for his approval."
Such an extreme provocation compels any public spirited citizen to set aside their legitimate labors and post a gratuitous photograph of Schnabel's work without his permission.  Here's mine:

And here's my "textual passage that discusses him:"  In my opinion this is a noisy, clattering, third rate painting by a noisy, clattering, third rate painter.  Adoring fans tell us that "Schnabel's use of broken crockery as a painting surface signaled an overtly defiant departure from the almost sacred 'flat surface' rule of Minimalist painting," but Schnabel's picture is minimal in more important ways.  Devoid of taste and substance, it is to be appreciated primarily as a highly successful marketing gimmick by a true master of publicity.

Section 107 of the U.S. copyright law states: "the fair use of a copyrighted work... for purposes such as criticism, comment...scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright" and if Julian Schnabel doesn't like that he can kiss my butt. 


Thursday, April 16, 2020

PLAGUE ART, part 4

John Cuneo has a mind and sense of humor that are, in my opinion, unique in illustration today.  As far as I know, they're unique in the rest of the world too.

Detail of a sketch on the back of a menu from the Bear Cafe
The internet is flooded with artistic responses to the coronavirus.  Some are more interesting or illuminating than others.  As you'd expect, there's a huge amount of repetition and overlap.  But Cuneo overlaps with nobody.  Every time you go to his instagram page you know you'll see something you haven't seen anywhere else.

The following are some examples of Cuneo's perspective.  Beware!  Because it is Cuneo they are VERY NSFW.  But Cuneo uses sex the way Hitchcock used suspense-- a seemingly "lowbrow" vehicle that a master can employ to deliver powerful, trenchant statements of a high order.

Look how smart this joke is:

Cuneo bypasses the predictable joke that men are such pigs that-- even in the face of a deadly worldwide pandemic-- they think only about one thing.

He also bypasses the predictable joke that the man is so selfish that he wears a mask but cuts a hole in his partner's mask because some things are worth the risk to your partner, y'know.

He even bypasses the joke that his partner understands what a loathsome fellow he is;  she doesn't even bother to yell any more, or look up from her cell phone, she just gives him a sidelong glance with a world weary expression on her face.

Any one of those ideas would be a punchline for one of the better cartoonists today, but they are just way stations for Cuneo on the path to the woman's calm, understated request for the scissors.  What a marvelous statement about human nature, both male and female, in the face of the virus.

Here's another drawing about human interaction during the plague-- a different kind of "safe sex."

But Cuneo is particularly good at depicting lives of quiet desperation that people are experiencing after weeks of isolation at home:

Cuneo is one of those rare artists today who doesn't use a loose, scratchy style to evade scrutiny.  Study the faces on that last drawing above to see how carefully he captures the pathos of the unfeeling husband and the despondent wife.

The hunched shoulders, averted eyes and body angle fend off any attempt at human interaction

One might argue that Cuneo's distinctive voice is in the tradition of R. Crumb, but I think Cuneo is smarter, funnier, and better at drawing.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

MORT DRUCKER 1929-2020

Last night the great Mort Drucker-- one of the few true geniuses of 20th century comic art--  passed away peacefully.  He left behind a legacy of brilliant art that influenced, and will continue to influence, generations of young artists.

Drucker was such a humble, gentle soul, I could never quite figure out where he found the drive and ambition to stay at his drawing board creating hundreds of beautiful stories, decade after decade.  He was the opposite of competitive, as generous and open minded an artist as I've ever known.  Yet he held himself to excruciatingly high standards as he crafted his marvelous drawings, working out likenesses for his caricatures and populating his pictures with details and humor that reflected his abundance of spirit.

His work inspired a vast and diverse array of artists.  Oil painter Phil Hale said that his ambition in life was once to go work for Mort Drucker at MAD.  And it was widely reported of painter Jeffery Catherine Jones, "if Jones wanted to emulate any artist in his youth, it was probably Drucker and he wrote him fan letters asking questions about the types of pens he used and how he approached illustration assignments."

This wonderful anecdote from Mort's obituary in The Washington Post reveals his influence:
A 1980 spoof of “The Empire Strikes Back” — portrayed by Mr. Drucker as “The Empire Throws Up” — prompted a nasty letter from lawyers representing director George Lucas. They demanded all profits from that issue of the magazine and asked that the original art be turned over or destroyed.  Publisher William Gaines sent them a copy of a letter received days before from Lucas, in which he gushed about the Mad parody and praised Mr. Drucker as the “Leonardo da Vinci of comic satire.”
The art world won't see Mort's like again.

Drucker and his family at his induction into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame 

Saturday, April 04, 2020

PLAGUE ART, part 3

Man Throwing Up  by David Lynch
Before David Lynch became a master at making unsettling, creepy films he was a master at making unsettling, creepy drawings and paintings.  He did an entire series of ill, vomiting figures:

This next one is called Six Figures Getting Sick:

From the same series:

I like Lynch's pictures, starting with his early, unconventional comic strip, The Angriest Dog in the World:


I think he brings a horror to his subject that more skillful artists have missed in the previous pictures I've offered.  This is not because Lynch explicitly paints vomit.  To the contrary,  I think his real strength is taking the most normal, innocuous elements and assembling them in a way that becomes far more ominous and unnerving than any pictures of dead bodies or skeletons.

For example, this next picture is called, She Was Walking to Her Home and Then There Was Someone.


Another example: There is Nothing Here.

Or the unnerving, Who Is In My House? which summons feelings of mental patient level paranoia.

Even words as bland as This Is My Truck become transformed by Lynch's images.

Who would've guessed that such harmless elements could be combined to create such a tone? And if such meanings can lurk beneath such safe concepts, what else is at risk?

The point is, an artist doesn't need to show circling vultures or blood and guts or skeletons...  a nondescript blob on a flat red ground can be more effective.