Those who are not conversant in works of art are often surprised at the high value set by connoisseurs on drawings which appear careless, and in every respect unfinished; but they are truly valuable... they give the idea of a whole.
- Sir Joshua Reynolds
We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.
- Anais Nin


Thursday, January 8, 2009

S. Clay Wilson

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:50 pm

S. Clay Wilson- The Checkered Demon
Taking a page from yesterday’s post about the first issue of Juxtapoz, which featured an article on Zap Comix 13, I wanted to make a hopefully timely post about underground comix artist S. Clay Wilson.

Wilson is a cartoonist and comics artist whose work is rude, crude and full of atti-tude to the point where words like “offensive, politically incorrect, objectionable, demeaning to women, violent, sexually explicit, not safe for work, over the top, graphic, intense, obscene, dangerous, bloody, and shocking” have always seemed a bit tame and inadequate to the descriptive task. Of course, that’s exactly why some people, myself included, hold it in high regard.

Wilson was a regular contributor to Robert Crumb’s ground breaking Zap Comix in the late 1960′s. His characters like the Checkered Demon, Ruby the Dyke, Star-Eyed Stella, and others whose very names were offensive, romped, gamboled, swilled Tree-Frog beer and fought and sliced their way across panoramas of unbelievable carnage, comically exaggerated sexual violence and dementedly bloodthirsty absurdity in the pages of the independently distributed counter cultural comix. (My favorite was the Checkered Demon “…nice day for somethin’…”)

Wilson himself rampaged slashing and burning through the conventions of decency where others only tiptoed, and opened eyes and minds to the examination of those conventions in the process.

Robert Crumb said the it was S. Clay Wilson who opened his eyes to the notion that absolutely nothing was off limits, and made way for unthought of possibilities of expression and the defiance of taboos.

In the process Wilson could be wildly, dementedly funny. If you weren’t the type to take offense to his deliberate offensiveness, and could see the absurdity underlying it, his very degree of excess, and the apparent glee with which his pen wallowed in it, were agonizingly hilarious.

Of course, in our uptight, politically correct, oh-so-ready-to-take-offense society people have actually been arrested for selling material containing his work. He is exactly the kind of cultural buccaneer that keeps thing shook up, something society desperately needs at times.

I can’t point you to a repository of Wilson’s work, I had trouble finding images I could show in polite company (image above via P.J. Donovan), but I’ll try to provide a few links.

There are some collections of his work, like The Art of S. Clay Wilson and Collected Checkered Demon and he has illustrated books of fairy tales (notably Grimm’s, couldn’t find a link) in his own inimitable style. You can also find his work in back issues of Zap Comix and other underground comix if you’re lucky enough to come across copies.

I mention that I hope this post it timely because Wilson recently suffered a grave injury, and as an independent outsider cartoonist, is in need of assistance to pay large medical bills. Some friends, family and supporters are putting on some benefits to help raise the needed funds.

S. Clay Wilson Noise Benefit, January 11, 2009 Hemlock Tavern in SanFrancisco, CA.

Mojo Lounge Benefit, January 24th, 2009 at Mojo Lounge in Fremont, CA.

There is also an address where donations can be sent directly:
P.O. Box 14854
San Francisco, CA 94114

There are columns in the Oregonian in which Steve Duin is covering the story.

[Via BoingBoing]

Note: links here, and all references to and material by S. Clay Wilson should be considered NSFW and not suitable for children; as well as not suitable for adults who take offense easily, Concerned Citizens for Decency, and all others not inclined to celebrate the destruction of the fabric of mainstream society.

Posted in: ComicsOutsider Art   |   2 Comments »

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Juxtapoz Archives

Posted by Charley Parker at 10:34 am

Juxtapoz Archives
Juxtapoz is an alternative art and culture magazine, loosely dedicated to outsider art, urban contemporary art and “lowbrow art” (or “pop surrealism”).

The magazine was started by Robert Williams, who was at one time an assistant to Ed, “Big Daddy” Roth. Williams was also a pioneering underground cartoonist (one of my favorites) and contributor to the original Zap Comix with Robert Crumb and the gang, and is currently a “pop surrealist” painter.

Juxtapoz has actually been going since 1994 (surprised me to realize that), The magazine has an active online presence and has recently been putting full archives of its early issues online. They are now up to issue #10.

The first issue (images above) contains articles about issue #13 of Zap Comix (which was sort of a reunion issue, that sadly also marked the loss of pioneering west coast artist Rick Griffin, and was dedicated to his memory), as well as articles on Big Daddy Roth himself (who many, myself included, consider the “daddy” of this particular branch of pop culture and art), along with articles on Von Dutch, John Pound and others, and includes a Spain Rodriguez sketchbook.

The subsequent Juxtapoz archive issues are a cornucopia of thumbs-against-the-eyeballs lowbrow art, which some people find irresistibly fascinating and others find unconscionably revulsive. A word to the wary.

Personally, I find myself in between those extremes, apparently a rare occurrence. As much as I love the original cultural and artistic streams from which lowbrow art and/or pop surrealism stem (specifically true Surrealism, Dada, early 1960′s Kalifornia Kustom Kar Kulture and late-60′s underground comix), I run lukewarm on the contemporary artists who take their inspiration from that vein, with a few exceptions.

It seems like most of them are trying way too hard to be outrageous or disconcerting; and for all of that the art never has the ferocious life that those originals had, particularly against the backdrop of the restrictive mainstream cultures they so gleefully disturbed.

Nonetheless, Juztapoz does feature work that is fascinating and well worth the attention; provided, of course, that you have the inclination to take the ride through that particular funhouse.

Note: Both the site and the magazine archives should be considered NSFW and not suitable for children.

Posted in: ComicsOutsider Art   |   3 Comments »

Saturday, December 27, 2008

William Laskin

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:43 pm

William Laskin
Inlay is a decorative process in which small pieces of material with differing colors are laid into carved channels in the surface of an object to create a pattern or image.

Inlays are often applied to decorative boxes or other small objects using wood veneer. It is also a common practice to use other materials, notably shells, particularly when inlay is applied to wooden musical instruments.

Inlays are often applied in to small areas of the fingerboards of guitars, giving them that extra appeal of decoration and craftsmanship.

William Laskin is a Canadian luthier (maker of stringed instruments), specializing in guitars, who goes well beyond the typical small decorative patterns normally applied to guitars several ways.

One is in the composition of his materials, which range into 9 different species of shell, 15 varieties of stone, 4 kinds of ivory and bone, and 3 types of metal.

Another is the location and extent of his inlays. While it is not uncommon for inlays to appear on the rosette surrounding the sound hole, or on the headstock, the shaped block at the top of a guitar’s neck which holds the tuning nuts, those applications are normally small, with headstock decoration usually consisting of the maker’s logo.

Laskin, on the other hand frequently takes the entire headstock or large portions of the fingerboard as his canvas, and the fact that he treats it as a canvas is the most unusual and interesting aspect of his inlay work.

Using a process called engraved inlay, Laskin hand cuts shaped channels into the ebony fingerboard or ebony headstock veneer that he uses on his guitars, and applies his carefully chosen inlay materials to create what he terms “narrative” inlay, essentially realistic pictures.

The result is a series of striking images, created with the different colors and surface characteristics of the inlay materials as his palette.

Laskin often sketches his subjects from live models, and does extensive research and preliminary drawings before beginning the intense, extremely time consuming process of engraving the design and forming and setting the inlay pieces.

There is a gallery of inlays on his site (click on the thumbnails for larger images), with a description of the process. There is a video on his site called The Guitar is My Canvas, but I was unable to see it as it requires RealPlayer.

Laskin resists the temptation to repeat a successful design, and each inlay image is unique. His range of subjects includes musicians, animals, film noir scenes and artists, like the portrait of Dalí above, as well as references to art styles like the design inspired by Japanese woodblock prints, also shown above.

Makes me wish I played seriously enough to afford one.

[Via Neatorama, via Sparkbox]

Posted in: Outsider Art   |   5 Comments »

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Anamorphic Art

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:49 pm

Anamorphic Art - Andrea Pozzo, Istvan Orosz
An anamorphosis is an image that is distorted in such a way that it only assumes the proportions of recognizable forms when viewed from a certain angle, or by reflection in a curved surface.

The term comes from the Greek anamorphoun, to transform. Anamorphic images have a long history in art. The earliest examples in Western art are found in Leonardo’s notebooks, though anamorphic images may have been developed in Chinese art around the same time.

Anamorphic perspective was employed in the illusionistic painting of church vaults, like those of Andrea Pozzo (image above, top, large version here) and Andrea Mantegna, but it has most often appeared in art as a curiosity or entertainment; or been used for the creation of hidden or secret images, requiring a matching mirrored surface to reveal their true nature.

Anamorphic images can be of as much interest to scientists as they are to artists, as NewScientist reports in their mention of a recent seminar on technical aspects of anamorophic art at the London Knowledge Lab; and an event at the National Gallery in London called Curious Perspective: Anamophosis in Art.

The NewScientist article is accompanied by a slideshow of anamorphic images.

The event at the National Gallery in London centered on the wonderfully enigmatic painting The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger, which is in their permanent collection. I devoted a post to The Ambassadors in 2006.

One of the notable modern applications of artistic anamorphosis that is missing from the NewScientist article (and many other resources) is the use of anamorphic images in sidewalk art, as exemplified by the work of Julian Beever and Kurt Wenner.

You can also add to the list the illusionistic point-of-view dependent paintings of Felice Varini and the modern continuation of traditional anamorphic art by István Orosz (image above, bottom). I’ve gathered some other anamorphic art resources below.

[NewScientist article link via Digg]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Posted by Charley Parker at 9:36 am

According to a saying that became popular in the 1960′s, you are what you eat.

Perhaps not as directly as in the marvelous and bizarre portrait heads created by 16th Century painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo out of arrangements of fruit, vegetables, tree roots, fish, birds and other natural forms, but a sobering thought nonetheless as most Americans prepare today for a traditional Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner.

Born in Milan, Arcimboldo worked on frescos and tapestries in cathedrals in Italy and was also court painter to royalty in Vienna and Prague. Most of his traditional work has been lost, though a few examples survive, but his quirky and amusing portraits made from fruit, flowers and other elements of the natural world, as well as books and other man-made objects, remain, and attract attention to this day.

Some of his fruit/vegatable portraits were less obvious, disguised in what were ostensibly paintings of arrangements of vegetables in bowls, in which the face was revealed when the images was viewed upside-down, a precursor of the popular optical illusions circulated in later centuries. These upside-down portraits, when viewed in their orientation as paintings of fruit or vegetables in bowls, were, along with more straightforward images sometimes attributed to Caravaggio, among the earliest examples of still life as isolated subject matter for paintings.

The image above (large version here) is thought to be a likeness of Arcimboldo’s patron, Emperor Rudilf II, but it’s titular subject is Vertumnus, the Roman God of the seasons, whose penchant for changing his form to get what he wanted (like the favors of the goddess Pomona) personified the value of change in the practice of rotating crops to preserve the fertility of fields.

Arcimboldo’s striking visions have inspired others to follow in a similar vein, like contemporary painter Andre Martins de Barros (link contains NSFW material).

Arcimboldo’s paintings were celebrated by the Surrealists, who were always on the lookout for hallucinatory visionaries they could consider their precursors; and there has been some speculation that his inclination to see faces in arrangements of objects was the result of mental illness; a notion perhaps encouraged by his more disturbing images made of fish, birds and other animals, or the haunting images made of tree roots; but the truth is likely more prosaic. The Renaissance, a time of relative plenty and stability compared to the centuries that preceded it, not only provided the luxury of devoting more attention to art, but of indulging in puzzles, whimsies and amusement with the bizarre.

The luxury to enjoy the fruits of life beyond the necessities of survival, in particular the bounty of art, is always something for which to be thankful.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gilles Tréhin (update)

Posted by Charley Parker at 5:00 pm

Gilles Trehin
In 2006 I wrote about autistic savant Gilles Tréhin and Urville, a large and fantastically detailed city that he has been creating in mind since the age of 12, and shares with us by way of hundreds of intricate drawings.

I recently learned that shortly after I wrote that post, Tréhin’s English language book about the project, Urville, was released, containing an elaborate tour of the imaginary city in over 300 of his drawings.

Tréhin is an autistic savant, with extraordinary abilities in mathematics, music, language and art. His visions of Urville form a comprehensive image of this city, complete with economic, social, political and historic background, in addition to geography and architecture.

There are two sites devoted to Urville,, and the newer The latter can seem a little hard to navigate unless you notice links at the top dividing the site into two sections, one for Tréhin, and the other for his partner Catherine Mouet. Once in Tréhin’s section you can navigate to pages of images for skyscrapers, transportation, public buildings and squares.

The is a bit more straightforward, with sections for views of Urville and recent drawings.

There is an article about Thehin on the site of the Wisconsin Medical Society, and 4 videos about him on YouTube. There is an extract of the book on Google Book Search.

The fascinating thing about these drawings is that they are not an unconnected series of make-believe street scenes and envisioned architecture, but glimpses of a connected whole, a complete city that exists as a mental construct; a matrix, if you will, of interconnected buildings, plazas, streets and their relationships in a projected geographical space.

For more, see my previous post about Gilles Tréhin.

Posted in: DrawingOutsider Art   |   1 Comment »

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ah Pook is Here

Posted by Charley Parker at 10:22 am

Ah Pook is Here - Malcolm McNeill and William S. Burroughs
Ah Pook is Here (originally Ah Puch is Here) is a collaborative graphic narrative by writer William S. Burroughs and artist Malcolm McNeill. I was tempted to say “experimental graphic narrative”, but using the word “experimental” and the name William S. Burroughs in the same sentence is redundant.

Named for Ah Puch, the Mayan Death God, the never-finished book was to be part comic, part illustrated book. The comic story segments were drawn as a continuous panorama (top three images above, with detail below), a format inspired by the Mayan Codices, which can be thought of as graphic narrative or a kind of comic book.

McNeill worked on parts of the panorama out of sequence, emphasizing the non-linear narrative and in keeping with the story’s time-travel theme. (For more on McNeill and the project, see my previous post on Malcolm McNeill.)

McNeill didn’t know Burroughs or his work when they first started collaborating; initially without meeting, on a project called The Unspeakable Mr. Hart.

The story, which ran in the English magazine Cyclops until it folded, was eventually expanded into the book project. McNeill and Burroughs began collaborating directly, and worked on the “word/image novel” on and off for seven years before it was abandoned for lack of funding (in the 1970′s, “graphic novel” was a not a widely recognized term or a viable marketplace option).

Burroughs’ text was published by itself in a more conventional form as Ah Pook is Here.

A good deal of art was created for the book, however, and some of it is on display McNeill’s site and on a site devoted specifically to the Ah Pook is Here project.

There is an interview with McNeill online, conducted by Larry Sawyer, that includes larger versions of some of the images from the project, as well as some other examples of McNeill’s art.

McNeill has written an account, not yet published, of his collaboration with Burroughs titled Observed While Falling.

McNeill did a year and a half of research for the Ah Pook is Here project, combing through the Mexican Cultural Library in London and researching the artwork of Frederick Catherwood, a real-life Indiana Jones with a paint box (see my post on Frederick Catherwood).

Other artistic influences seemed to be less from mainstream or European comics and more from art history, in particular the horrific visions of Hieronymus Bosch, shadowy gothic art, mid-20th Century book illustration and the deep chiaroscuro of the Baroque, lending the panels a unique visual tone.

There will be a show of artwork from the project, The Lost Art of Ah Pook is Here, at Salomon Arts gallery in New York (Tribeca) from November 14 to December 14, 2008.

[Note: sites linked here contain some NSFW images]

Posted in: ComicsOutsider Art   |   Comments »

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Exquisite Corpse

Posted by Charley Parker at 5:05 pm

Exquisite Corpse
When I was in grade school my friends and I, particularly those of us who considered ourselves “artists”, played a game with no name; in which we would fold an elongated piece of paper in thirds or quarters, and take turns drawing parts of a figure.

The first participant would usually start by drawing a head on the top third of the paper, leaving two lines indicating a neck extending slightly below the fold into the middle third of the paper. The top third was then folded under so that it couldn’t be seen, and the paper handed off (usually surreptitiously in the middle of class) to the next participant, who would then draw a torso, likewise leaving two lines indicating a waist extending over the fold into the bottom third of the paper for the last artist, who would add legs and feet (or some bizarre substitute for them). The variation was a paper folded in fourths, in which the waist and upper legs are separate from the lower legs and feet.

It wasn’t until the last part was added that the paper was unfolded and the work of the other participants revealed, that the final figure seen in all its collaborative glory.

As young as we were, our artistic collaborations usually involved grinning, slobbering monsters, Frankenstein monster heads, superhero torsos, dinosaur tails, webbed feet and the like; but it was a fun game; and looking back, surprisingly creative and imaginatively liberating.

It wasn’t until I discovered books on Surrealism lurking in the dark corners of my high school library (changed me forever) that I found that the Surrealists had indulged in the same game; and had codified it and given it a name, “le cadavre exquise”, or “the exquisite corpse”.

The phrase was taken from one of the results from an early session in which they played a verbal version of the game (based on an earlier parlor game called “Consequences”), in which parts of phrases are written by the participants without knowledge of the other’s input. Their session yielded the phrase: “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau.” (“The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.”).

Provided the participants aren’t inclined to cheat, this can be done by mail; and recently, of course, these collaborative artworks can be assembled digitally. There have also been variations in music, film, video and sculpture.

Photographer Jon Rendell maintains an excellent site devoted to the subject at, including a brief history of the practice by Surrealist leader, poet Andre Breton (Surrealism was primarily a literary movement, at least initially), and a nice Morgue of some of the original Surrealist corpses (from which the images here were taken).

I’ve listed some other resources below to current digital revivals of the practice and other items of related interest.

The best way to explore The Exquisite Corpse, of course, is to get together with your friends, artistically inclined or not, and make some. Only then can the exquisite corpse drink the new wine.

The best exquisite corpse is a live one.

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