When you think of art and soup cans, you can’t help but think of Andy Warhol–and, obviously, for good reason! Warhol remains a mighty force in the art world, pop culture, and our everyday lives in ways we may take for granted. Breaking new ground and making art history is quite rare. Warhol did it. In the first phase of his career, he conquered commercial art. In the second phase, he conquered the art world. Someone who dismisses Warhol is terribly off the mark, perhaps working from some anti-intellectual motivation. But people really don’t want to be talked down to. It may seem comforting but it’s an inane act. People truly respond best when they’re lifted up and challenged. Warhol earned his place in art history. Just look at Warhol’s work. Warhol made us see our world differently. For example, Warhol’s screen prints invite us to scrutinize as well as find the poetry in pop stars and consumer culture. Now, as far as soup that I like, I think something less iconic and more organic suits me just fine. How about you?
The artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is a monumental figure in contemporary art for a number of reasons. To say that Basquiat was at the right place at the right time is a great understatement. In his case, he seems to have been born to conquer the art world despite the drawbacks of starting out with zero connections and zero money. Personally, for me, I had filed away Basquiat in my mind many years ago and hadn’t looked back. I look back fondly, and return regularly, to a number of artists ranging from Edward Manet to R.B. Kitaj but not Basquiat…not until recently. I happen to have been in New York and got to see a spectacular Basquiat show. It then dawned on me that, the further away one is from New York, the less is known or understood about Basquiat. Like it or not, Basquiat is an obscure household name! Some people love him and some hate him and probably for all the wrong reasons. I wasn’t sure if one graphic novel could help shed sufficient light on the subject but I decided to find out by reading Basquiat: A Graphic Novel by Paolo Parisi, published by Laurence King Publishing. This new English translation by Edward Fortes will be a welcome addition to anyone interested in better understanding one of the most celebrated and enigmatic of artists.
Basquiat: A Graphic Novel by Paolo Parisi
Paolo Parisi is in many ways an ideal artist to create a graphic novel about Basquiat. Parisi has proven himself to have the right temperament for the job. His previous graphic novels include a book on John Coltrane and one on Billie Holiday. As he puts it, his graphic novels all follow a common thread that includes “jazz, art, painting and process, rhythm, rigor, improvisation, and spontaneity.” Well, you can find all of that with Basquiat, an artist that jumped feet first into his art at an early age and never looked back, as if guided mostly by instinct and sheer will. His was an original and singular vision.
Basquiat: A Graphic Novel by Paolo Parisi
Within this biography, the reader will come away with a good sense of the trajectory of Basquiat’s art career, from his early forays into street art to his mugging for the camera on cable access to his navigating the highest levels of the New York art world. Parisi does a great service to Basquiat by generously quoting directly from him and from the people who knew him best. Much of this book is made up of quotes, transcriptions from letters, and just the right amount of carefully composed dramatization. The bold use of color in this graphic novel is supposed to evoke the same bold use of color that Basquiat used in his own paintings. Alas, we somehow don’t explore any of Basquiat’s actual paintings! Diego Cortez, the curator of the famous Times Square Show that helped to launch Basquiat is quoted: “Jean had something different. He reminded me of Cy Twombly and Franz Kline. He didn’t even know who Kline and Twombly were, but he had instinct, charm, and energy on his side.” There is plenty of instinct, charm, and energy on display in this book. And you can take it any way you like: for beginners, it’s a wonderful first step; for those familiar with Basquiat, it’s a great New York fable.
Basquiat: A Graphic Novel is a 128-page hardcover, in full color, published by Laurence King Publishing, English translation edition (May 14, 2019).
South Park Block: Theodore Roosevelt guards the Portland Art Museum
One of my favorite strolls is walking down the South Park Blocks in downtown Portland and then making it over to the Portland Art Museum. I was recently in Portland and enjoyed such an outing. This was just prior to the new Andy Warhol show. So, I need to make another trip from Seattle in the near future. That said, I had a wonderful time spending most of my time taking in the permanent collections. Just for fun, here are some observations.
PAM 2016: Cymatic Modular Triangle
I was in a contemplative mood. I found myself focusing on the various juxtapositions of art I came across. There were so many pleasing combinations on view that I could not help documenting some of the most striking ones. So much to see and process. This is just a quick sampling. I also include one of the temporary exhibits that intrigued me, “Sound Beyond the Auditory,” on view until the first of the new year. I’ll say a few words and you can go to the video that showcases a really cool pulsating triangle. This exhibit is made up of experiments in cymatics, the process of making sound visible and tactile. People enjoyed each work on view and were compelled to linger over the Cymatic Modular Triangle. They would stomp, tap, click, whatever sound they could think of, to influence the colorful patterns it responded with. This exhibition was developed in partnership with CymaSpace. For more information on their programs or how to volunteer visit cymaspace.org.
Bourdelle and Monet
Getting back to my study in coupling of art works. In no specific order: we begin with Bourdelle and Monet. The massive yet pensive bust, “Head of a Figure Called Eloquence,” 1917, by Emilie-Antoine Bourdelle, takes in the scene and is a perfect counterbalance to a water lily painting by Monet.
Caro and Oldenberg
Anthony Caro’s quirky “Table Piece XXX,” 1967, fits right in with what looks like a study for a large scale Oldenberg, “Profile Airflow,” 1969.
Rauchenberg and Stella
Rauchenberg shares space with Stella.
Rodin and Monet
Rodin’s exuberance gives way to Monet’s calm.
Smith and Berman
David Smith’s spiky sculpture, “Portrait of Don Quixote,” 1952, wages a battle with Eugene Berman’s expansive “Time and the Monuments,” 1941.
Smith and Berman
Olin Levi Warner’s sculpture rides the ebb and flow of time with the paintings of Edward Lincoln Espey.
“Charrette de boeuf (The Ox Cart),” July, 1884
“The Thatched-Roof Cottages of Jorgus, Auvers-sur-Oise,” June 1890
By far, the most moving combination is of a painting early in Vincent van Gogh’s life coupled with a painting from the month of his suicide. The space between the paintings seems to stand for such a troubled life as Van Gogh’s. One painting seems perhaps serene and studios. The other painting we might read into it resignation. We can sense a mastery, a certainty within uncertainty.
Portland Art Museum
Portland Art Museum is located at 1219 SW Park Avenue. “Andy Warhol: Prints from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation” runs from October 8, 2016 to January 1, 2017. For more details, visit the PAM website right here.
The world of Andy Warhol is our world. His art, inextricably linked to his persona, resonates with us today on an uncanny level. Along with a select few artists like Picasso, he has broken through, reached immortal fame with the general public. When a new book or movie comes out about him, we feel we’re dealing with something familiar. The new graphic novel, “Becoming Andy Warhol,” written by Nick Bertozzi and illustrated by Pierce Hargan, seems to tap into some new ground by presenting us with more of the human being that was Andy Warhol (1928-1987).
Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, with my own art ambitions, I was keenly aware of Warhol as I digested his art through the media. What I saw of the person was actually quite minimal. There was that exaggerated deadpan pose, that would be taken up by so many artists of the next generation, like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Who Warhol really was did not seem to matter. The fact that he was gay was never brought up in the mainstream media. But one thing was clear: Warhol was a significant artist breaking new ground.
What this graphic novel attempts to do is humanize Warhol to better understand the man and his art. He was certainly not a passive eunuch. The most distinctive contribution this book makes is to show Warhol as an active and sexual being dealing with relationships, and strategizing his career. His career did not just emerge one day fully formed and he did not have all the answers. In fact, there’s some wonderful scenes in the book with art critic Henry Geldzahler guiding his friend along. When it came to attempting to answer rather pompous questions from the media, why not simply respond with enigmatic non-answers? This approach, Geldzahler advises Warhol, will make him a star.
Warhol was certainly more than capable of explaining his methods. More than anything in the world, he wished to share his insights with the Pop Art kings Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. But, when they saw themselves as on a separate plane from Warhol, it did not faze Warhol. What we see in this graphic novel is a Warhol who, despite setbacks, maintains an internal compass that keeps him on his path. He is a determined and driven dynamo. The book focuses on Andy Warhol from 1962 to 1964, those critical years which see him make the break from a hugely successful career as an illustrator, dive into a fine art career, and never look back.
Warhol at Work
A grand biography is one of the most suitable of subjects for a graphic novel. Bertozzi and Hargan turn Warhol’s journey into a most engaging story, one that gains much from the way that they tell it. The challenge here for Bertozzi was to present a story that many of us already know to some extent, while only relying upon books and resources commonly available. What is so new and compelling to tell? It becomes a matter of what to bring to the foreground. I believe Bertozzi does an admirable job of choosing what bits to use that add up. Hargan does an equally good job of tuning into an irreverent depiction of the man. His Warhol becomes an accessible comics character in his own right. As you read, you can get lost in conversations and the whole pace of things from a certain era.
Andy Warhol was already Andy Warhol at the start of this story insomuch as he wasn’t going to let anyone or anything get in his way. And, when it seemed time to choose whether to abandon parts of who he was in favor of a more mainstream presence, he knew where to draw the line. There’s a particularly effective scene where the renowned architect Philip Johnson admonishes Warhol to drop all of his rough trade friends while, at the same time, he ponders which of the boys he might get to bed. While far from perfect, Warhol proves to stand for something. By defying Johnson and others, Warhol stayed true to himself and would go on to make history. I’m sure that Bertozzi felt compelled to articulate these finer points about Warhol.
BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan
“Becoming Andy Warhol” is a 160-page hardcover with two-color illustrations throughout, available as of Oct 4th, and published by Abrams ComicArts.
This week we will consider Laurence King Publishing’s exciting new artist series in a graphic novel format. We begin with “This is Warhol.” We will continue with Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, Salvador Dali, and end the week with Paul Gauguin. How often have you started the week with Andy Warhol and ended the week with Paul Gauguin? Well, you lucky duck, this is your week. These are all iconoclasts and each of their work continues to reverberate. Among this group, we feel closest to Warhol, despite the fact he was personally quite distant. We think we know him. But, as this book clearly demonstrates, there is much more than meets the casual observer.
Catherine Ingram writes with great enthusiasm and confidence in her subject. She weaves a compelling narrative in such a concise manner, never wasting a word. As she’s describing Warhol’s childhood, she is deftly planting seeds that link us to the vision of the leading figure of Pop Art. Andy, the child, is gazing upon his neighborhood church’s icons. As a Catholic, the icons are powerful figures for Warhol. As an adult, he will take that same level of emotional attachment to his depictions of Campbell’s soup cans and Hollywood stars. But weren’t these repeated images from pop culture simply statements about an empty and shallow society? No, Ingram makes a case for much more being said.
Max and Lucia come in for a safe landing at Seattle’s Art-obsessed Hotel Max after a visit to Popland.
During the “Pop Departures” exhibition at Seattle Art Museum, Hotel Max is displaying its own Pop Up Pop Art Show featuring Pop Art masters from the show at SAM. To book your own Pop Art Getaway, visit our friends at Hotel Max right here.
Seattle Art Museum is a veritable Popland for its show, POP DEPARTURES, OCT 9 2014 – JAN 11 2015. For more details, visit our friends at SAM right here.
What follows are field notes from the current show. Consider it a review, a guide, a friendly tour. When it comes to reviewing a show like SAM’s exploration of Pop Art, it’s a brave new world. Today, a handful of local art critics no longer command public opinion as much as make a noble contribution. No sooner have they done that, in a poetic, or quirky, or straightforward fashion, than a babble of reactions shoot out from below in the comment section. And that’s exactly what Andy Warhol would have wholeheartedly approved of!
As much as can be said for Pop Art shedding a light on a dead end, Pop Art is full of life. It’s our world, made up of mass media galore and celebrity worship. Let’s do something about it. Since it’s not going away, engage it. Make art. The babble in the comment section can rage on and on and on. Some of us learned how to love the bomb, so to speak. That is the overriding sensibility to be found here. There’s social commentary, critique, and satire, of course. But, ultimately, when Warhol suggested that everyone would get their fifteen minutes of fame, it wasn’t a barb but a realization.
SAM provides a refreshing look at Pop Art byway of where it came from and how it continues to reverberate to this very day. You may even see such familiar figures as Warhol and Lichtenstein in a new light. What this exhibit does so well is demonstrate how, as time progressed, and consumer culture became more complex, so did contemporary art. Layer upon layer, extended the bright and bold message of consumerism. As the landscape of pop culture evolved, and devolved, art responded and collaborated.
Art and its subject end up doing a dance together. And the most subversive work will find its way into the mainstream. Consider the cacophonous video on display by Ryan Trecartin. You may find that you got the joke and want to walk out as soon as you walked in. But stay a while. Wait a minute, something about these vacuous characters spouting gibberish and thinking themselves profound is very familiar. Compare this to the mainstream co-opting (or is it stealing?) by Saturday Night Live with their popular ongoing skit, “The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party.”
As we view the Warhols and Lichtensteins, we don’t need to see them as only a part of art history. They continue to breathe life. They continue to provide a road map (sorry, no GPS) for making sense of the landscape.
“Pop Departures” is on view from October 9, 2014 thru January 11, 2015. Visit our friends at SAM right here.
One of the most endearing things you’ll see in the documentary, “Cartoon College,” a 2012 film by Josh Melrod and Tara Wray, is Lynda Barry’s declaration of love for anyone who is a cartoonist. Lynda Barry is an interesting case in point. Her style is “outsider” raw while, at the same time, highly sophisticated. It won’t be mistaken for Rembrandt but it’s not supposed to be. Lynda Barry’s comics are authentic, entertaining, and thought-provoking. But can you teach someone how to become another Lynda Barry?
A NIGHT AT THE SORRENTO AND OTHER STORIES is a quirky batch of comics that is steadily gaining ground as the subject of a fundraising campaign at Kickstarter. It launched on April 3 and has reached the 30 percent mark in pledges. The campaign runs through May 6. You can view it HERE.
Now, here’s the thing about this one, it has a raw honesty to it that it shares with other Generation X artists. That’s where this artist, Henry Chamberlain, dates back to. That sort of blunt honesty has been refined over the years although an outsider’s view still remains. Think of Charles Burns, for example: acerbic, alienated, yet very heartfelt and authentic. You can find that in this collection of comics. That’s important to bring out here because this book includes the graphic novel, ALICE IN NEW YORK, which is an older work and very much aligned to that spirit. The other part of the book collects recent work, done in the last three years, that originated with 24-Hour Comics challenges. Altogether, you get one artist’s vision over a span of many years.
So, let’s focus in with a few more words about the graphic novel, “Alice in New York” that is part of this collection. What makes it share a Gen X sensibility has to do with the main character’s feeling of being at a loss. For many of a creative and intellectual bent, it just felt like we were in for a long stretch of lowered expectations. Sure, that’s pretty shortsighted. But, growing up in the ’80s, with Reagan and Thatcher running the show, with the Baby Boomers having hogged the spotlight for so long, with a perpetual rehash of pop culture, it didn’t look so good. Of course, we all knew things would change one way or another but it fostered a healthy sense of cynicism and self-deprecation.
You have the main character, Henry, a young man on his first visit to New York City still holding on to dreams of previous generations, from the myth of the Great American Novel to the lure of fifteen minutes of fame. Is it any wonder the boy is a wreck? But, he stumbles upon just the right circumstances and meets the right people to help him out. Is he too lucky? Well, sometimes you make the most of what you get, create your own luck. Add to that a little magic from Alice in Wonderland, and you have a story that transcends any generation which is what you want to do in the end!
Generation X’s way of life is not for everyone. You basically had to be there. Just saying that is so Gen X. If you’re looking for something to read that is a voice of a generation, while stubbornly refusing to be labeled, and ending up being so much more, then check out this work at Kickstarter HERE.