Fine Cartoon Art

exaggerated, in a good way

Archive for March, 2010

Deee-licious: Wayne Thiebaud

Posted by jtebeau on March 26, 2010

Cake Window by Wayne Thiebaud

When I say “fine cartoon art”, in the most basic sense I’m talking about art imbued with a cartoon sensibility that could (or should) actually hold its own in a museum. Art that you ‘get’ immediately. It says what it came to say in five seconds. You can spend more time with these pieces, perhaps, and get more out of them and appreciate the artist’s skill as a painter, but they state their intention quickly, like a good cartoon.

Take Norman Rockwell. Though a realist, his pieces were like one-panel cartoons. Then had a message to get across quickly, as you scanned the magazine rack. He told a story (some deeper, some wittier) with one picture.

Others, like Crumb, are strictly cartoonists, whose work has transcended the genre and pulled it up into the world of fine art. Witness the museum shows he’s had in Europe, and increasingly (such as the Carnegie exhibition a few years ago) in the U.S., too.

Then others are something a little different. They paint like cartoonists draw (unlike Rockwell, who generally painted in a realist manner): broadly, colorfully, playfully – but their work is pretty universally considered “fine art”. Think of Lichtenstein, Keith Haring and Wayne Thiebaud. This is what I mostly think of when I think Fine Cartoon Art. Even Picasso went here from time to time. And certainly Toulouse-Lautrec, Thomas Hart Benton and today’s Lowbrow artists like Glenn Barr and Robert Williams. Look for those two to end up in “legit” museums more and more, especially the latter, on the heels of the Whitney Biennial.

I like Thiebaud for his straight-forward colors and his graphic design skills. Like Rockwell, he kills on the newsstands. His New Yorker covers are gorgeous. When people say they don’t “get” his work, I’m surprised. What’s there to get about a still life? They’ve been considered fine art for centuries. Thiebaud continues that tradition with the vibrant, playful colors and bold lines of a cartoonist. This is why I consider him to be the epitome of Fine Cartoon Art.

If you’re ever in New York or San Francisco, check out his work for yourself at the galleries run by his son, Paul.

"Three Machines" © Wayne Thiebaud


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Invader from North in New York: Seth at Adam Baumgold

Posted by jtebeau on March 12, 2010

Here’s one of your best chances to see a contemporary cartoon master’s work up close and personal. But hurry.

courtesy of Seth and Adam Baumgold Gallery

Seth’s “George Sprott 1894 – 1975” wraps up it’s run at the Adam Goldberg Gallery on March 13.

The exhibition includes drawings and architectural models from Seth’s graphic novel (the saga of a Canadian TV personality by Ontario’s own Seth, born Gregory Gallant), which originally ran as a serial in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His style is clean, precise and rendered with heart and sensitivity. The work goes down smooth, and packs a punch, like cold a rye Manhattan served up with a twist of orange peel.

See it, savor it, feel it.

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When an Artist Curates a Show, Good Things Happen.

Posted by jtebeau on March 10, 2010

“Artists make great exhibition curators. They have expert eyes, a personal stake in the game and contacts with all kinds of other artists, including those who ride under the establishment radar. Museum surveys of contemporary art rarely produce surprises. Artist-organized gallery shows almost always do.”

So wrote the art critic Holland Cotter a couple years ago in the New York Times, upon reviewing the excellent “NeoIntegrity” show at Derek Eller Gallery, curated by artist Keith Mayerson. Mayerson’s at it again, and this time it’s comics.

The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) kicks off “NeoIntegrity: Comics Edition” in their SoHo digs on Friday March 12. Curated by Mr. Mayerson, the exhibit features the work of over 200 cartoonists, including R. Crumb, Peter Bagge, Lynda Barry, Charles Addams, Julie Doucet (yummy website, Julie!), Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Roz Chast, Al Jaffee, Harvey Kurtzman, Isabella Bannerman, Jules Feiffer, Art Spiegelman…. [catching breath!] It’s a veritable cornucopia, my friends. A CAVALCADE of TALENT. (though I’m bummed Nina Paley’s not on the list) Still, the mind is, how you say, boggled by the breadth and depth of the line-up: a Murderers Row of the ink set. Do yourself a favor and go see it.

“NeoIntegrity: Comics Edition” runs from March 12 to May 30 at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, 594 Broadway (between Houston and Prince), fourth floor.

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You Get What You Google

Posted by jtebeau on March 8, 2010

Today I googled the term ‘fine cartoon art’. This is the first image that emerged.


Can’t get much better than that.

(and a tip o’ the hat to boingboing and

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Is the Web the Future of Comics?

Posted by jtebeau on March 5, 2010

The sainted Matt Groening‘s long-running strip Life In Hell was recently dropped from the L.A. Weekly, where it ran for 22 years. “I feel like the floodwaters are rising. The alternative newsweeklies are really struggling,” Groening said


“Are you ready to embrace family values yet?”

Profits for all newspapers are falling, and they’re making cuts. Damn shame to cut the comics, especially the good, alternative ones. They were always (along with Dan Savage and Rob Brezny) the main reason I would pick up weeklies like the Chicago Reader, the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Detroit Metro Times. Demi-gods like Groening and Lynda Barry got their start in these kinds of papers. And Nina Paley. AND Tom Tomorrow. AND Chris Ware. The multi-talented Dave Eggers developed his voice while working on the cartoon Smart Feller in the SF Weekly before going on to write A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and starting McSweeney’s, among other noble and notable pursuits. It bums out my heart to see this loamy garden of talent filled in… paved over to eke out a little more damn profit. Feh. Alternative weekly comics are to contemporary American humor what the Harvard Lampoon, The Second City and The Onion have been. Like Texas high school football is to the NFL. Like the Dominican Republic is to professional baseball. It’s where the talent grows.

But Jason Ankeny on posits a hopeful new way for comics: mobile. He writes:

“The digital future of comics, books, magazines and newspapers took a significant turn this week when online retail giant announced it will introduce a free Kindle e-book application for Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch devices, offering consumers full access to more than 240,000 premium titles. Amazon’s new mobile effort would seem to threaten sales of its $359 Kindle e-reader device, but the company contends mobile distribution will in fact complement the Kindle business model, offering users the opportunity to consume content in abbreviated, snack-size periods.

Few forms of creative expression are better suited to that kind of brief consumer engagement than comic strips. Life in Hell–a crudely illustrated but consistently sharp and insightful black-and-white strip–would seem like a natural on a Kindle or on an iPhone, as would any number of classic daily efforts including Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, Krazy Kat or Doonesbury.”

Could it work? I hope so. If not, we will miss out on talent yet undreamed of. Without Life In Hell, we may never have had The Simpsons. And think of what that show alone did for the viability of adult animated humor, not to mention the reinvigoration of American humor in general. Family Guy, South Park, Cartoon Network… who knows what we’d have missed out on if Groening hadn’t found a place for his fledgling talent to take root back in the 1980’s.

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Three Reasons to Like John K

Posted by jtebeau on March 3, 2010

ren_and_stimpy02_10241. Ren

2. Stimpy

3. His blog

(Okay, there are more reasons, but why clutter this posting?)

John K, besides being a talented artist, is also a highly principled guy. He reveres good design and drawing, deplores much of the cluttered new “design” and lousy cartoons we see these days, and he tells us why on his blog, John K Stuff. He has a fine appreciation for quality vintage cartooning and layout, and carefully explains its merits, to both the professional and the layman.

And the man has a soft spot for the cereals (and their vintage packaging!), too.

Good design. Right here.

Good design. Right here.

Check out his blog, John K Stuff. I find it enjoyable and informative every time I visit and I hope you do, too.

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In the Beginning There Was Paper and Ink: Robert Crumb’s “Book of Genesis” Opens in New York March 4

Posted by jtebeau on March 2, 2010

Y-H-W-Y by C-R-M-B

David Zwirner introduces an exciting exhibition in New York tomorrow: Robert Crumb’s “Genesis” show. This collection of original art from Crumb’s masterpiece Book of Genesis will show you what happens when the best-selling book of all times is taken on “as a straight illustration job” by the grand old man of alternative comics.

The art is historically and literally accurate. Crumb did his research and it shows. Architecture, clothing, rituals and the mundane details of every day life in the time of Abraham are represented properly… right down to get-ups that don’t resemble Jim Dine bathrobes, verbatim biblical depravity and the joys of circumcision before topical anesthetics.

The exhibition stays with Zwirner in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood through April 24, following a show at UCLA’s Hammer Museum.

Big thanks to Hammer and David Zwirner for giving Mr. Crumb his due.

Posted in Graphic novels, Illustration | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Yes, Norman Rockwell Was TOO a Fine Artist.

Posted by jtebeau on March 1, 2010

"The Texan" by Norman Rockwell

I remember shortly after Norman Rockwell died, our art teacher Mr. Stewart prophesied (correctly) that Rockwell would shake the label of “illustrator” and one day be considered a fine artist. By Jove, Mr. Stewart was right. The same is happening for cartoon artists. Witness the reputations of the late Al Hirschfeld and Charles Shulz, not to mention that of the living Robert Crumb.

So what if he worked as an illustrator? So did Toulouse-Lautrec. Rockwell was a skilled artist who told stories in his work. He communicated ideas and a distinct point-of-view. Yes, he was paid by an organization to do this. So was Michelangelo. It was called the Church.

In Tyler Green’s excellent Modern Art Notes, Elizabeth Broun of the Smithsonian American Art Museum had this to say:

“Norman Rockwell for the most part was ignored by serious museums and art historians until recently. He’s still kind of unexplored territory and we think he’s still is not taken fully as seriously because that ‘illustrator’ label is attached to him.”

Mr. Green’s interview with Ms. Broun illustrates some of the ideas I’m talking about in this young blog. Where are the lines between cartoons, illustration and art? Why are the defined boundaries drawn as they are, and who defines them? When does illustration transcend the genre and become Art? I’ll submit this: a hack illustrator puts nothing of himself in his work. An artist like Rockwell does. Mr. Green’s post (and in fact his entire blog) is a good place to graze on subjects like this.

What do you think? Is Norman Rockwell not worthy of being called an Artist? Why?

Posted in Illustration, is it Art?, Painting | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Robert Williams Crashes the Whitney Biennial

Posted by jtebeau on March 1, 2010

"Astrophysically Modified Real Estate" by Rob't Williams

A heathen on the hallowed grounds of real American Art? Robert Williams, former disciple of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, he of Rat Fink fame, is exhibiting in the Whitney Biennial. (thanks, Whitney!) Which is, as we know, real Art. From the NY Times:

“Small gouaches by the cartoon artist Robert Williams — “Astrophysically Modified Real Estate” is the title of one — introduce a surrealist spin to the second-floor ensemble. And with a group of snapshot-style family photographs by Nina Berman, domesticity goes dark.”

I love Robert Williams’ work. I do. It has everything: meaning, sub-meaning, skillful execution, witty titles and sub-titles, allegory, pathos, personal vision, an attempt to explain the human condition, etc. But the thing is, the folks who often decide what “art” is, at times disparage his work (or don’t even know who he is). And why? Because he comes from a background of cartooning and self-admittedly “lowbrow” art. Well, Picasso, at heart, considered himself a caricaturist (look it up), and De Kooning was a sign maker. Hey, if it says something, and it’s well-executed visual representation, can we just call it art? Before the guy is dead, I mean. (see: Rockwell, N., the Wyeths,  and Hirschfeld, A.)

Here are a few snaps I took from Williams’ recent exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in Chelsea, NYC. Enjoy. Thanks for the great show, Tony!

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