Fine Cartoon Art

exaggerated, in a good way

Archive for the ‘Painting’ Category

Posted by jtebeau on July 27, 2012

(The following is a little write-up by Brooklyn arts reporter Stephanie Thompson on the recent show I have in Park Slope which ends Friday. Thanks, Steph!)

Who Will Save Us?

The Art of John Tebeau

It could be the bacon or the inviting open doors that draws one first into the new Dizzy’s Diner on the corner of President St. and Park Slope’s bustling 5th Ave. But once inside, the bold poster-style art that screams from the walls is the big star.

The arresting images by John Tebeau, up until July 27, immediately bring a warm smile of recognition followed by a giggle at the artist’s sly clever twists on the

“!978” acrylic on canvas

familiar. In the powerful illustrated montage, 1978, there is the full white-toothed smile and solid stand-up breasts of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, power bracelets braced and ready. There is Steve Martin, mouth and eyes open wide, an arrow through his head. There is Cap’n Crunch and the Play-Do primary-colored O-faced grin of Mr. Bill. There too are the gun-toting feather-haired girls of Charlie’s Angels, the Grease logo and John Belushi’s mug atop a “College” sweatshirt. There they all are and there we are, those of us who remember, brought back to a comfortable time and place, secure.

As a longtime illustrator and packaging designer, Mr. Tebeau clearly understands the power of icons and symbols to motivate emotions and drive people to action.

“I try to inspire or excite people with iconography, I want my art to be useful,” Mr. Tebeau said in the same earnest winking tone of his fabulously entertaining images. “If it makes somebody feel better or focuses them in a way, great, then it’s worked.”

"Stroh's (that 70s Brew)"

And it has. The blue-skinned James Bond depiction, the purple-hued Duke Ellington, the orangey-red rendering of Star Trek’s Uhura, not to mention the Stroh’s beer can, all goose the diner-goer to stop mid-bite of bacon and reflect on the great motivational power of heroes, superheroes and icons from a certain place and time in history. Time past always seems better, more hopeful somehow. We can see the changes that artists make more easily with hindsight.

Mr. Tebeau’s work is inspired by artists Peter Max, Wes Wilson and Victor Moscoso whose bold posters reflected what he calls thejoyous optimism” of San Francisco in the fast-changing ‘60s and ‘70s.

By hearkening back to that time, Mr. Tebeau well captures that optimism and the necessity of bringing it back again.

“It’s easy to get distracted in life, especially the way it is now, with a lot of stimulus and not all of it good,” he said. For Mr. Tebeau personally and, he believes, universally, images and icons offer up necessary inspiration and focus to drive one’s intended life work.

“I see work as a form of salvation, although maybe that sounds too religious,” Mr. Tebeau said. “But ‘work’ is what you’re supposed to do in life. John D. Rockefeller said, ‘If you want the key to happiness, find something you do fairly well and do it with all your heart and soul.’”

As the regulated work world morphs more and more into unstructured freelance, necessitating greater self-motivation, Mr. Tebeau’s suggestion is actually faith-based: we need to trust and believe in a fair bit of divine intervention.

In Universe, Mr. Tebeau reflects the hand of God offering Adam an Ace of Hearts.

Divine Intervention

“It’s about good luck and love and the divine, about the unlikely opportunities and interventions that can come into your life that you need to seize and claim, that can help motivate you,” he said.

It is reflective of Mr. Tebeau’s own great joyous optimism that he believes this can happen to people, to anyone.

“If you focus on a vision of what you want, you can bring it to yourself, draw it to you…” he said.

As proof, he offers up the story of an investigative journalist who asked him for a rendering of his hero, Edward R. Murrow. After hanging the image over his


work space, the man went on to win three Edward R. Murrow awards.

Mr. Tebeau is commissioned for such work but also wants to inspire more widely with his images.

“Art doesn’t work if no one sees it,” Mr. Tebeau says, grateful extending thanks to Dizzy’s owner Matheo Pisciotta and his wife, Mary Fraioli.

The couple works with Park Slope-based art curating service Radar Curatorial to set up shows featuring local artists like Mr. Tebeau every three months at the new location on 5th Ave. as well as on the original location at 9th St. and 8th Ave.

“We have such amazing talent in Brooklyn, it’s great to support them,” Ms. Fraioli said.

Her husband agrees. “I say, ‘Buy art, save lives.’” Is the saving just of the starving artists, or is it ourselves, that is the question.

The couple has featured the art and music of staff as well as that of friends and neighbors since they first opened their doors in 1997, among those they gave their start the now well-renown photographer Lori Berkowitz.  More recently, they formalized the effort by hiring Michele Jaslow and Spring Hofeldt of Radar and offering wait-staff a 5% commission for any art they sell.

Visit Dizzy’s for the bacon, for sure, but think of buying some salve for the soul as well.


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Wayne Thiebaud: This Week’s Fine Cartoon Artist

Posted by jtebeau on October 11, 2010


"Lemon Cake" (1964) by Wayne Thiebaud


I like looking at Wayne Thiebaud‘s paintings. I mean, seriously – how could you not? The colors are vibrant as the sun shining into a Laguna Beach bakery window at 10 a.m. And the subject matter is often dessert. What’s not to like?

But one time someone said to me, “What is there to his work? What’s it ABOUT?” Well, it’s about still-lifes. And light. And beaches. And peace.

His colors are hyper-real. His subjects are outlined, and often “haloed” in warm tones. Thiebaud’s art is rooted in the fundamentals of cartooning: solid composition, strong lines and bold colors. And that makes sense when you know his back-story.

Thiebaud grew up out west and in his teens briefly worked at the Disney studios. In the Army he drew a comic strip for the Sacramento base newspaper. He also worked as a cartoonist for the Rexall Drug Company in Los Angeles. He wound up teaching art at the little UC campus in Davis, CA, about as far from the Aht World as you could be. This allowed him to do his thing, which was basically representational pop art. His signature maneuver is slathering the paint onto the canvas like frosting (which is at times only fitting), creating what former student and current Director of the Yale University Art Gallery Jock Reynolds calls “the most tactile and sensuous visual compositions imaginable.”

That’s what it’s about, my friend. And Mr. Thiebaud’s still doing it, painting twice a day at age 90.


"Bakery Case" by Wayne Thiebaud



"Fields and Furrows" by Wayne Thiebaud


The New York Times ran a nice piece about him recently. Another nice piece:


"Lemon Meringue Pie" by W. Thiebaud


Posted in artists, fine art, Painting | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Fine Cartoon Illuminated Manuscripting in 9 Easy Steps

Posted by jtebeau on June 8, 2010

Recently I was commissioned to make a little sign. A simple phrase, in convenient 5″ by 7″ frame-able form. Step one was getting the phrase: “Rejoice Evermore.” Done. The client took care of that.

Step two was finding a suitable font. I used one called Blackmoor out of an ancient Letraset reference manual I’ve had for years.

Step three: Sketching out “the look.” Good old sketchbook. If those pages could talk….

The client gave major leeway on this. He wanted me to do my take of an ‘illuminated manuscript’ look, but not too ‘religious.’ I get that. I wanted it to feel joyous, of course, but a bit more organic and less stiff than some of them you see. And given the small scale, I couldn’t be TOO detailed. I went with bold lettering and a simple vine for the organic flavor around the edge, as a border.

Step four: Sketching it onto nice, thick illustration board and begin inking. I used a Rapidograph pen with India ink for this.

Step five: Finish inking and choose appropriate colors. Obviously I would to go with something warm like yellow and orange. But I wanted something organic, too, because the client likes nature (hence a vibrant green). And I chose to do the letters in reflective gold to make it more… PROFOUND!

Step six: Paint the background. I always work from front to back, a habit of my silk-screening days….

Step seven: Paint the letters gold. This was Liquitex “Antique Gold”. Good stuff. Great look.

Step eight: Paint the border… then… jazz up the background. I went with a funky sort of sunburst look. Sort of psychedelic, sort of… well… joyous!

Step nine: Black outlines on the vines and text. It wouldn’t be cartoon art without the black lines, now would it?

If you’re interested in commissioning a neat little piece like this (or big ‘un), let me know:

Thank you, Alan Janesch, for the cool gig.

Posted in Painting | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

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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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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