ANTHOLOGY: Tongue Out of Cheek
Gary Panter, Gary Panter (Picture Box, 2008)
While riding on the subway to Brooklyn, I spotted a muscular hipster decorated in colorful, decadent tattoos. Although a giant frankfurter was printed across his bicep, it was the image on the side of his arm that really caught my attention: an anthropomorphized slice of pizza, and a beer-can, raising their human arms into a united high-five. The image struck me as simultaneously charming and repulsive. The message is endearing as a cynical piece of satire, but it is by now a redundant and kitschy trick.
This tongue–in-cheek attitude, for better or worse, has become a staple in today’s underground comix scene. In the most recent self-titled publication by Gary Panter, traces of the sardonic, referential approach to illustration are found. In an untitled drawing from the volume containing his sketchbook work, a sedated Cap’n Crunch smiles lazily, the only drawing on a two-page scan of a notebook. These amusing but tacky moments do appear in Volume II of Gary Panter, but for the most part, Panter, the noted godfather of the post-psychedelic (punk) period of comix and graphic art, is a disciplined and original illustrator.
Panter’s work is derivative: he appropriates familiar pop-culture symbols, but he does so in a manner that is far from mean-spirited or sarcastic. When he is at his best, Panter amalgamates potentially incongruous pop images into a surprisingly concrete expression. Borrowing from many sources (manga-styled work, Americana, the punk aesthetic), there is a cohesive¾rather than a collaged and divergent¾feel to his ink drawings. In Chocolate Covered Cherries, two guitar-playing metalheads strike a pose, unaware that a He-Man action figure is soon to pounce with a battleaxe. What occurs is not so much irrelevant, innocent fun, but a continuous statement on the essentially meaningless relationship we have to cultural symbols both past and present. The figures in the drawing are both inconsistent and dispensable. Ambiguity results, as Panter does not make an overt statement on American culture. The figures in his drawings are both out of place and at home with each other.
Volume I of the anthology¾arguably the weaker of the two¾mainly functions as a collection of the artist’s paintings, spanning from 1972-2007. As in his sketches, inane, stock characters populate the paintings in Gary Panter. Unlike the sketches, however, their presence feels problematic. In an interview with Robert Starr in Volume I, Panter acknowledges his own reluctance in including aspects of the cartoons in his paintings: “I let more of my narratives happen in the comics…But in paintings I don’t want it to err on the side of narrative.” Later in the interview, Panter expands on this tension: “Painting also seems to be about stopping time, whereas storytelling is tricking somebody into that dreamtime.” Although he is well aware of the conflicting quality of the two forms, many of the paintings are rife with inescapable narratives. Works such as Octaface and Approach feature abstract, grid backgrounds, with cartoon characters inhabiting the foreground of the pieces. Inevitably, the punchline driven characters are completely at odds with the more painterly forms. When this contrast is not quite so intense, Panter manages to create pop art that is less confused. In Killbilly and Restway, feverish, colorful works appear in the same vein as Peter Saul. These surreal paintings, essentially cartoon-based, are more accessible, although conservative.
Panter’s iconography is often effective, but ultimately, one has to wonder if there is enough potential for interpretation. Tropes, such as the rock star and the Americana bikini babe, found throughout his work, can shift from accessorily to obscurity. One has to wonder if Panter’s drawings and paintings are too idiosyncratic. In his final statement in the publication Panter confesses to this highly personal approach to his work, stating, “I am everything in all the paintings, but I am usually, mainly, the guy painting the painting.” Gary Panter, however, by giving us an intimate look at the artist, provides a rare and uplifting take on the cliché, a world that can be re-imagined and strengthened.
A Solid Image, A Sunlit PathBy Joseph Omoh Ndukwu
NOV 2022 | Critics Page
In uncertain times, it helps if one can count on some solidity. A photograph I have looked at a few times in the last months comes to mind as an image of solidity, and also of invitation.
79. (Brooklyn Navy Yard, Columbia County)
NOV 2021 | The Miraculous
An artist in his mid-30s living in New York and working in a 300-square-foot studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, finds himself consumed by frustration and anger. Although he is having exhibitions, after the shows close his paintings inevitably return to his studio, unsold. Hes not sure he wants to go on being an artist. A psychiatrist he consults helps him to understand that his anger revolves around his feelings about race, class and entitlement. Eventually the psychiatrist recommends that he begin working with a physical trainer, who has him start boxing and working out with a punching bag. Around the same time the artist, who is half-Choctaw and half-Cherokee, has been meeting with traditional Native American artists who tell him how the practices of dancing, drumming and beading have saved their lives. These experiences lead him to make a breakthrough in his work. Instead of focusing on painting, he begins to adorn Everlast vinyl punching bags like those he has been using at the boxing gym in extravagant styles inspired by Native American beadwork, pop culture, and everyday life. Along with beads, he adds tassels, sequins, brass and steel studs, yarn, chains, and sundry items. Some of the bags feature beaded texts quoting everyone from Simone de Beauvoir to Public Enemy.
The Brooklyn Presence at SXSWBy Nic Yeager
MAY 2022 | Film
Between March 11 and 20, four Brooklyn-based short films screened at SXSW, each shot in Brooklyn and made by and featuring Brooklynites. SXSW is known for celebrating innovation in tech and education, and these projects offer their own kind of innovation: namely, an irreplaceable artistic ingenuity that flows out of this borough.
69. (Lower West Side)By Raphael Rubinstein
SEPT 2021 | The Miraculous
On an overcast day in 1993 an artist arranges some scraps of wood and bits of water-logged litter next to a concrete Jersey barrier being used to block off an empty expanse of asphalt on Manhattans West Side. In the photograph he takes of this casual-looking arrangement, which seems to rise from a puddle left by a recent rainstorm, we can see in the distance a swath of the New York City skyline.