Monday, January 28, 2013

An American Cartoonist in the Palaces of European Painting

My second day in Paris I went to the Louvre. This despite having announced to my companions the night before that I wasn't going to visit its crowded halls again. I came to Europe for the first time in 1999, when I was 25. That trip was mainly to Italy to look at Italian proto-renaissance paintings in places like Florence and Padua and Sansepulcro...

But I made a trip up to Amsterdam as well, and entirely by accident (long story) was able to visit the Prado in Madrid to see practically the entire career of Francisco Goya.

At the very end of the trip I got stranded in Paris for a few days. I had pretty much had my fill of museums by that time, finding that while the continent has a very large number of truly revelatory, beautiful, strange and wonderful pictures of all kinds, it also has an exponentially larger amount of crap. The new economic titans of Europe demanded artifacts of conspicuous-consumption (as new economic titans always do) and apparently painters obliged with piles of ultimately repetitive and uninspired pictures of all sorts. If the U.S. is any different it's only because we came of age at a different time, and employed different means to display our wealth.

Still, the Louvre has its moments. I love the rooms with the giant Delacroix's and Gericault's and David's – the giant Hollywood mega-blockbusters of their day...

But the picture that summed up the arc of Western painting for my tired eyes in 1999, was this one:
When it stopped me in my tracks again last week I felt the same amused disdain, but it was mixed now with a certain nostalgia and the goofy fondness one has for someone you used to hate in high school who turns out to actually be kind of fun to talk to. I'm sure this guy, in his day could have had me burned alive for looking at him the wrong way, and yet here he is, frozen for all eternity, with that haircut. But this painting has stuck in my mind for the last 14 years because it completes a perfect half circle. The rising merchants (and, yes, crime bosses) of the aforementioned Italian cities began the tracing of this curve by hiring a new crop of incredibly inventive and ambitious young painters to try and encapsulate the mythology and world view that gave their lives and culture meaning in their own eyes. They did it in ways no one had ever imagined before. But for these patrons to have themselves depicted other than in supplication and extreme humility (the guy in purple, below, handing a new chapel over to The Virgin Mary and her friends) was not even a question, they were really and truly trying to get into Heaven by commissioning these works:
(and also: out of Hell)

By the time we get to the fellow with the flowing locks, however, the relationship is completely inversed. Suddenly it is the gods and angels that wait, their clothes all but sliding off their bodies, at the pleasure of these masters of a newly global universe. Images like the Last Judgement above stop getting affixed to Church walls at about the same time that actual horrors almost as fantastic are being enacted in the mines and plantations of the New World. Eventually images like this make their way little by little into new imaging technologies like printed books and eventually political cartoons (see Goya, above), but the spotlight of visual culture has decidedly moved on.

Of course there are a small number of really wonderful, humbler pictures at the Louvre. Painters, of course, continued to find ways of describing the strangeness, bitterness and beauty of the world whatever the economics happened to be. Here's a portrait of a flute player, blind in one eye:

Of that strangeness and beauty I found a bunch the next day at Le Musee de la Chasse, and much of all three qualities at the Musee de la Beaux Artes yesterday in Brussels. That place was a revelation. So avoid this URL for a few days if you're sick of dusty old paintings.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Paris: Day One

I arrived in Paris a few days ago – a week or so ahead of Angouleme – to do some signings  for the French Big Questions. The city was under a blanket of snow, a rare thing in Paris, apparently. It was mostly slush the next day.
These pictures are of the area near the Voltaire Metro, where my hotel was. The hotel was 'Hotel Candide'. Apparently it is the best of all possible hotels.

That first night I did a little conversation with Mikael Demets at Le Monte en L'Air (click for audio, French to English translation), a wonderful bookshop with an amazing collection of comics, kids books, literature, and prints of all sorts.
Part of visiting France for me is always to visit French bookshops and geek out on some of the best book design in the world. Below are some things I saw at Le Monte en L'air.

Below: two layers of elaborate die-cuts protected by a thick transparent plastic book jacket.
Deeply embossed letterpress:
More die-cuts, revealing a detailed drawing beneath...
But then you open the cover and the image seems to suddenly disappear and turn white...
until you fold the cover flap out again.
And then everyone's favorite: a book with a hole drilled through the middle. Awesome.

After the event we went to a small bar where Thomas Gabison, my former editor at Actes Sud holds court Sunday nights. They have the world's smallest Ping-Pong table.
After a bit of drinking they brought out "Raclette" which means basically a little warmer in which you melt your own cheese to then drape over a potato and some mushrooms with sliced ham and salad. So good.
Below are Eglantine from Le Monte en L'air, Louis and Marie from L'Association... 
...and the wonderful and slightly hard-to-pin-down Thomas Gabison.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

It's like Christmas

I left Minneapolis for Paris on Saturday, but on my way to the airport I stopped by MCAD where Nadine Nakanishi and Nick Butcher of Sonnenzimmer have a show up right now: Image as Object, Object as Image. It completely took my breath away. Anyone within 1000 miles should make a special trip to see this show of paintings, screenprinting, a sound installation and... quilts? It officially opens Friday, January 25th with an artist talk that night at 7.

My other favorite abstractionist also has a show of new work up this month. And by great coincidence I'll be able to see that one too – even though it's in Belgium. Adam Henry's An Aspen's Inability to be a Pine is up at Meessen de Clercq in Brussels, where I'll be reading next Sturday.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Thursday, January 17, 2013


I meant to link to this, like, four months ago. Best. Cat. Video. Ever.


Coming to Minneapolis, August 18th: Giant Amazing printmusicomicstravaganza 2013. Brought to you by 2D Cloud, Grimalkin, Talk Weird, In Absentia, La Mano and Uncivilized. More info coming soon.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sunday, January 6, 2013