Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In perusing the Lilly collections, I came across an Art on Paper review of an exhibit in the Gladstone Gallery in New York which featured the work of an artist by the name of Basil Wolverton. I was immediately drawn to the work because Wolverton’s illustrative style and quirky titles reminded me of… me.

Research done, I discovered that Basil Wolverton was an American cartoon artist born in1909 and working c. 1930-1970. His pen and ink illustrations depend on stippling and hatching to create the illusion of value; this meticulous approach was necessary if one wanted to achieve a tight graphic feel in the time before computers took over. Wolverton’s subject matter is totally inane- strange creatures with comical bodily characteristics. His sense of huor and inventiveness are obvious; he self-identified as a "Producer of Preposterous Pictures of Pecuilar People who Prowl this Perplexing Planet." In addition to creating over 1300 comic pantels, Wolverton did work in the fields of advertising, caocatures, greeting cards and novelty products. His final project was a series of Bibical illustrations entitled the “Last Days” depicting the an apocalyptic aned of the world in his characteristic style.

Wolverton died in 1978, and was inducted into the cartoon industry’s Hall of Fame in 1991. The Gladstone exhibition features fork of the likes that elevated Wolverton to Mad magazine fame, in the era before the comics code was adopted and “swampt things, lopped-off heads, and bloody sledgehammers” were perfectly acceptable. His satirical caricatures and “lovingly detailed” depictions of the end of the world take center stage; and viewers had the opportunity to get up close and personal with his marks.

Long-necked Model, 1950 Ink on paper; 14 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches (36.8 x 29.2 cm)

Take Long-necked Model, for example. The piece offers a commentary on the fashion industry, portraying a model as an overly sinewy and made-up figure, teetering into the domain of grotesque. Examining the craft of the piece, Wolverton's hatches are tiny and precise, placed just-so the create cartoonish value. A strong black outline gives the figure definition and furthers the graphic style.

Nell No-Smell, 1972 Ink on paper; 17 x 20 inches (43.2 x 50.8 cm)

Nell No-Smell provides another example of Wolverton's style. I particularly like the description of hair, with depth created through line-work alone. Clearly, the subject matter is unusual, but it is fun to look at and interpret. Wolverton's legacy lives on not only in exhibitions like this one, but as the father of the underground comic movement.

Rexer, Lee. "Basil Wolverton at Gladstone Gallery, New Your." Art on Paper. November/December (2009): 98-99. Print.

"Basil Wolveton." Wikepedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.

"Basil Wolverton." Web. 2 Nov. 2010.

"Basil Wolverton." Gladstone Gallery. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.

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