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Perhaps it is a stretch, but I'm
irresistibly drawn to compare the artwork in Blab! with a great deal of
outsider art. Outsider art, or art
brut, is the category for creative work done by people outside the
establishment, away from art schools and ambitions of fame and fortune. It is often only discovered after an
artist's death, when relatives go through their belongings and come across
years of work done in private. One of
the main traditions in outsider art is of work done by people who have been
diagnosed with serious mental disorders, and sometimes one may speculate that
the only reason that other outsider artists did not receive diagnoses was that
they were so reclusive. Outsider
artists often fill the frame with details of private significance and
repetitive themes, and there can be a strongly obsessive feel to the work.
The work in Blab! 13 is
varied. Editor Monte Beauchamp has
collected work by thirty artists, some of them relatively well known – Doug
Allen, George Eisner, Fred Stonehouse, and the Clayton Brothers, to mention a
few. Much of it is stylistically
related to art in underground comic books, but it is very varied and defies
easy categorization. Some of the pieces
tell stories – Peter Kuper's "Deep Blue" is about three young guys on
holiday in Mexico who nearly get carried away by strong sea currents, Sue Coe's
"Ghost Sheep" depicts the sad tale of 67,050 sheep who were drowned
when the ship they were being transported on sunk, Juan Soto's "The
Pacemaker" shows how a woman beat her husband to death under the delusion
that she was being commanded to do so by their pet dog.
Other pieces are bizarre pictures:
Baseman's "13 Number 1" has childlike paintings of a skeletal figure
wearing a fez with "13" on it, growing out of a cat-like corpse,
being greeted by a figure in a pink nightgown wearing a pumpkin over her head,
surrounded by gremlins and a devil's head.
It's surreal and morbid.
"The Mechanics of Nashville" is a painted collage by Henrik
Drescher, full of strange images alongside depictions of a baby, a fetus, a
laughing women's head, and a woman's naked body. More weird yet is Jonathan Rosen's "The Seamy River,"
which defies brief description altogether, but does include some misshapen body
parts and beasts, as well as both printed and hand-written descriptions of what
is depicted. It's a fantastic piece
that brings to mind some work by Hans Belmer and Henry Darger.
Of course, this work is indebted to
several well-known traditions, including Surrealism, Dada, and of course comic
book art. The work here is best sampled
in small doses and revisted frequently, because it repays close attention. The resistance of many of these works to
interpretation combined with their use of popular iconography, together with
the "home-made" feel of much of the work, are some of the qualities
that make them so akin to outsider art.
It makes Blab! an exceptionally interesting series of artworks, and
kudos are due to Fantagraphics Books for having the will to sponsor such
excellent work. I would be surprised if
such prickly and alien art was a strong money-maker and a commercial
independent publisher such as Fantagraphics must be under some pressure to
stick to more cute and appealing comics.
This would make an excellent gift for counter-cultural people who enjoy
© 2003 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is
Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor
of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical
issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.