Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Basil Wolverton's First Museum Retrospective Opens Saturday!
"As Spacehawk was losing altitude, Wolverton took a freelance assignment that required him to create a humor feature. The first result was a sci-fi parody called Splash Morgan. Within a year, the artist had developed three comical features – including his most popular and influential series, Powerhouse Pepper – and by the time Spacehawk folded, he was getting so much humor work that he abandoned his “serious” style for almost a decade.
Powerhouse Pepper – published in various Timely Comics (which later became Marvel) and edited by Stan Lee – lasted in various forms from 1942 through 1948 and took the kind of ridiculous wordplay and corny sight gags common to prewar humor strips to a level of meta-absurdity, clogging panels with joke signage and props and speech balloons and captions with baroque tongue-twisting verbiage riddled with rhyme, permeated with puns, and characterized by rampant alliteration. It is not so far-fetched to consider the linguistic innovations in Wolverton’s comedic scripts in the light of modernist literature by authors James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Hugo Ball, Alfred Jarry, and perhaps most consonantly, Raymond Roussel.
Roussel, a next-door neighbor to Marcel Proust, had a similar passion for the improbable and a love of wordplay. He took special delight in exposing the hypocrisy of authority by affecting a mock highfalutin tone and exaggerating it into absurdity. Roussel played a pivotal role in the foundation of modern art when the 1911 theatrical version of his proto-surrealist novel, Impressions of Africa, inspired epiphanies in Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, and Apollinaire. The dadaists and surrealists were notoriously fond of American comics -- Duchamp and Man Ray even reprinted a Rube Goldberg contraption in their 1921 New York Dada journal.
(See hi-res scans of the rest of this Pepper story & more here)
While Goldberg, Wolverton, and other purveyors of pop-cultural absurdities were skeptical – if not outright hostile – toward their adoption by the avant-garde, their attitude probably had more to do with the fact that America’s elite class fetishized European culture even when it was fundamentally at odds with Yankee Nouveau Riche postures of privilege and authority. Regardless of the conceptual discomfort, the overlap between Wolverton and the “moderns” is considerable. Probably the most striking consistency lies in the realm of Grotesque caricature -- a recurring motif in fine art from the Renaissance on and made central to Modernism by the Expressionist, Dada, and Surrealist artists. Wolverton began to explore this territory extensively during the 1940s and eventually laid indisputable claim to it."
from my essay 'The Closer You Look, the Prettier It Ain’t: Basil Wolverton’s Microscopic Grotesque'
The Original Art of Basil Wolverton published by Grand Central Press and Last Gasp Publishing in conjunction with the exhibit.
The Original Art of Basil Wolverton
from the Collection of Glenn Bray
September 1 - November 11, 2007
Opening Reception: September 1, 7-10 p.m.
Grand Central Art Center
125 N. Broadway,
Santa Ana, CA 92701
General Phone: 714.567.7233