Modern Cartoonist: The Art Of Daniel Clowes
Like many people, I suppose, I first came across Daniel Clowes when I saw the movie, ‘Ghost World‘. A very funny film based on his comic of the same name, which he also co-wrote with director Terry Zwigoff. The main character in the comic is named Enid Coleslaw. Well, that sealed the deal for me. Anyone who names the main character of his narrative work, Enid Coleslaw is a friend of mine. It turns out Enid Coleslaw is an Anagram of Daniel Clowes. Clever. It reminds me of the whole ‘All of Them Witches’ anagram in Rosemary’s Baby. Even better! How rare is it for a straight male artist to create an alter-egoish character that is female? Rare. Rare, I say!
Daniel said of creating the two main leads in Ghost World:
“I used to know a lot of women who were like Enid and Rebecca: every girlfriend I ever had, ever woman I ever knew in art school, every loud-mouth girl had a friend who was the quiet silent partner in the relationship—that was a very common dyad. Yet, from being a quiet guy who was always hanging out with women in art school, I knew that young women talked very differently than I was seeing in movies or television at that time. I felt like somebody had to do a story about these kinds of women.”
Daniel also wrote his next film based on one of his comics, ‘Art School Confidential‘. An interesting movie, but in the end, it doesn’t really work. It feels disjointed. I’m sure that’s just one of the difficulties with translating a comic to the screen. But still, Daniel’s work always has something to offer. Movies aside, he never misses with his comics. He has a keen sense of people. You get the feeling that he’s someone who is always quietly observing the people around him, taking mental notes, and then bringing those people to life on paper, with great honesty. This depth of character (along with his flawless line quality) is what, for me, separates him from many other cartoonists. There’s a quiet, clever intelligence to his work. He can also be harsh and sexually frank. Which, of course, totally offends me.
So, when a show of his work came to the newly renovated Oakland Museum of California, I pulled out my dildo and jumped in the car. First off, I must say that the Oakland Museum is a gem. It has this wonderful inside/outside design to the building. Parts of it open up to the streets, inviting people in. There are different levels, which give it a great texture. You have no time to be bored. The galleries are large, open spaces that you can kind of meander around and just enjoy the art. It’s very laid back with a focus on the work. Imagine that! The pieces are not separated by time, style, movement, or artist. It’s a fucked up jumble that I find pleasurable. Salon style, frame-packed walls and drawers and moving cabinets to explore. A friendly, knowledgeable staff that was there to offer information (and smiles!). Aww. I even spoke with the guy who framed the Daniel Clowes show. I love this museum. Go.
Now onto the exhibition. Daniel Clowes. Yes, fantastic. It’s placed in one square room with art from the entire span of his career wrapping the perimeters of the space. In two corners, these brilliant kiosk fixtures are placed which house even more of his work. These kiosks contain sliding and hinged panels, so you can move through the work, discovering more with each turn or flip. One of the panels is cut-out in the back and houses a tufted, upholstered couch where you can sit and look through some of his published books. My favorite of these is his book Wilson, about a character of the same name, who’s basically an asshole. Which, of course, totally offends me.
When I was looking at a few panels of work from Ghost World on one of the kiosks, two women came up behind me and started to talk incessantly and loudly. I basically told them to shut up with my eyes (and mouth). You should know that, if pushed, I can certainly bring out the asshole in me. Alas, in the end they were fine as they offered a nice counterpoint to all the other lovelies I came across that day at the best museum you’ve never been to. The show features mostly his black and white ink drawing on paper, but you also get to see some full-color gouache on board stuff that is incredible. As the guy who framed the show said, “there isn’t a brushstroke to be seen”. Daniel has this ability to be so smooth and flawless with his lines. Then, when he does make a mistake, he covers it with cut paper and more ink. This only adds to the pieces. It gives them a hand feel that reminds you of the person behind them. I quite prefer these paste-up pieces to the sleek printed one sheet pieces we always see.
The show will be up until August 12, 2012. If you haven’t yet, please do. You’ll enjoy a day in Oakland. Then you can go get dim sum in Oakland Chinatown, or sit by the lake. Summer’s coming. And if you can go on Friday July 27th, Daniel Clowes will be there in person, speaking from 7-8:30pm.