So Long, MAD Magazine

A post-war American institution, really… MAD taught the entire boomer generation irony & satire (along with Rocky & Bullwinkle, I guess) and became a regular staple of American popular culture.

And now it’s going away.

A few more issues of new material, then they’ll rerun old material until all existing subscriptions run out, then…. they are done. Over. Kaput.

Partly due to the declining readership of print magazines in general, partly due to over-dilution of their brand among far too many other outlets for their younger target audience, and saddest of all, partly due to the overall dearth of satire and cancer of hypersensitive offense and humorlessness pervading our zeitgeist.

Fancy words for NO ONE KNOWS HOW TO JUST LAUGH AT CRAP ANYMORE.

MAD started out strong in comic book form under Harvey Kurtzman – the throw-everything-at-the-wall style of satire from those early issues holds up beautifully today. While some of the genre parodies are dated, the comic art and execution of the jokes still hit their marks. When MAD transitioned post-Kurtzman’s fallout with William M. Gaines into the b/w magazine format, the types of pieces varied somewhat, though the direct parodies of movies and television shows remained. The “usual staff of idiots” each stood out in their regular pieces for the magazine in the days I grew up with it – the observational humor of Dave Berg, the weirdness of Don Martin, the offbeat dark humor of Al Jaffe, the distinctive comic art variances of Antonio Prohias’ Spy vs Spy juxtaposed against the boxiness of Paul Coker’s people… the magazine was always well designed and very rich visually.

Before the age of video and before they got bought out by Warners for even more access, they’d parody movies a few months after they hit theaters, with uncanny reproductions of specific scenes by brilliant artists like Mort Drucker.

Continue reading “So Long, MAD Magazine”
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4th of July Art: Twilight In The Wilderness by Frederic Edwin Church (1860)

Church was one of the central members of the Hudson River School of 19th century American landscape painters.

We have a beautiful country, don’t we? Church is especially good at capturing the seemingly endless multitude of colors that turn up in those single magical moments of nature when you look at something like the sky or trees or a sunset and suddenly feel a true sense of awe. He does that here in the fiery clouds of the sunset as well as the low light and glow along the greenery, river and mountains in what we can assume is a brighter western distance.

Church was popular and successful during his lifetime, traveling all over the world painting other locales, but always returning to beautiful vistas of upstate New York and the lure of the west beyond.

I like this other one a lot for the colors as well: “The Icebergs” from 1861.

The combo of the eerie green glow with the gray-browns of the water and sky off the whites in the bergs is just plain gorgeous (at least from my safe dry perch and not from the deck of the Titanic). That battered old ship’s mast seems to be pointing at the color-matching rock? or berg? across the way like a dying victim pointing out their murderer. Less a survey of the aftermath of disaster like Friedrich’s Sea of Ice and more a view of the scale of awesome nature versus that small mast of humanity. Nature’ll get ya every time, I guess. Edward Smith would certainly agree.

Church seems really interested in the ways in which the colors and lights reflect off the bergs and the snow, yet he never explored the Impressionist styles that overtook his school of art later in his life. I’ve always found that curious, especially when I look at a work like this one.

Happy 4th! Even in our overly-modern 21st century times, the land (and even the icebergs) are still breathtaking to look at.

Friday Art: Skeletons Fighting Over A Pickled Herring by James Ensor (1891)

There’s really nothing to say about this… except maybe…. I really like pickled herring. I’d fight both those skeletons over it.

Ensor was a Belgian artist who painted lots of offbeat, bizarre and often offensive works (love him already, dontcha?) who grew more popular & attained a lot of accolades and official recognition later in life when the rest of the art world, especially the expressionist movement he helped inspire, caught up to him.

A guy who once made an etching of himself pissing on a wall where graffiti read “Ensor is a madman!” eventually became a Baron.

That’s when Europe was Europe!

He loved painting carnivals, masks, skeletons… and often put them within larger settings or religious imagery. And They Might Be Giants has a song about him!

I think I’ll try to enjoy the rest of my Friday, but it’s as much of a struggle as those skeletons are having, to be honest.

Friday Art: In The Barbershop by Ilya Bolotowsky (1934)

Last week was the dentist, this week I’m getting a haircut.

Bolotowsky was a Russian Jew (YEAH! One of my TRIBE, BUBELAH!!!!) who came to America in 1923. He was mentored by Mondrian and his abstracts are clearly influenced along those lines (no pun intended).

This work was done for the Public Works Art Project of the New Deal, however. The colors are right our of his abstracts palette, for sure – those bright oranges and reds along the walls set against the blue-green of the floor and the bright whites of uniforms, chairs and radiator. I like the mirror-in-mirror effects, especially with the perspective shall we say, not quite the mathematical precision of Brunelleschi is it?

On my way back from errands yesterday, I rooted through a few thrift stores and came up with a couple of decent books, one on silent film and the other on early television. But this guy found a Bolotowsky original at a Goodwill for ten bucks and auctioned it off for nearly 35K. I guess I go to the wrong thrift stores.

And my haircut went better than expected. Check out my new look!

Grrrrrr! Look out, ladies!

Friday Art: The Tooth Puller by Gerritt van Honthorst (1628)

I have a dental appointment today. Hopefully it’ll just be a cleaning and nothing more serious. I’m really hoping it won’t be some 17th century Dutch dude with no gloves, dirty fingernails and a pair of pliers fresh from the manure-covered lug nuts on his ox wagon ripping out one of my molars with no anesthesia while a bunch of slack-jawed wooden shoe heads gaggle and watch.

But you never know. Maybe I don’t brush and floss enough and need some serious Baroque Dutch dentistry.

van Honthorst was a Dutch Golden Age painter who did fairly well in his lifetime. As a Catholic based in the Catholic-tolerant city of Utrecht within Protestant Holland, he did religious work. And similar to Rubens, he ran a big workshop with lotsa apprentices churning out the merchandise. He got some patronage from royalty like Charles I of England and Christian IV of Denmark and painted some portraits and history and the other stuff royalty liked to plaster their palace walls with.

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Four Animated Films Off The Beaten Path Worth Your While (with lotsa clips!)

Funny how we usually still think of animation as a cinematic art form delegated mostly to children’s entertainment. All of the animated features coming from Disney/Pixar or Dreamworks or Ghibli are aimed at kids primarily, with material for adults put in around it all to keep parents interested and build cult following appeal. And usually the best of those films are much, much more for adults in the end – the nostalgia for childhood running through all the Toy Story movies, for example, elevates those films beyond the light-hearted kiddie adventure of talking toys questing after some small thing. Up can’t really be appreciated until you actually develop enough of a sense of your own mortality to relate to the characters. Miyazaki’s films are so multilayered with folk tales, mythology and magic that their complexity outdoes that of mainstream grownup entertainment by a bunch.

The films I watched (one of ’em re-watched after many years) over the last few days fall into the same category – two of them seem to be for kids on the surface but once you start watching, you realize they’re not. And the other two are clearly made for a grownup audience, utilizing forms of animation to accentuate the themes of the story.

Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018) comes from Hungarian artist and (impressively) first-time film maker Milorad Krstic. It’s about a psychologist having nightmares of figures from great works of art trying to kill him – so he recruits some of his criminal patients to steal the actual works for him, figuring that the control of ownership will free him from his dreams. Beyond the interesting ideas on why people enjoy art, or need art, the film follows a lot of the conventions of the modern heist film, with action set pieces, car chases, a nicely woven complex plot with some nice surprises (especially a very ambiguous ending, although the doppelganger-from-my-dream-world theory seems to work here), and interesting characters. Each of the thieves has some sort of psychological problem that turns up in their manner of thievery. Brandt exploits this, but also provides them with artistic paths towards their control over their issues, just like the possession of the art will give him control over his own. The visual style adds a lot to it – the character design mixes elements of Cubism (especially Picasso) and Surrealism, with backgrounds and action mixing both 3D and 2D rendering for an effect of giving us an experience much like one of Ruben’s art dreams.

Check out the trailer!

Even if the trailer, I bet you caught little references to all sorts of stuff beyond the art works too… a little homage to Tarantino here, a little bit of Mission: Impossible there… and there are famous works of art everywhere in the background, either in museum scenes or on t-shirts, posters, ice cubes that look like Hitchcock, you name it… the whole thing feels amazingly original. I can’t really say I’ve seen anything quite like the totality of it, and I liked it a lot.

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Friday Art: The Meeting of Marie de Médicis and Henri IV at Lyon by Peter Paul Rubens (1622-25)

Museums teem with stuff like this, don’t they? Puffy semi-idealized bodies floating on clouds, gazing at each other lovingly under the warmth of a rainbow, surrounded by mythological figures and cherubs and naked torch bearing babies riding lions drawing a chariot…. Good God, it sounds like a party at Kevin Spacey’s house.

Rubens was a master at this classical baroque style, with prolific production of mythological and allegorical scenes. Rubens catalog is over FOURTEEN HUNDRED pieces. This dude WORKED.

And not only at painting, either – he spoke six languages and got very chummy with a lot of the royalty he worked for and painted. And you know, when people sit for portraits, they chat about stuff. And when royalty and ministers and the like chat about stuff to people they think are just artists, they reveal all sorts of inside-court knowledge and even state secrets, especially if the artist charms it out of them.

Which is exactly what Rubens did. He worked as a spy and diplomat all over Europe while at the same time enjoyed the successful life and reputation of being one of the top artists around.

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Friday Art: The Pony Express by Frank Tenney Johnson (1924)

So the other day when I had some free time, I dropped into one of my more preferred dumpy thrift stores and came up with a copy of The Searchers: Making of An American Classic, which looks like it’ll be an interesting read for a buck and a half. Granted, most of it is not about the making of the film (one of my favorite old westerns) but about the true history story that inspired the film: the Comanche kidnapping of Cynthia Parker and how she became one of their tribe, becoming a wife and mother, including a son who became a Comanche chieftain before her Uncle found her after years of searching & took her back against her will.

The film takes that set-up, with Natalie Wood kidnapped and Uncle John Wayne searchin’ and searchin’, while giving us John Ford’s version of the settlement of the west and what sorts of bigotries and barbarities cleared the way for what is presumably a more civilized nation.

So I thought I’d offer one of the kind of American western paintings that inspired a lot of Ford’s imagery – in terms of landscape, character and even lighting. Frank Tenney Johnson’s Pony Express gives us a wonderful night time view of the western wilderness, with a set of mail riders departing from a very lonely looking stone outpost, the kind that’d turn up as a safe stopover for Ford’s Stagecoach passengers, or contain some creepy would-be bushwhackers like Futterman’s general store in The Searchers.

Johnson was mostly known for works like this, where he painted cowboys by moonlight. He gives us a wonderful cloudy moonlit sky against the weak competition of the glowing lamps from inside the outpost. I love the reflection of moonlight off the body of the big brown and white horse in the lead, too.

WHADDYA WANT ME TO DO, SPELL IT OUT FOR YA? DRAW YA A PICTURE? DON’T EVER ASK ME ABOUT IT AGAIN!

That’ll be the day.

Friday Art: Sleeping Woman by Oscar Kokoschka (1917)

Most of Kokoschka’s works are considered German Expressionism, an art form I always associate with black and white/ light and shadow, since I’m such a film nerd. Kokoschka’s works are often in brilliant bright colors, although his themes (especially his antiwar paintings) are right in line with the themes usually found in expressionist art. But sometimes he’d paint in other styles, like with some amazingly bright and fiery colored landscapes and city views, and this guy traveled all over after fleeing his native Austria after the Nazis moved in and declared him decadent.

He’d also paint some primitivist works, some of my favorites of his, like this one. They remind me of Matisse in some ways, Picasso in others (this one for its subject matter), and they’re just pleasing on the eye. I like how I’m not sure if she’s sleeping in some public city park, on an island in the middle of the fish pond, with the wall off to one side and some woods beyond the buildings…. or if we’re seeing the wild variations of her flowing dreamscape all around her as she sleeps. Maybe it’s both.

I like how the colors are all blocks and shapes of some sort set against that black background. Whether it’s her dress or the bricks in the wall or the trees, even the lines of flowing water – they’re all separate blocks of some sort. It reminds me of an elementary school art class exercise we did with crayons – we drew some colorful scene on paper, and then completely covered it with black crayon. And then, we used toothpicks or some safe-for-twerps sharp object to scrape away parts of the black crayon to reveal the colors underneath, setting them off against that darkness. Kokoschka gets the same effect here.

I plan to sleep a lot this holiday weekend. Not sure if I’ll dream of scary red fish swimming around me and deer in the distance, tho. I’ll keep you posted.

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