R Crumb - Selected Press | David Zwirner

R. Crumb

- Selected Press

Hello All,

I am Nicholas Gazin, VICE's comics know-it-all. Don't nobody know more about comic booking than old Nick Gazin. This is my weekly column in which I tell you what's good and what's bad, what's wheat and what's chaff, what's necessary and what's trivial.

Here are reviews of five things I was sent in the mail.

I receive many fine things in the mail every day for free. In the past month, I got a new pair of Doc Martens, a G-Shock watch, 50 THC cookies, and about a hundred books and comics. It's like I wished on a lucky monkey's paw, and now I get cool stuff in the mail, but instead of bringing happiness, it just makes it harder for me to appreciate the value of objects. However, when I opened the box containing this book, I was so bowled over that I blacked out and hit my head. There was blood everywhere, and when I came to, my cat was lapping up the scarlet puddle that had pooled around my head.

This book collects all three of R Crumb's Art & Beauty Magazines in a hardcover, slipcased volume that has been hand-numbered by someone, probably an intern, and signed by R Crumb himself. I got #348.

The book is full of pretty drawings of ladies by R Crumb, some drawn from life, some drawn from photos. Almost all have giant legs and butts and are accompanied by Crumb's written commentary on why he thought they were worth drawing. Drawing pretty ladies is pretty standard stuff in the visual arts, and Crumb is one of the great treasures of illustration. Crumb's drawings in this book not only show why women are beautiful, but why life is beautiful. I'm glad he exists and shares his drawings with the world. I'm glad this book exists. I'm glad it is mine.

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In 1996, Robert Crumb (popularly known as R. Crumb), one of the most acclaimed comics artists of the 1960s underground comics movement, released a series of full-page black-and-white drawings as a one-volume collection called Art and Beauty Magazine, originally published by Kitchen Sink Press. A second volume of Art and Beauty drawings was published in 2003 by Fantagraphics.

In July, David Zwirner Books, the publishing division of David Zwirner Gallery, a major New York City contemporary art dealer, will publish a complete hardcover edition of Art and Beauty Magazine that will collect the previous two volumes, as well as a third volume of drawings done for the series that have never been published.

Although not comics, the drawings in Art and Beauty Magazine are classic Crumb renditions: full-figured women, clothed and nude, rendered in bold lines and detailed crosshatching that vividly delineate their forms. Needless to say, the women—among them his wife, Aline; friends; athletes; and photos of Crumb-proportioned strangers—are spectacularly voluptuous, drawn doing everything from sitting around the house to contorting themselves into impossible poses.

The book also serves as a deluxe catalogue for an exhibition of the original drawings from the book that opened at David Zwirner Gallery in London during the London Book Fair. David Zwirner Books is an art book publisher based in New York that publishes about 20 books a year. The house is distributed by DAP in North America and Thames & Hudson in the U.K. and Europe.

Although Crumb's last hardcover work, The Book of Genesis Illustrated, published in 2009 by W.W. Norton, was a bestseller that sold more than 150,000 copies, David Zwirner Books will release an initial printing of 5,000 copies of Art and Beauty for North America and the U.K./Europe. The house is also publishing a limited edition of 400 copies for collectors, which will include a signed book plate.

Why such a modest print run for one of the world’s most popular cartoonists? Crumb's literary agent, Lora Fountain, said the cartoonist wanted "a high-quality [book] edition to be the catalogue of the London exhibition." But Crumb also liked the small publishing house and its young editor, Lucas Zwirner, the son of the gallery owner/publisher David Zwirner. She said Crumb expected that the David Zwirner Books edition of Art and Beauty Magazine would reach "a very different public from Robert's usual fan base."

Lucas Zwirner agreed. "Crumb's art is more than just eroticism; it's about honesty, desire, and the elimination of shame. Young people respond to his drawings and to the text." Zwirner said he is prepared to go back to press if demand warrants. Zwirner first met with Crumb's agent before visiting the artist at his home in France, and the two hit it off. He also said that Crumb was able to oversee the books' production, another advantage offered by the small press. "He worked on every aspect of the book. It's his baby," Zwirner said. "Aline says it's the only book he hasn't complained about."

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Robert Crumb is caught in traffic, allowing us time to snoop out the best place for a photoshoot in the upmarket London gallery where more than 50 of his pictures are on display. It all looks so well mannered, this orderly line of black-and-white illustrations, and then you peer into the pictures and the familiar rude energy comes roistering out.

We decide that we will place him between an erotic rear view of the tennis player Serena Williams and a homely portrait of his wife of almost 40 years, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, in bed with her laptop. Aline is the chunky brunette who features in so much of Robert's work - not least in the three issues of Art & Beauty magazine that are the subject of this exhibition.

It is Robert, not Aline, who I have come to interview, and whose pictures are on sale at a starting price of $30,000 (£20,800), but their art is so intertwined that it's hard to understand either in isolation. One collaboration, unprecedented in the history of comics or indeed any art, had husband and wife each drawing themselves in the throes of sex with each other.

As we wait for the great man to arrive, Lucas Zwirner, the 25-year-old editor of the gallery's publishing outlet, gives a learned explanation of the appeal of Crumb's work to a new generation. "What's exciting about the work is his openness to his own desire and erotics," he enthuses. "There's something irreconcilable at the heart of the work that doesn't resolve towards a single vision of beauty, and which is at odds with much contemporary art. It's about seduction and repulsion. You are drawn into the work and you are judging yourself as you look at it."

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Confessions of Robert Crumb is a 1987 documentary picking over the life of America's greatest living cartoonist. It opens with Crumb and his wife sitting on the doorstep of their idyllic little-house-on-the-prairie style home, skilfully fingerpicking a jaunty bluegrass tune on banjo and guitar. When the music comes to an end, Crumb turns to camera.

"Hello." He says, expressionless. "My name is Robert Crumb and this is my wife Aline. We are underground cartoonists."

"On the surface our life appears to be really quaint and charming," Aline says.

"Yes. Doesn't it," Crumb says. "But underneath it's a steaming cauldron of sexual perversion, drugs and twisted neurosis." He picks up his banjo and begins to play again.

This mix of salacious pay off and deadpan self-mockery is quintessential Crumb. The Godfather of American underground comics has been staining paper with the contents of his wry, sordid mind for more than half a century. And whilst it's true that he's created a canon from pen and ink that pulsates with sexual perversion, drugs and twisted neurosis, to describe it merely as such undersells Crumb's rare gift for satire, his merciless self-examination and his remarkable work rate. In terms of quantity alone there is no one else who has been as consistent—he scripted, drew and self-released his first comic in 1958, aged 15, and hasn't stopped working since.

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Pop culture can be comical—and this artist takes that description literally.

Legendary cartoonist R.Crumb transformed photos of celebrities like Coco Austin, Lady Gaga, Serena Williams and Paris Hilton into something out of a comic strip in drawings from his Art & Beauty magazines.

The result? Seeing some of your favorite females take on new life as carefully-drawn cartoons—and looking seriously badass.

In honor of the completion of the third volume in the series, David Zwirner Gallery in London is displaying the largest collection of Crumb's work to date, as well as publishing all three of the Art & Beauty magazines.

In the illustrations, Lady Gaga is on stage, crowd surfing atop of thousands of adoring fans.

Austin is mega-muscular in the gym.

Williams is preparing to smash a ball on the court (not too far off from reality!) and later, flaunting her toned physique on the beach.

And Hilton is in her prime, on the beach, in stilettos and big sunglasses circa 2006—as she should be.

R.Crumb's Art & Beauty is currently on display at David Zwirner Gallery in London. If you can't make it across the pond, Art & Beauty is available on David Zwirner Books.

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Robert Crumb is the world's most famous underground cartoonist. So much so that the 72-year-old doesn't really count as 'underground' any more, having long ago left the countercultural 'comix' scene and moved into the realm of art galleries. Along the way, his subject matter has expanded too, from his original, acid-fried strips of the 1960s, through documentary forays into the lives of obscure blues musicians and Kafka, to his recent magisterial, comic-book version of the Book of Genesis.

One aspect that hasn't changed much over time, though, is his sexual fantasies. Crumb has always been the most lascivious of artists, happy to give full rein to his erotic imagination. And it's very particular type of woman he goes for: muscular, beefy, posteriorly ample. Think, essentially, Serena Williams. At the start of his career, his fetishistic caricatures were often regarded as misogynistic. But in his 'Art & Beauty' series, produced from the mid-'90s onwards and shown in its near entirety here, his vision of women is much more respectful, even reverential.

Williams herself features amongst the 54 works on display, as do other sports stars, their powerful, athletic poses taken from newspapers. Mobile phone snaps are another source—sexualised selfies posted online, or street shots of random, strong-looking girls—while other works depict life models. Small and monochrome, the drawings reflect Crumb's mature, realist style, using intense crosshatching, and often incorporate appended text—quotes from famous artists, or Crumb's own, philosophical ruminations on femininity.

The results are complex and contradictory—obsessional and voyeuristic, yet oddly sweet; determinedly tongue-in-cheek (the title, 'Art & Beauty', stems from a nudie mag of 'artists' models'), yet deeply sincere. In other words, it's a fascinating, nuanced, multi-faceted body of work—and a testament to one of the world's most unique artists at the height of his powers.

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This April, David Zwirner will present R. Crumb's inaugural exhibition at the gallery in London, featuring drawings from his Art & Beauty magazines. Initially published in 1996, the artist recently completed the highly anticipated third volume in the series, and the show marks the largest presentation of the project to date.

One of today’s most celebrated illustrators, Crumb helped define the cartoon and punk subcultures of the 1960s and 1970s with comic strips like Fritz the CatMr. Natural, and Keep on Truckin’. The overt eroticism of his work paired with frequent self-deprecation and a free, almost stream-of-consciousness style have solidified his position as a renowned and influential artist, whose work addresses the absurdity of social conventions and political disillusionment.

Combining iconography from comic books, art history, and popular culture, Art & Beauty portrays a broad selection of images of female figures in diverse settings. The inspiration for the series is linked to Crumb’s avid collecting of vintage underground paraphernalia including records, flipbooks, and specifically, Art & Beauty, a catalogue published during the 1920s and 1930s featuring semi-erotic images of life models for art lovers and aspiring painters—an early example of a top-shelf magazine.

Following a similar format as the older publication, Crumb has selected his own cast of female figures from tabloid celebrities, sport stars, life models, friends, and strangers, and accompanied them with journalistic-style commentary and quotations from other artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Paul Cézanne, and Andy Warhol. The poetic, even philosophical, prose mirrors the romanticized language of the former magazine, but becomes tinged with a subtle sarcasm and self-mockery that destabilizes the relationship between image and caption. Crumb humorously lets his own obsessions and fantasies merge with cultural stereotypes and bigotries from the past and present to create an at once personal and exaggerated typography of women.

In the works from the latest volume, presented here for the first time, Crumb continues to investigate the intersection of art and beauty through drawings based on photographs from magazines, life studies, and in a departure from the earlier issues, camera phone snapshots from city streets and selfies purportedly emailed to the artist. Women close to the artist are prominently featured, including his wife Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Eden Brower of Eden and John's East River String Band, a group Crumb often performs with, as are household names such as the tennis player Serena Williams and reality television personality Coco.

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The American cartoonist Robert Crumb's first U.K. solo exhibition in over a decade opens to the public in London on Friday—and features pictures from the latest volume of his "Art and Beauty" magazine series, which has previously seen Crumb faithfully reproduce imagery of women taken from mass media or life studies. Now, he adds cellphone street photos and his fans' selfies to his wellsprings of inspiration.

"The source material is evolving," says the art dealer Paul Morris, the founding director of New York's Armory Show and a longtime friend of Crumb's, who wrote the introduction to "Art & Beauty Magazine: Drawings by R. Crumb," a collected volume published to coincide with David Zwirner's show here. "Now, Robert is receiving images from friends and family from their phones. So you're getting a much larger cast of characters to work from, and it's also more street photography—a little bit of Weegee infused into it."

The exhibition, spread across two floors, mostly sees 72-year-old Crumb pay homage to a variety of women, including the muscular, statuesque ones with whose figures he has long been obsessed. Subjects include musician Eden Brower, a member of the country-blues group Eden and John's East River String Band, with whom Crumb sometimes plays mandolin, and the tennis player Serena Williams, pictured on a public beach in a bikini with her hands held aloft. A pair of pen-and-ink studies of a semi-naked model taking selfies were received via a message on the artist's website. "The girl depicted took these 'selfies' in a mirror, having seen the many published works of the artist," writes Crumb in blocky caps on the page next to her. "She ended with, 'It would be a big pleasure to be a part of your art.' In reply we can only say, the pleasure is ours."

"It might be fascinating for him to have someone contemplating themselves and taking those pictures," Morris adds. "There is something of an eroticized moment when you're watching somebody else getting turned on by themselves, so to speak."

Crumb's talent for crosshatching complements his thick ink outlines, which round away the photorealism of his sources, lending them a simplified, exaggerated form. According to the gallery, "Art & Beauty" is named after "a catalog published during the 1920s and 1930s featuring semi-erotic images of life models for art lovers." Next to his pictures, Crumb has copied quotations from other artists, including Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol, and composed overwrought descriptions of his own draftsmanship, mocking the intellectualization of erotica and pop culture. "Behold this disgusting display, vividly captured by some alert photographer, of unruly mob celebrity worship," he writes of Lady Gaga, apparently crowd-surfing at the music festival Lollapalooza in Chicago in 2010.

Morris has worked with Crumb since 1999 and says the artist, who built his reputation on irreverence and countercultural comics, remains pertinent, highlighting the potential influence of his output on American painters including Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin. "The content and context of his work has been influential for many years," he says. "He stays relevant because he doesn't hide anything. As he evolves through time, so do his images."

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The American cartoon artist and satirist R. Crumb, 72, began making handmade comic books as a teenager. Later, the characters he created for counterculture zines, such as Fritz the Cat, the Keep On Truckin' guy, Devil Girl and Mr Natural, helped define the cartoon and punk subcultures of the Sixties and Seventies. In the Nineties he moved to France with his wife, Aline, where he continues to produce original comics and drawings. An exhibition of his 1991 magazine Art and Beauty, a satirical take on aesthetics and sexuality, goes on show at David Zwirner, London, on Friday.

I seldom get up early because I always stay up very late.
I am often in my keenest mental state at 2.30 or 3am.  Plus I have negative associations with getting up early: school and job.

I try to meditate for 35 minutes every morning but don't always succeed.
I've learned that I need meditation to keep life from overwhelming me, to maintain some calm and detachment. As [Charles] Bukowski once wrote, "When I bend down to tie my shoes in the morning I think, 'Christ almighty, what now?'"

Next I have my bread and jam with tea, which I eat while reading.
Then I spend varying amounts of time procrastinating before knuckling down to work.  Some appalling percentage of waking hours are piddled away in procrastination, but such is human life.

I don't own a computer or a cell phone.
I have a part-time secretary to whom I give handwritten letters. She then types them up and sends them out by electronic mail. She also prints out any emails I receive and gives them to me on paper. At this point I think it's too late for me to learn how to use a computer.  Plus I have zero desire to learn how to use these infernal devices. I like paper.

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Serena Williams's serving arm stretches so far behind her that she's close to patting her own behind with her racket. The pose also means that the tennis player's chest is thrust forward. If this image—drawn by R. Crumb in 2002 and pictured here—feels overtly sexualised, then that's because it is: his portraits of star sportswomen are lessons in objectification. Nor is anything less to be expected from the seasoned underground comix artist: he is way into his half-century preoccupation with sex, drugs and scatology. We should not let Crumb—or the viewer—off the hook by veiling this in irony, though. In another work, a female bodybuilder—all bulging thighs and rounded posterior—is described in a handwritten caption as "an inspiring vision to the artist". Crumb is sincere in his ardour, knowing in his politics.

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