Tag Archives: grotesque

RIP Gahan Wilson (1930 – 2019)

In the United States, Gahan Wilson died. I saw his death announced on the Facebook page of Tim Lucas.

Gahan Wilson was an American author, cartoonist and illustrator.

The Sea was Wet as Wet Could Be” (1967).

I was unacquainted with the work of Wilson. Dave Letterman introduced him in the 1980s as the “guru of gruesome, wizard of the weird and the Michelangelo of the macabre.”

Me being European, Wilson reminds me of Tomi Ungerer (1931- 2019) or Roland Topor (1938-1997) and perhaps more of Topor, since like Topor, Wilson was not political.

Wilson’s appearance at David Letterman’s (March 30, 1982) when he published Is Nothing Sacred?.

Wilson is regarded as the only heir of Charles Addams (1912-1988) and often mentioned in one breath with Edward Gorey (1925-2000) .

The epithet ‘sick humor‘ sometimes pops up, although I have to disagree on this one, as, as a European, I am used to Hara Kiri, most likely the epitome of 20th century sick humor.

Since I found out about his death, I watched the “The Waitress” episode of The Kid (2001) and Wilson’s appearance at David Letterman’s (March 30, 1982) when he published Is Nothing Sacred?. I also listened to a reading of the wonderful story “The Sea was Wet as Wet Could Be” (1967).

“The Waitress” episode of The Kid (2001)

His cartoon “I am an insane eye doctor and I am going to kill you now…” is frequently cited as of his best work. In it, a non-suspecting man reading an optometrist’s ‘eye examination’ with the text cited is approached from behind by a knife wielding optometrist.

There are body horror elements in his work and the cartoon “Harry, I really think you ought to go to the doctor.”, in which Harry is a regular man with the head of a prawn, is positively Lovecraftian.

RIP Paul “The Realist” Krassner (1932 – 2019)

Paul Krassner February 1967 interview by Joe Pyne

Paul Krassner was an American author, satirist and political activist, founder of the freethought magazine The Realist (1958-2001) and a key figure in the counterculture of the 1960s.

He is famous for writing “The Parts That Were Left Out of the Kennedy Book” (1967), “My Acid Trip with Groucho” (1981) and for designing/and/or/distributing the FUCK COMMUNISM! (1963) and Disneyland Memorial Orgy (1967) poster.

He was severely criticized by Robin Morgan in 1970 in “Goodbye to All That“:

“Goodbye to lovely “pro-Women’s Liberationist” Paul Krassner, with all his astonished anger that women have lost their sense of humor”on this issue” and don’t laugh any more at little funnies that degrade and hurt them: farewell to the memory of his “Instant Pussy” aerosol-can poster[1], to his column for the woman-hating men’s magazine Cavalier, to his dream of a Rape-In against legislators’ wives, to his Scapegoats and Realist Nuns and cute anecdotes about the little daughter he sees as often as any properly divorced Scarsdale middle-aged father; goodbye forever to the notion that a man is my brother who, like Paul, buys a prostitute for the night as a birthday gift for a male friend, or who, like Paul, reels off the names in alphabetical order of people in the women’s movement he has fucked, reels off names in the best locker-room tradition—as proof that he’s no sexist oppressor.”– “Goodbye to All That” (1970) by Robin Morgan

The entire issue where he is depicted with a spray can of “instant pussy” referred to, can be read here[2].

RIP Bruce Bickford (1947 – 2019)

Bruce Bickford was an American animator, who worked primarily in clay animation. From 1974 to 1980, he collaborated with Frank Zappa.

Bickford’s animation was featured extensively in the Frank Zappa videos Baby Snakes and The Dub Room Special.

Zappa also released a video titled The Amazing Mr. Bickford, which was entirely composed of Bickford animations set to a soundtrack of Zappa’s orchestral music.

Grotesques in Antwerp

The Antwerp Plantin-Moretus Museum currently hosts Grotesques. A fascinating fantasy world.

Highlights include four of the Pourtraicture ingenieuse de plusieurs façon de Masques by Cornelis Floris de Vriendt and two prints of caricatures by Philippe de Soye and Hans Liefrinck I after Leonardo da Vinci.

Some photographic impressions can be found below.

See also: Flemish fantastique and grotesque

RIP Edgar Hilsenrath (1926 – 2018)

German writer Edgar Hilsenrath is best-known for his novel The Nazi and the Barber (1971), the story of a German SS mass murderer, who after the war assumes a Jewish identity and escapes to Israel and becomes a zionist. The story is told from his perspective and describes the atrocities he committed.

The Nazi and the Barber (1971), Manor Books edition of 1973.


It is supposedly both funny and gruesome, which earns it its label ‘grotesque’.

American grotesque

American Grotesque: The Life and Art of William Mortensen (2014)
[Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

I discovered the work of American photographer William Mortensen in May 2005 via the photo Human Relations. It is the photo of the face of a man whose eyes are gouged out by the pointing fingers of one hand.

Coming November Feral House is to publish American Grotesque: The Life and Art of William Mortensen.

A fitting title.

Although it could also have been named American Surrealism …

When I think about the American grotesque, I think of Poe and Bierce, of Weegee and Arbus, of Ren and Stimpy.

And perhaps now of William Mortensen.

PS. On the cover is L’Amour, an offshoot of the dark fin de siècle fascination with human female/ape contact.

World cinema classic #178

closing credits sequence of Dogville

Yesterday, I watched Dogville (2003) on DVD with my daughter, who had to watch it for her final year in high school. Her assignment: searching for Brechtian alienation elements. That wasn’t hard: the whole film is an attack on the suspension of disbelief.

I’d previously seen the von Trier film in the cinema and that time I had missed the importance of the closing credits sequence [above] with images of poverty-stricken Americans taken from Jacob Holdt’s social documentary photography book American Pictures (1977) and accompanied by David Bowie’s song “Young Americans.”

The film is an indictment of the hypocrisy of small town morality. Its most dislikable character is Tom Edison Jr., the wannabe writer, would be philosopher and cowardly lover who abuses Grace’s trust time after time.

Von Trier’s tale reminded me both of Thomas Hardy and the misery of Jude the Obscure and of the festering perversion in the small town of Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss.

The film is a masterpiece. But bleak.

I’ve added it to my film canon: the World Cinema Classics list where it sits next to District 9 and Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde.

François Rabelais and bodily fluids

He Did Cry Like a Cow

I have this thing with bodily fluids.

So does François Rabelais and it seems to me even more, his chief theorist Bakhtin, whose emphasis on excreta such as blood, sweat and tears is … well … emphatic.

In one of Doré’s illustrations of Gargantua and Pantagruel, the perverse emphasis on bodily fluids is hyperbolically administered. The print is informally titled He Did Cry Like a Cow and depicts the “grief wherewith Gargantua was moved at the decease of his wife Badebec.”

In my perverse imagination, the tears of Gargantua become drops of sweat or even sperm in a similar way that Yoshifumi Hayashi depicts those excretions of the lower bodily stratum.

On the originary date of ‘Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe’

Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe by Eugène Bataille (Sapeck) (page from the book Le rire, source Gallica.bnf.fr)

I’ve been fascinated by the Incoherents since I first stumbled upon them in 2007[1][2].

After becoming a member of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp library some weeks ago, I have been able to consult two seminal books on that movement’s history: the Arts incoherents, academie du derisoire exhibition catalog (1992) by Luce Abélès/Catherine Charpin and The Spirit of Montmartre: Cabarets, Humor and the Avant-Garde, 1875-1905 (1996) by Phillip Dennis Cate.

Object of my research was to check the dates of works I consider canonical to the proto-avant-garde, dates which I previous held to be the neat series of 1882, 1883 and 1884.

It’s a pity, but I’ve had to adjust that series to 1882, 1883 and 1887: Negroes Fighting in a Tunnel at Night (1882), Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man (1884) and Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe (1887).

According to my research, Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe by Sapeck, which is still listed over at Wikipedia as originating in 1883 and erroneously titled as Le rire, in fact first saw the light of day in 1887, in the book Le Rire by Coquelin cadet.

Wikipedia is not the only reference work in error. The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines erroneously states that this Mona Lisa was first shown in 1883 at the second “Incohérents” exhibition.

What is the importance of this augmented Mona Lisa?

Simple.

Perhaps the invention of high art with capital ‘A’ coincided with the first blows of its ridicule. This augmented Mona Lisa was a desecration, a violation, a rape of its masterpiece: the Mona Lisa proper by da Vinci.

Think about it.

The gaping mouths of Goya

Los Chinchillas from Los Caprichos by Francisco de Goya

Los Chinchillas from Los Caprichos by Francisco de Goya

I’m reading Rabelais and His World and I’m taking notes as I go along.

There is much repetition of the tropes of Rabelais in Bakhtin’s book. For example, the term dismemberment is mentioned about twenty times and gaping about ten times. The grotesque body and what it stands for is explained over and over again.

It suddenly occurred to me that Francisco Goya is the specialist of the gaping mouth.The mouth which is wide open. Incidentally, gaping means yawning in my language (Dutch).

 This morning I looked up the combination Goya/gaping/mouth.

British art critic David Sylvester came to the same conclusion:

“The mouth plays a role in Goya‘s art more prominent than in that of any other major artist. Mouths leer, grin, gape, gasp, moan, shriek, belch. A hanged man’s mouth lies open and a woman reaches up to filch his teeth. Grown men stick fingers in their mouths like sucking infants. Mouths vomit, the sick gushing out of them, and a great furry beast sicks up a pile of human bodies. Mouths guzzle: they guzzle avidly, ferociously, living flesh as well as dead. Saturn grips one of his children in his fists and with his mouth tears him limb from limb.”

One can add to this the Lazarillo painting and the Caprichos There Is Plenty to SuckYa es horaEstan calientes and the force-fed Chinchillas. And from the Desastres: the vomiting man in Para eso habeis nacido and the vomiting monster of Fiero Monstruo!