Basil Wolverton

New York, Gladstone Gallery, Basil Wolverton, June-August 2009

"The only fascinating landscape on this earth is the human face." —Klaus Kinski

Basil Wolverton, "Beautiful Girl of the Month," MAD, # 11. 1954. Collage and ink on paper, 72.4 x 58.4 cm. Glenn Bray Archive-Collection

Gladstone Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition by American graphic artist and cartoonist Basil Wolverton curated by Cameron Jamie. Basil Wolverton submitted his first cartoon for publication in 1925 when he was only sixteen and remained an active cartoonist from the 1940s through to the 1970s. His unique and humorously grotesque drawings reveal both his fantastic wit and inventive technique, once famously described in LIFE Magazine as the "spaghetti and meatball school of design."

Wolverton had no formal training as an artist, creating his own style that distinguished him from the other cartoonists of his generation. As he said, "I know I draw things that look like all kinds of organs and glands, it is like the monkey which, if he pounded away for a million years, might accidentally type out the 'Star Spangled Banner' lyrics." Generations of artists including Peter Saul, Ed Ruscha, Robert Williams, Jim Shaw, Mike Kelley, and Cameron Jamie have been influenced by his meticulous technique and pictorial freedom, in addition to its undeniable impact on numerous cartoonists from R. Crumb to Drew Friedman.

This exhibition includes a wide spectrum of Wolverton's work from his earliest drawings published in numerous comic books, including "Spacehawk" and "Powerhouse Pepper," to his very detailed caricatures, with sculpted and exaggerated features. Perhaps the most famous body of work in the exhibition are his drawings for Harvey Kurtzman's comic-book version of MAD Magazine from the 1950s. Also included are portraits made for Topps Chewing Gum in the 1960s, which appeared on bubble gum posters and stickers. [...]

Born in 1909 in Central Point, Oregon, Basil Wolverton resided for most of his life in the Pacific Northwest until his death in 1978. His work has been published in a variety of magazines and comic books, from MAD Magazine, America’s Humor Magazine, The Portland News, Plop! and Hollywood Today. His work has been featured in Timely Comics, Circus Comics and Target Comics. He also contributed to the Li'l Abner Comic Strip and LIFE Magazine. In 2006, his work was exhibited at The Portland Art Center in Oregon and in 2007 the CSUF Grand Art Center in Santa Ana, California presented a solo exhibition of Wolverton’s oeuvre from the collection of Glenn Bray. The works selected and presented in this exhibition are also from Bray's private archive/collection.

George, 1955. Ink on paper, 29.2 x 36.8 cm. Glenn Bray Archive-Collection

Linus Sinus, 1971. Ink on paper, 36.8 x 29.2 cm. Glenn Bray Archive-Collection

Nell No-Smell, 1972. Ink on paper, 43.2 x 50.8 cm. Glenn Bray Archive-Collection

Joel Holehead, 1972. Ink on paper, 43.2 x 50.8 cm. Glenn Bray Archive-Collection

Eyeball Doctor, 1956. Ink on paper, 35.6 x 30.5 cm. Glenn Bray Archive-Collection

Cameron Jamie. Eyeballs pulled and ripped out of their sockets, rotten zigzagged buck teeth pointed in every crooked direction, wild scraggly yarn hair, faces and bodies pulled inside and out twisted into abstract knots distorted beyond recognition: Basil Wolverton is my Picasso. I discovered Wolverton's "spaghetti and meatballs" style of humorously grotesque art for the first time when I was a kid in the 1970s. His bubblegum cards and comic books became staples of my visual diet, and it has never quite been the same again. I found my first serious interest in fine art through digesting Basil Wolverton’s visual entree. Countless other artists and freaks around the country entered Wolverton’s revolving door and were likewise liberated by his grotesque style, which I believe became meaningful and inspirational as an existential canon for artistic creation. In other words, Basil Wolverton’s art inspired and equaled freedom of artistic expression. Who had ever heard of ugly pride?
Basil Wolverton created some of the most humorous and horrifically uncanny depictions of humans (if you could call them that) ever drawn on paper. He takes our basic facial ornaments—the eyes, ears, nose, head, hair—and literally destroys them if only to rebuild the face way passed the point of no return and into his own uniquely distorted configurations. Wolverton's horrific and mind-bending portraits are closer to the vision of a mannerist sculptor who slaps, knocks, punches, bends, and kicks masterfully odd shapes out of the human face and body to create another type of humanoid. Considering that Basil Wolverton’s art has influenced generations of artists in virtually all graphic and visual fields during the last gasp of the 20th century, his absence from LA MoCA's 2005 "Masters of American Comics" exhibition was a shocking omission. Repairing this blindspot is another of many reasons that I have wanted to curate an exhibition entirely devoted to Basil Wolverton’s work.
[...] I consider these drawings to be some of Wolverton's masterpieces where his monstrous style matched the fantastic nature of the subject matter. [...]
So please pull out your eyeballs and knock your brains out of your skull to the art of Basil Wolverton. He's one of the good guys.

Gladstone Gallery, New York
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