Category Archives: parody

American Parody: Gothic Gets a Makeover

 

"American Gothic" by Grant Wood

 

Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” has got to be the most parodied painting in the world. Must be the appeal of tweaking an icon, over and over and over….

I like parody. I’d rather see parody with purpose, but ever since I was a kid and discovered Wacky Packages, the idea of transforming a well known visual into something new has had major appeal to me. Even for no reason at all, it’s kind of fun. It mesmerizes people… trips up the brain for just a second, if it’s done well.

It took a while for the painting to achieve icon status. Painted 1930, Wood entered it into a competition in the Art Institute of Chicago. It earned a bronze medal (plus a $300 prize for the artist), and the Institute bought the painting. Backlash arrived like a fist in the face when Iowans (the painting was set in the Hawkeye State) felt that Wood was mocking them as grim, bloodless rubes. Wood insisted he wasn’t, but many assumed his work was part of a trend toward caricaturing rural American life as old-fashioned, repressed, backward. The artist denied this charge, aligning himself during the depression with Midwest artists like John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton, who celebrated the tough, straightforward American spirit in their works.

Parodies of the painting started popping up soon, from the serious to the the frivolous. Here’s a slew of ’em for you.

 

Gordon Parks (1942)

 

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The Lineage of My Artwork

Show alert: the fall group exhibition at BWAC (aka: The Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition, “Where EVERYBODY Can Be a Contenda!”) opens on September 25. Over 300 artists are showing their stuff and the theme is LINEAGE. As in your own, personal artistic lineage.

Artists are providing narrative sheets to display with their work, explaining the significance of the pieces they choose to show. The idea is to enlighten the viewer concerning their artistic development, path, history. I’ll share mine here, along with images of the four pieces I have in the show. Hope to see you on the afternoon of the 25th. It’s in Red Hook, waaaaay down at the south end of Van Brunt, in the civil-war era warehouse across from Fairway. Come for the art, stay for the unbeatable deal on brisket– this week only $8.99 a pound!

Bing!

For BWAC’s Lineage show I chose four pieces that illustrate my own personal artistic lineage from cartoonist to pop painter: a lover of humor, nostalgia and place.

First we have “Domm Da Dom Domm”, an homage to two of the finest cartoonists America has ever produced: Harvey Kurtzman and William Elder. Like so many others, I started drawing thanks to Mad magazine, and have maintained the touch of a cartoonist ever since. Kurtzman was the editor of Mad back in the 1950s and Elder was one of his stable of cartoon superstars. This painting is a faithful reproduction of a panel from their classic 1954 spoof of the TV show Dragnet, with its heavy-handed theme music – “Domm da dom-domm! (pause, pause, pause, pause) Dommm da dom-dom-DOMMMM!” ­– which blasted forth at even the slightest dramatic provocation.

"Domm Da Dom Domm," after Kurtzman & Elder

Thanks to guys like Kurtzman and Elder (and Mad magazine in general, and Wacky Packages, and Stan Freberg, and SNL, etc), parody and lampoon became a standard part of my artistic voice. And like all guys in their 20s, I read the beat classics by Jack Kerouac. He was trying to use the typewriter like Charlie Parker played the sax. I wondered what an LP would look like if Kerouac had been a musician instead of a writer. It would have been released by Blue Note, of course, with a cover in the style of designer Reid Miles. Neal surely would have been Jack’s sideman, and it would have featured Ginsberg, Orlovsky and Burroughs, too. “On the Road LP” (a print of an original painting) is a perfect example of parody in my work.

"On the Road LP"

Pop art and San Francisco played major roles in my evolution as an artist, and they’re both part of “7-Up There” (here as a print of my original acrylic on canvas painting). Warhol, Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg, Ruscha… all those pop artists made the whole messy modern world look like art, and when I lived in SF I felt like I was in a pop art museum 24/7, snapping hundreds of pictures during my two years there. One that I took in North Beach (turf of the beats) featured a remarkable 7-Up sign from the 1970s, mounted on a Victorian storefront/home. Double nostalgia, double pop art. And San Francisco is where I started painting in earnest (as opposed to exclusively cartooning), so as a place it’s an important part of my artistic story, too

"7-Up There"

“Blue Front” typifies my love of line, pop art, street scenes and another place near and dear to my heart: Ann Arbor, Michigan. As an undergrad I shopped at Blue Front and years later, when I returned to Ann Arbor to live, I noticed they still had their old Pepsi sign out front, along with the classic wall-painting from the 1930s still in tact. I took a picture on a November day (typically grey, clean and chilly) and reinterpreted it in acrylic on canvas. I had my first art show in Ann Arbor, and it will always be an important part of who I am, as a person and an artist.

"Blue Front"

There you have it. Be there on Sept. 25 or, you know, be an equiangular, equilateral, quadrilateral. Glayvin. Bur-HOY!

In Frink We Trvst

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Trivial But True: Bulldog Glasses Arrive in New Orleans

Last year I posted about designing a pint glass for the Bulldog, a beer bar on Magazine Street in New Orleans. They go through something like 30 million glasses a year, so they call on The Public for graphics. If they choose to run one of yours, you get braggin’ rights, a shirt and gift certificates, which, like money, can be exchanged for goods or beer service.

Well… they picked one of mine and printed them up earlier this year. Joey the manager mailed me one and I thought some of y’all might want to take a look-see, since I had a lot of comments on the original post.

The Bulldog Glass

Winston Bulldog

Trivia Corner:

According to bulldoginformation.com, some crazy bastard may have invented the breed by instigating the union of a mastiff and a PUG. A freaking PUG. (What kind of a sick, twisted…?) Anyway, the dog was bred to guard, fight and bait bulls, which was, it is said, mandated by law before slaughter, as it was scientifically known to “enhaynce the Nutricione and Flayvoure of the Beefe.” And that’s the neat thing about science. It’s never, EVER wrong. Except when it’s in the past. Which is now in the future. But not now now. Ergo, current science is never wrong. I know this. Scientists themselves have admitted as much.

Bing!

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“Three French Hens” (of the New Wave Cinema) SOLD

“Three French Hens” (from Clucquot’s 1962 New Wave classic, “The 400 Pecks”)

Following the theme of the birds in “The 12 Days of Christmas” (the dozen days leading up to Epiphany on January 6, by the way), we’re down to those three French hens. Those three mysterious French hens – players, as are we all – in their own movie. In this case, it’s that 1962 classique, “The 400 Pecks” by Francois Clucquot.

A little more on the 12 days of Christmas, from crivoice.com:

The Twelve Days of Christmas is probably the most misunderstood part of the church year among Christians who are not part of liturgical church traditions. Contrary to much popular belief, these are not the twelve days before Christmas, but in most of the Western Church are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany (January 6th; the 12 days count from December 25th until January 5th). In some traditions, the first day of Christmas begins on the evening of December 25th with the following day considered the First Day of Christmas (December 26th). In these traditions, the twelve days begin December 26 and include Epiphany on January 6.

I’m doing 30 original works this month. The theme for December is birds. All kinds of birds.

30 original pieces, and yes, they’re for sale. And they’re affordable: $99, which includes free first-class shipping. You can order on my Etsy store by clicking here. Check this blog every day (or the Etsy store) to see the new one. Each one will be 5″ by 7″ on sturdy illustration board.

Last month’s theme was food and drink, this month it’s birds. Any other themes you’d suggest?

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“Banana Magritte”, Day 18 of 30 Paintings in 30 Days

"Banana Magritte"

Sometimes a banana is just a banana, and other times it’s the funniest of fruit. MUCH funnier than a staid old apple. Slipping-on, double-entendres, in-the-ear jokes, etc. The banana takes the cake. Anyway, ceci ne pas un Magritte… c’est un Tebeau.

I got lots of requests to paint the banana. (hahaha) It’s a popular fruit. Perfect for breakfast, lunch, and on-the-go moms, dads and kids, etc. Well, it’s a damn fine fruit. It has a great theme song, too, of course: “Banana Boat”, immortalized by Harry Belafonte. Watch out for those highly deadly black tarantulas, though. Oooh, man. Don’t sing about spiders, man. Like, I don’t dig spiders. [thank you, Stan Freberg]

I’m doing a painting each day this month. 30 paintings in 30 days. Being November, the Month of the Feast, the theme is Things We Love to Eat and Drink.

A painting a day, and yes, they’re for sale. And they’re affordable: $99, which includes free first-class shipping. You can order on my Etsy store by clicking here. Check this blog every day (or the Etsy store) to see the new painting du jour. Each one will be 5″ by 7″ on sturdy illustration board.

I’ll need some content, folks, so if you have any suggestions for good subjects, leave a comment or write to me at john@tebeau.com. What goodies would you like to see memorialized as art? What’s your favorite comfort food? Your most-loved childhood treat? The hometown food you miss most? If you moved away tomorrow, what local specialty would you long for? And, looking ahead, what other themes would you suggest?

Let’s talk about comfort food. Mac and cheese has been suggested many times, and also meatloaf. What’s your favorite comfort food?

Thanks, too, to Michael Stern of RoadFood.com for his mention here.

Yesterday’s painting: “Double Pepperoni”

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Humbug!

In 1956, Mad was the hottest thing since sunburn. It was selling out every issue, featured the best artistic talent in the industry and buoyed Bill Gaines’ EC comic book empire, unintentionally spawning several wannabe parodic rags in the process.

Editor Harvey Kurtzman wanted to upgrade Mad into a glossy magazine, paying big bucks to lure top writing talent. Gaines said no. Young Hugh Hefner liked the idea. Harvey and others made the leap to Hefner’s new, glossy Trump. It folded after two issues.

Then, after knocking back several alleged shots of Old Rotgut, Kurtzman, Will Elder, Al Jaffee, Arnold Roth and Jack Davis decided to start their own humor (also pronounced “YOO-mur” here in NYC) mag called Humbug. It was a site to behold. It blew many a young mind (see: “Crumb, Robert”). It folded after 11 issues, never to be reprinted. Until now.

Big Box o' Fun

Big Box o' Fun

It’s American popular history, kids. Dig in.

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Seven Steps to Parody Design

The Call to Service

People love to steal cool glasses from bars. They break them, too. Some joints go through hundreds of glasses a year. One such place is the fabulous Bulldog in New Orleans.

They have a standing call to create designs for their pint glasses. If they pick your design, you get bragging rights to the glass, a free Bulldog t-shirt, and a gift certificate to use as you see fit.

Call to Arms

Call to Arms

I like parody, so that’s the direction I decided to take when creating the design I eventually submitted last week. Here, I’ll walk you through the process.

The Inkling

First, the general idea. I make associations…. (to be read in an echo-y voice, like dream sequence narration) “Bulldog. Pub. English. Bulldog…. Hmm…. An ‘English bulldog’ reminds me of Winston Churchill. Churchill reminds me of WWII, and that makes me think of those cool old morale (or “propaganda” depending on which side of a subject you find yourself on) posters. The kind from the war that reminded people to ‘do [their] part,’ ‘keep ’em flying,’ and (in Britain, anyway) keep a stiff upper lip in general.”

Putting all these thoughts together, I decided to create a design based on the look of a WWII poster, featuring a bulldog as the famous Winston Churchill “Roaring Lion” portrait by photographer Yousuf Karsh. According to legend, Churchill looks so pissed in this picture because Karsh had just removed the Prime Minister’s beloved cigar from his mouth. Ballsy move.

Legwork

I found images via Google, and damned it this bulldog doesn’t look just like Churchill. Look at the jowls, the frown and the shape of the head. Perfect.

Winston Churchill by Karsh

Winston Churchill by Karsh

English Bulldog

English Bulldog

First Draft

So I printed up the images and took them to the Starbucks located on the top floor of our neighborhood Barnes and Noble’s. Bookstore coffee shops are a great place to get work done. Seriously. Just ask Chris Brogan. There, wired on the magic bean and overlooking Broadway, I sketched away. Here’s the first run at it, from the original page in my sketchbook.

From my sketchbook. Smudgey!

From my sketchbook. Smudgy!

I put the cigar back in his mouth for effect. It looked better. Badder. I had a general idea of what those old posters look like, and I wanted to keep this one dynamic and simple. I only had black and white to work with. No shading, no colors. I wanted the name of the bar, The Bulldog, to be big and bold and at an angle, an effect often used in those posters. I decided to put a Union Jack flag motif behind Winston Bulldog. Then I thought, hey, how about something at the bottom… maybe a twist on an inspirational phrase from the Great P.M.? Oh, yeah… he had that excellent speech about fighting the Germans every step of the way…. On the beaches, in the fields, on the streets, etc…. something like that. Hmm…. This is about beer, though. And this bar is in New Orleans, where, indeed, you can drink beer on the streets. Streets. How about quaffing them (beers) instead of fighting them (Germans)? Yeah, that’s kind of clever. Clever enough.

Final Artwork

Sometimes going from a sketch in a sketchbook (usually done very loosely with no pressure) to final art (done in ink, under pressure to achieve perfection) can be a travail. Not in this case. I rocked it. It progressed quickly and much to my satisfaction. I scanned the inked drawing, adjusted it in Photoshop (to achieve pure black and white with no shades of grey) and was ready to create the final design.

Final Bulldog Art

Bulldog Art

More Research

I found (thanks again, Google) a couple typical WWII posters, which gave me a better idea of the font to use. I also snagged a generic Union Jack motif, and converted it to just black and white.

Poster 1

Poster 1

Poster 2

Poster 2

Union Jack

Union Jack

Putting it all Together

In Photoshop, I created a file and laid the Union Jack down first, then Sir Winston Bulldog, then a couple white boxes, then the lettering. I decided to go with the font “Impact” which is a favorite of mine. It reads well. It’s fairly close in look to the WWII posters’ letters (especially when stretched vertically). It’s strong, bold. It worked. Finally I added my name and the copyright (don’t forget that, my friends) off to the side. Saved it as a grayscale jpeg file and boom. Donesville.

Final Bulldog Glass Design

Final Bulldog Glass Design

The folks at the Bulldog liked it and will roll them out later this year. Don’t steal them, dammit. (I want some.)

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