Working Class Art Hero

The New York Press- Jan. 13, 2014

Spiegelman’s comix and more in Jewish Museum exhibition

Much has been written about Maus, Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel that recounts the harrowing tale of Spiegelman’s parents’ experience and survival in Auschwitz. Much has been written about Spiegelman, the New Yorker magazine artist who produced challenging covers that addressed real New York issues. The Feb 15, 1993 cover of a Hassidic man and Caribbean woman, lips locked in a passionate embrace, for example.

Far less has been written about Art Spielgeman, journeyman, working artist working class hero, a career on view in “Art Spiegelman’s Co-Mix: A Retrospective” at the Jewish Museum. It is this aspect of Speigleman’s career that captured my attention amidst the huge retrospective currently on view at The Jewish Museum.

Spiegelman earned his first paycheck for drawing when he was fifteen. While still a student at The High School of Art and Design, he began to make money for his drawings and from then on has seemingly never stopped working. Imagine my delight to discover that it was Art Spiegelman who drew the absolutely wonderful and inappropriate “Garbage Pail Kids” stickers of my youth. Produced by Topps gum and Card Company they were guaranteed to piss off adults and delight pre-teens with their outlandish humor and gross-out sensibility. For Spiegelman it was both a paying gig and a chance to stretch his drawing chops and explore the world of satire.

Spiegelman drew for advertising, he drew for comic book companies, he drew for magazines–he always worked. Combining a dark and transgressive view of the world with an immigrant’s drive to work, earn money and make it in America, he plugged away at commercial jobs that paid the rent. At the same time he infiltrated the world of the underground comic strip sharpening his wit and drawing skills on such classics as “Ace Hole, Midget Detective” and “Breakdowns.”

It is in the preparatory drawings for both his advertising and comic strip art that we really see the artistry of one who draws constantly. These drawings are stunning. Vigorous strong lines breathe an incredible sense of life into whatever it is he is drawing – be it a first sketch for the Maus graphic novel or the cover of “Breakdowns”. Having the opportunity to see erasures, messy lines, the stops and starts of the pen is the revelation and gift of this exhibition.

Whether you like comics, graphic novels or commercial art is not the reason to see this show. The reason to visit “Art Spiegelman’ s Co-Mix: A Retrospective” is to witness the triumph a man who never stops drawing the world, both around and within himself.

12 Study for Maus II

Art Spiegelman’s Co-Mix: A Retrospective at The Jewish Museum thru March 23, 2014. for more information

Tags: Art Spiegelman, Melissa Stern, The Jewish Museum

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