New York (ABC News).- Robert Crumb finds it odd that 90 pieces of his work are hanging on the wall or protected under glass at a new exhibit featuring the underground “Zap Comix,” ”Bijou Funnies” and so many more. “R. Crumb: Lines Drawn on Paper,” on display through April 30 at the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators, showcases original comic covers, inside illustrations, posters, even a hand-painted storefront sign urging customers to come in and spend some money. The works provide a timeline of his emergence and mastery of what was then seen as lowbrow vulgarity but has become much sought-after art.
Still, Crumb is mystified as to why anyone would want to see his creations in a gallery. “It was never intended for that purpose, so it’s always odd to see it on a wall, or under glass; it was intended for printing and books. It wasn’t made as a wall hanging piece,” Crumb said in an interview with The Associated Press. “For me, the printed copy is the magic moment. When I see it in print — that was the whole purpose of it.”
Crumb strolled through the gallery on a recent afternoon gazing at some of the pieces, which include issues of “Despair” and “Motor City Comics,” examples of how he would take illustration styles from the 1920s and give them hippie flair. Crumb still uses pen and ink to do his drawings, eschewing the use of computers in favor of a classic crow quill pen with a reservoir for the ink. The show is comprised of pieces acquired by Eric Sack, who comes from a family of collectors. His first experience with illustrations was a collection of old newspapers that his father acquired by trading a sewing machine. The exhibit is a treasure trove of the work Crumb has been doing since the 1960s. His satiric, surreal and sometimes sexually explicit images helped illustrate the emerging counterculture of the ’60s and chronicled what he has referred to as the “seamy side of America’s subconscious.” His work, once dismissed by critics as unworthy of bathroom reading or worse, is now looked upon with admiration, and he is considered the great-grandfather of underground comics, which are now enjoying a Renaissance in print and online. And now, the 67-year-old artist who has drawn comparisons to Goya and Brueghel is not such a stranger to galleries and art museums.
Two years ago, an exhibition of more than 100 works was held at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art. Next year, he’ll be at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. Crumb has long been viewed as one of the medium’s masters and his work has gone from comic books and illustrations to graphic novels. That arc, he said, is indicative of how comics themselves have become more accepted now than when he was starting out. “People take it more seriously now. Graphic art, graphic novels. You don’t say comic books anymore,” Crumb said. Born in Philadelphia on Aug. 30, 1943, Crumb began drawing at the urging of his comic-obsessed brother, Charles. He moved to Cleveland as an adult and worked as a commercial illustrator, drawing greeting cards. In 1965, Crumb started experimenting with LSD, which immediately helped him create some of his best-known characters. In January 1967, he hitched a ride to San Francisco just in time for the full flowering of the hippie movement. His images echoed old-time cartoon styles, first in Philadelphia’s “Yarrowstalks” and later in his own “Zap Comix,” and helped define the underground comic stew of sex-and drug-themed surrealism and antiestablishment sentiment. Flower Power faded, but Crumb kept working, steadily publishing in such magazines as Weirdo and Self-Loathing Comics. He also illustrated many of the late Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor” accounts of his mundane life in Cleveland, which were adapted for film in 2003. Crumb still publishes, often working with his wife in a medieval town in southern France. His last major work was “The Book of Genesis” a word-for-word adaptation with his illustrations.
The Society of Illustrators dates back to 1901, when it was supported by many prominent illustrators and celebrities such as Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parish, Frederick Remington, Mark Twain, and Gloria Swanson. The Society’s rich history includes service to the United States, particularly to the armed forces branches during the efforts of both world wars. This service continues today with members documenting the activities of the Air Force. The Society’s Mission Statement is to promote and stimulate interest in the art of illustration, past, present and future, and to give impetus generally toward high ideals in the art by means of exhibitions, lectures, educational programs, social intercourse, and in such other ways as may seem advisable. Through programs such as scholarship funds, lectures, sketch classes, and annual exhibitions and recognition of the greats in illustration, the Society has proven time and again its commitment to support the field of illustration, past, present, and future. The Museum of American Illustration is a showcase of approximately 1,500 works of art by such legends as Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, Bob Peak, Bernie Fuchs, and Brad Holland. Throughout the year individuals, families and groups can enjoy an exhibition schedule that features a variety of exhibitions; contemporary, historical, one-man, group, annual Student Scholarship and Government Service Shows. A calendar is available for the asking, or on-line at the Society’s website. The Annual Exhibition, on display for eight weeks, is a comprehensive retrospective of the best of the preceding year’s illustration. Students will find numerous volumes relevant to the art of illustration in the Norman Price Library, while the Society’s archives house unique biographical and historical material. Visit the society’s website at … http://www.societyillustrators.org