Tuesday, 30 November 2010

ART THAT OUTCLASSES ITS SUBJECT MATTER

The 1980 movie Popeye was widely panned by critics. (One of the more favorable reviews called it a "mess of a movie" and "unintelligible.") It quickly disappeared from the theaters but not before MAD Magazine artist Mort Drucker dutifully captured it in a parody.



Drucker drew many important subjects for MAD, but he was also assigned to depict much of the raw sewage of American popular culture: third rate television shows that quickly imploded and movies that should never have been made. (Remember Alf? Who's The Boss? The Flying Nun?) By the time he drew Popeye, Drucker had been slogging through such subject matter for almost 25 years.

Yet, he drew these pictures with the same loving care others might reserve for the immortal themes on ancient Greek vases. Look at Drucker's beautiful work for Popeye:









I am awed by Drucker's talent, but separately awed by his dedication and consistently high standards over many decades.

Notice in the panel below how Drucker continued his drawing beyond the panel borders. The man couldn't stop himself.



Click on these drawings for close ups of a master at work.



Look how convincingly he conveys great mass in his figures:



Notice how adroitly he controls the architecture of this complex scene, and still has the capacity left over to add a gratuitous fish climbing the stairs:



While Drucker was drawing for MAD, the other two great caricaturists of the latter half of the 20th century, David Levine and Al Hirschfeld were drawing more highbrow subjects-- great authors and composers-- for prestigious periodicals such as the New York Review of Books and the New York Times.

Many think that art is enhanced by association with prestigious subjects. They presume that a drawing of Dostoevsky must somehow be superior to a drawing of Joan Collins, or that a caricature in the New York Review of Books must be more culturally significant than a caricature in MAD. One look at Drucker's glorious drawings from Popeye tells you it ain't so. As far as I am concerned, Drucker is the best all around artist of the bunch, hands down. His prolific career is an astounding artistic accomplishment and I think more of him, rather than less, for achieving it with subject matter such as Popeye.