SANTA FE, N.M. — The big warehouse of an exhibition space at the now-venerable Center For Contemporary Arts has never looked better than it does now, and on last Friday’s lively opening for the tour-de-force, madness and “Slang Aesthetics” of Robert Williams.
A big, white-walled museum and galleries is fitted into the ol’ art barn, and the hyper-graphic, psychedelic, Hieronymus Bosch and Vermeer-meets-Head Comix hallucinations by Williams fit perfectly.
Born in Albuquerque in 1943, Williams spent a troubled youth interested in cars and drawing, and wisely decamped to Los Angeles in 1963, age 20, just ahead of the law. It was like Picasso going to Paris – L.A., the one place in America where you can let your imagination go serially deranged and get well paid.
Williams took art classes at Los Angeles City College and, for a short time, at the California Institute for the Arts (formerly Chouinard Art Institute), where he was denigrated as an “illustrator.”
Oh, the rewards of a well-timed insult. Williams, it seems, has spent the rest of his career earning the put-down, and how.
In 1965, he found a dream job with Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the king of L.A. Custom Car Culture, and began making meticulous, Old Master-style, “Super Cartoon” oil paintings.
After Roth’s studio closed, Williams joined Zap Comix and R. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, et al.; in the 1980s, he attracted a post-punk audience with his violent, sexual “Zombie Mystery Paintings”; in 1994, he started “Juxtapoz Art and Culture Magazine” and, a few years later, began exhibiting his work at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York. In 2010, he was included in the Whitney Biennial and the documentary “Robert Williams, Mr. Bitchin'” premiered at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
In 2015, “Robt. Williams: Slang Aesthetics” was presented at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, and now here. As the artist explains it: “slang represents freedom from pretension, allowing artists to function as they please.”
And, of the “lowbrow/pop surrealism” art movement, with which he has been associated and, until now, to me unknown, the artist has made an all-time great comment: “It’s a feral art. It’s an art that raised itself in the wilderness.”
Speaking of lowbrow/pop surrealism, the national outbreak of Trump Derangement Syndrome has gone global pandemic and cases are being found now in La Villa Real. Even the mismatch of Super Debate I and the sight of a sniffling, sugar-addled, spoiled brat put in his place by a super-conscientious “likeable enough” mom/older sister may not be enough to fight this significant health issue.
At a recent, otherwise perfectly respectable Dinnuh Pahty, the conversation turned, inevitably, fatefully, to the person after whom the disease is named. A very nice lady sipping the red and, until then unheard from, quietly invoked the name of a certain former German head of state, one Herr H-. (You know the one.)
An over-served, and need we say voluble, fellow across the table, nearly spit out a mouthful of salmon. “Are you mad, madame!” (He did spit out some food, but hard to say what.) “You insult the historical memory of (and here he repeated the H-word). H-word was the real deal! He rounded up people in a very organized and systematic way all across Europe, and did quite a bit more than deport them across a wall, or whatever. Herr Drumpf is nothing but a two-bit Vulgarian (expletives deleted)!”
A tense silence ensued, a sane social footing eventually regained. But there it was. Classic examples of acute TDS.
A few dinner guests wondered who might be infected next?