There was a show in 1991 that I saw at the MoMA that altered significantly my perceptions about the difference between high and low art. What struck me most forcefully was how much better the low art looked than the high art. For example, seeing the original strips that Roy Lichtenstein had plagiarized/altered made me aware of just how the original work was vivid in its own right. Making “art” from it with the ironic detachment of the by then completely ennervated art world did little more than show just how void the contemporary art world was of any really creativity. So void that pilfering American culture in at showing how vapid it was only served to indict Pop art with the same kind of puerlity. The difference been that the low art had no pretentions to being high culture and could thus be enjoyed on their “low” merits.
But the biggest surprise was seeing Crumb’s pen and ink drawings next to Philip Guston’s. Guston either appropriated Crumb’s style or they arrived at it simultaneously. But I’m inclined to think the former, because Guston’s pen and ink drawing from the 50s wasn’t remotely what he was doing when he entered his comic figuration phase. His drawings don’t resemble any of his other work, but the bear a clear resemblance to Crumb’s.
An early 50s zen-influenced Guston ink drawing;
A 1971 Guston pen and Ink drawing at the time when Crumb’s drawings were already well established all over American pop culture.
R. Crumb East Village Other cover 1968
I find this one of the most interesting intersections of two artists from the high/low camps and want to try to look to see what I can find on who said what. I’ve heard the influence offloaded to Bud Fisher and George Herrimann. But the Guston is far closer to Crumb than he is to those two. Where do we get the hairy arms and hair around the crotch of the shorts and political parody from? Not Fisher and Herrimann. Herrimann, Fisher, and Eli Segar were Crumb ifluences as well. But to me that bad faith involved is that Crumb isn’t being acknowledged by Guston.
There’s a lithograph where Guston’s imagery pulls right alongside crumbs borrowing simplifed city buildings and the big shoes that are the Crumb trademark in this Guston litho. The imagery relates to Guston’s early works but it’s impossible for me to look at the image below of Guston’s without thinking of Crumb as well:
I’m not meaning to imply that Guston simply borrowed Crumb’s style. I’m merely wondered if he’d been aware of Crumb and the underground artists and there was some unacknowledged influence. I’ll have to try to find more sources to get closer to the truth.
Among some of Crumb’s stated influences as I’ve run across them are: Reginald Marsh, Walt Kelly and Fleischer Studio, Segar, Basil Wolverton. And it’s had not to see the influence of Mad artists like Elder and Kurtzmann, but I don’t know if Crumb himself noted them as influential.
Guston talks about Bud Fisher and Herriman in the new book of his intereviews. I need to get that out and find the references.