Friday, 19 February 2010

EdgyCute: From Neo-Pop to Low Brow and Back Again Review

Nicolette Ceccoli
Ryan Heshka
Greg Gossell
Donald Roller Wilson
Kevin Scalzo

From the start EdgyCute is friendly and relatable, it wants to be liked, which is not to say it is going to play nice, it is mean and it will make fun and it will rip piss out of the hand that feeds.

So what is EdgyCute? Well it is the work of certain contemporary artists and illustrators whose work comes from a marriage of obsession with graffiti, neo-pop, j-pop, various subcultures, mass; media, technology and consumerism, art history... and cartoons. Two fantastic essays and an introduction from Harry Saylor (of the Orbit Gallery) really appraise and contextualize contemporary image making, thus terming EdgyCute. Godfathers and components of the movement include Mark Ryden, Tim Biskup and the Clayton Brothers (just to give you a starting point).

Complementing the globalized, superflat subject matter and poppy, playful aesthetic the book also looks at the influence of illustrators on fine artists and vise-versa. It's something few will readily approach or even concede as the idea either muddies fine art with something so commercial and public or contradicts illustration's purely functional nature. Looking at artistic achievements in terms of commissions and exhibitions as well as auteurship and theory is refreshing and it sets it aside from other (still great) books such as The Upset and the recent Hi-Fructose Collected Edition.

Now with such diverse work in terms of both style and content it could have very easily resulted in an incredibly mixed up book, but it is broken up into broad chapters so it is digestible. This does not so much mean the chapters present work as generic, just a case of enabling an understanding of context and relating. For example: Disney Poison shows how evil is forgiven with an innocent, cute face but still contains a wide variety of artists such as Kathie Olivas and her freakishly deformed children and evil disney animal friends complete with halloween death masks, Brandi Milne and her sickly sweet bubblegum food critters and Nicoletta Ceccoli and her mysterious melancholy young girls. Other chapters include Evil Seduction, Mid-Century Nostalgia, Heroes and Surreal.

In the process of exploring this book I discovered several artists who I feel are of particular note who I had not previously uncovered (as well as a few old favourites). Ryan Heshka has been a favourite for a while, his paintings scream classic sci-fi, presenting small stories complete with dialogue, quotes or slogans reminiscent of comics or cartoons and distressed to give a true vintage feel. Gary Taxli's creatures are quirky, weird, vulgar, idiotic little things that bring a smile, reminiscent of early screen print design works on found objects. Greg Gossell's seemingly torn-up billboard paintings are laden with pop images and text taken straight from the collective conscious and rendered in a whole rainbow of colours. Brian Taylor's sci-fi-cartoon hybrid screen prints are thoroughly entertaining in their immediate simplicity and quirkiness. Gerd Dagne's paintings draw you in at first glance with their skill and initial recognizing appeal then disarm you with their subtle complexity and darkly comedic and reflective quality. So I don't go on forever I will finish with comic book artist and illustrator Kevin Scalzo whose layered paintings contain samples from an infinite numbers of image, line and mark sources and belong to a very exciting discourse in painting of sampling and creating and existing somewhere between figuration and abstraction.

All in all this is another wonderful book introducing new image making and its context (and there aren't many or enough). It is thoroughly readable (and understandable), intelligent and fucking fun.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Why Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland Will Probably Suck Balls

I think the best way to go about this is to look at why Tim Burton is so massively overrated and a bit shit, then specifically why he is incapable of pulling a good film out of Alice in Wonderland and finally who would have been better for the job (Michael Bay).

So first things first: Tim Burton has never made an exciting film. Go back and study your Tim Burton; Big Fish is a good film and you may have a bit of a weep (as I did) but there are no real highs and lows to be had, as with everything else he's ever done: its a bit quirky and heavily sedated. Secondly: Tim Burton has never made a really, really good film. In the last two decades the Tim Burton films which stand out in most people's minds are Edward Scissorhands (which is twenty years old) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (which he didn't direct but we'll give it him anyway (and is seventeen years old)), neither of which is amazing by any stretch and leaves seventeen years worth of forgettable films. So two good films plus Big Fish and the above average Sleepy Hollow in comparison to the at best dreary and generally stupid Batman Returns, Ed Wood, Mars Attacks!, Planet of the Apes, Corpse Bride and Sweeney Todd do not result in the reputation he has amassed. And he makes Johnny Depp do bad things.

Now the more perceptive amongst you will have noticed that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been missed off the dreary films list, and this is because it isn't; it is shite. I went bounding to the cinema with he rest of them ready for this magical visual feast I had built up in my head, two hours later I left feeling sick and empty and another two hours later I was drunk and angry, denouncing the film to all the world (or half the Lake District). I think that it is possibly the worst adaptation of anything ever. Even the soon-to-be released Dante's Inferno game looks fun and the only thing that has in common with it's source is the title, I would rather watch the Resident Evil films or worse still the Alone in the Dark films back to back for the rest of my days than watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ever again. In the 1971 adaptation Gene Wilder's character was eccentric and fucking crazy but at the same time there was still a warmth to him and he was deeply caring. Johnny Depp didn't have a character, he was an empty shell, a bit creepy and possibly a threat to children. And how was it even possible to ruin the Oompa-Loompas?! The images leaked so far of Alice in Wonderland look visually stunning, but so did the ones of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and when the film was eventually released that was all there was; style devoid of substance.

I think in order to make a successful adaptation of something you need to have an understanding of what it is you are adapting (and having read the source material helps too). Well I have and I do and have come up with a short list of who would make a far better film. Terry Gilliam. All you need to do is watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Tideland and an understanding of the temperament of Alice in Wonderland is presented in abundance. Tideland (as intense and disturbing as it is) presents fantastically the heights of fantasy capable of a child's imagination and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas perfectly conveys the mood of confusia, enjoyment and fear of tripping. Alice in Wonderland sits somewhere between the two in the fantastic, absurd things she dreams up, her fuzzy logic and the vague associations she makes and her lack of time, space, and language perception or any kind of an attention span. Guillermo del Toro may also have made a good film.

So there you have it, indisputably Alice in Wonderland will probably be shit. But you'll still go and watch it. And so will I. And so will every other idiot.