THE ART OF S. CLAY WILSON
In case you’ve forgotten the products of Wilson’s twisted but highly comedic imagination — the Checkered Demon, the loathesome pirates, the rapacious wimmin — a healthy dose can be found in The Art of S. Clay Wilson (172 9x12-inch pages, color and b/w; Ten Speed Press hardcover, $35). There is no text in the body of the book itself, but it is generously prefaced by persons who know (and even understand) the noxious humors of the underground’s most outrageous cartooner: R. Crumb, Mark Pascale (Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, whose essay was written “as a defense for an acquisition” of Wilson art), John Francis Putnam (writing in The Realist), Charlie Plymell (Wilson’s first publisher), and Bob Levin (whose astuteness is legendary around Rancid Raves).
Crumb writes of his first meeting with Wilson, which took place just as his Zap Comix no.1 was being printed by Plymell. Wilson, erupting with “inspired patter,” showed him a portfolio of his drawings. Says Crumb: “It looked like folk art, like old-time tattoos, like some demented highschool hotrodder’s notebook drawings. The drawings were rough, crazy, lurid, coarse, deeply American, a taint of white-trash degeneracy. Every inch of space was packed solid with action and crazy details. The content was something like I’d never seen before, anywhere, the level of mayhem, violence, dismemberment, naked women, loose body parts, huge, obscene sex organs, a nightmare vision of hell-on-earth never so graphically illustrated before in the history of art! Wilson was the strongest, most original artist of my generation that I had yet met. ... He’d been through art school and was barely touched by it.”
Charlie Plymell supposes about Wilson’s work that “a better label than Grotesque is the Carnival.”
Bob Levin talks about Wilson’s art “of ball-bat outrage and white shark excess, chain saw intelligence and rattlesnake wit. ... He has (imaginatively) scaled the peaks and plumbed the depths and balanced on the edge, and he has emerged bearing guffaws. ... I don’t know about you, but I am even going to have trouble taking penises and vaginas so seriously again.”
Speaking for myself (nothing remarkable about that, I realize), I am eternally grateful to Wilson for his inspiring flights of linguistic excess. And his pictures? Well, we all love to be grossed out from time to time. I would not part with this 2006 retrospective of his work from 1961 to 2006 for any amount of money.