Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes at the Oakland Museum of California

by admin on April 18, 2012

The Oakland Museum of California presents the first museum survey of the works and career of Oakland-based, internationally acclaimed comic artist, Daniel Clowes in “Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes,” organized by guest curator Susan Miller and OMCA Senior Curator of Art René de Guzman. On view April 14 through August 12, the retrospective features the graphic storyteller’s body of work from the mid 1980s to the present day, a majority of the works sourced directly from the archive collection of the artist.

The Oakland Museum of California has been especially well-known for hosting many of Bay Area’s most celebrated artists, such as the late Stephen de Staebler,  their first museum solo exhibitions. Based in Oakland, California, Clowes’ award-winning comics and graphic novels have been translated into ten languages, and adapted to screenplays for feature films. Clowes gained greater recognition in 2001 with the release of “Ghost World“—the Terry Zwigoff directed, Academy Award-nominated film based on Clowes’s script and story. Original drawings, both black and white and color for the comic series is on view in the exhibition. Presently, an adaptation of Clowes’s graphic novel “Wilson” is currently in development with director Alexander Payne; The movie will be filmed in Oakland.

In a left to right perambulation of the one-room exhibition space, visitors are invited to view the artworks in chronological arrangement, illustrating the artist’s development of technical skill and an original style. Early works by Clowes evince a heavy influence by 1950s, 1960s style of graphic arts, and later works illustrate more naturalistic figures with shading and draughtsmanship, as well as more in-depth storylines and characters. The exhibit itself looks as if the audience has just walked into the artist’s studio. The entire space has an utlitiarian ambiance: within the gray-toned room decorated with drawings emphasising Ben-Day dots, reminiscent of the printing style of graphic novels, are viewing stations complete with artist stools. Interactive spaces throughout the gallery invite perusal of original artworks through poster-like display racks.

It is with the advent of Street Art and Low-Brow or Pop Surrealism as a recognized art form that adjoined high art and popular culture in the 1980s-1990s that provided the precedent for the retrospective exhibition such as this at the Oakland Museum of California. Works by Clowes’ blend much more than high art and popular culture, but also that of the literary narrative and visual arts. His artworks are also evidence of the evolution or blend of the comic book and graphic novels. “Daniel Clowes is an artist who bridges the boundaries of high and low culture,” says Senior Curator of Art René de Guzman. “It’s only fitting for OMCA as the museum dedicated to the culture of California, to present this exhibition that showcases the Oakland-based artist’s significant contributions to the popular media of comics, film, and the visual arts.” This exhibition is truly illustrative of the social history or art, and Oakland Museum of California’s intent to display “The Story of California.”