Review- Ron English retrospective

Here's a review of American artist, Ron English's retrospective book from Last Gasp. This review originally appeared in the pages of Hi-Fructose Magazine and appears here in raw, uneditted form:

Abject Expressionism: The Art of Ron English
206 Pages, Hardcover
Last Gasp

As if Ron English couldn't get any more pervasive, he busts through the brick and mortar of our favorite local book sellers with this new three-pound hardcover retrospective from Last Gasp. "Abject Expressionism" showcases the artist's expansive career in a landscape format, a layout fitting to the master of billboard liberation.
In the past thirty years, Ron English's reverse-propaganda imagery has appeared plastered on billboards, hung neatly on gallery walls, and is now packaged for the art-toy savvy crowd as collectable fugurines. Abject Expressionism collects the various movements of English's work in context of theme and media rather than chronological order. The 206 pages are crawling with English's constant riffs on American Obesity, Consumption, War, and Mass Marketing, showcasing works old and new. Somehow, the book seamlessly transitions from Warhol-reminiscent celebrity portraiture to riffs on Picasso's Guernica. Before you know it, we're knee-deep in creepy renditions of English's kids dressed as clowns. For those needing context of chronology and a sense of scale, the book includes an index in the back that lists the size of the original piece and the date it was created. Apart from the index, there is very little accompanying text to support the beautifully reproduced paintings. There are two great introductions to the book. The first is from Morgan Spurlock, the filmmaker who brought us "Super Size Me". Spurlock found a kindred spirit in English when coming across his artwork almost by accident. The second introduction is a forward by art critic Peter Frank. Frank waxes poetic for a while about the melding of high and low art before landing a very appropriate line about English's work avoiding cliché, "…They mean something out there, beyond the museum, beyond the album cover, beyond the art book…"
Abject Expressionism is an excellent recap of the thirty plus year career of Ron English. What the book lacks in text, in makes up for in content and context. It beautifully divides and make sense of English's various subject matter, keeping the hot-side hot, and the cool-side cool.

Review- Unfiltered, The Complete Ralph Bakshi

My post about Bakshi's rant on determination reminded me to post my review for the latest retrospective on his work. My review for "Unfiltered, The Complete Ralph Bakshi", originally appeared in Hi-Fructose Vol. 8. Here it is in unedited glory:

Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi

Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi

Buy It at Powell's Books

When I think of Ralph Bakshi, I think about that "very special" episode of Diff'rent Strokes where Dudley was molested. Bakshi's cartoons provoke my sleaze alert in the same way Robert Crumb's gritty cartoons do. His pictures were weird, naughty, and completely unlike anything else out there. Doubtless that many video store clerks had a hard time figuring out where to shelve these subversive gems.

"Unfiltered, the Complete Ralph Bakshi"sets out to be the definitive retrospective of the acclaimed animation director. Indeed, the nearly three hundred-page hardcover is loaded with evidence of each stage in this animation juggernaut's career. As artist's reference alone, the book is worth the forty-dollar asking price. Chris McDonnell's layouts are gorgeous and the reproductions of Bakshi's sketches and character designs are fantastic. This isn't just a picture book though. Every chapter is loaded with personal anecdotes and contextual history of an industry full of brass and swagger. Reading it, you can almost hear the raspy voice of a wizard narrator, shuckin' jive. Also of note is a brilliant introduction by Quentin Tarantino, who gives us a lesson in Blacksploitation films and the part Ralph Bakshi played in the genre.

I'm amazed at the depth of influence presented here and how far this man's vision made it into the mainstream. If you thought Ralph Bakshi was only about weird rotoscoping and pantless cats, this book will make you think diff'rent.

-Joshua Ellingson, for Hi-Fructose Magazine