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Close Friend (The Origin Of The World)

April 7, 2010

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“You know a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick; and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all.” – Sherlock Holmes

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Rat Fink, created in 1960, is an iconic figure in the world of hot rodding, and it is singularly iconic in the world of Lowbrow Art. It is the Venus Of Willendorf, Michaelangelo’s David, the Mona Lisa, and Duchamp’s Fountain, all in one, the Alpha and Omega of Lowbrow art, both in the exuberance of the linework and the outlaw sneer it represents.

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Robt. Williams, the spiritual father of Lowbrow, who worked at Roth Studios in the late 60’s, has always claimed Roth as an artistic and spiritual influence, and Williams’ own art has always upheld the lawlessness and impolite nature of Roth’s body of work.

Now Lowbrow Art, or to use the more respectable moniker “Pop Surrealism”, is no longer the bad kid hiding behind the garage, and is well on the way to being an established, legitimate part of the “real” art world.

And that’s a shame.

Everything is co-opted, nothing is shocking anymore.

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In 1865, Edward Manet exhibited “Olympia” at the Paris Salon. The public was outraged. Manet had referenced a painting by Titian, “Venus Of Urbino”, but transposed the image to a contemporary setting, and changed the subject from a goddess to a prostitute. Now, more than a hundred years later, the painting hangs in the Musée d’Orsay without a single complaint. I’m sure you can buy a postcard of it in the gift shop.

Also in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay is another painting, painted one year later by Gustave Courbet. “L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World)” is a painting of a nude woman’s torso, isolated in the composition so that the face and extremities are unseen. All that is visible are her voluptuous curves, one breast, and her genitals. Originally painted as a private commission, it passed through the hands of several owners, and was never on public display until the late 20th century.

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As harmless as these images seem today, they caused outrage and apoplexy in their time.

But I digress.

Several years ago, I was working in my studio on another project, when inspiration, or the Imp of The Perverse (perhaps they are one and the same) struck. It was one of those moments when an image enters the brain fully-formed and complete, and all that is required of the artist is to commit it to paper or canvas. I quickly sketched out the image, and shortly thereafter produced a finished inked drawing.

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I knew immediately it was something I had to use. It was a true Surrealist image, one that sprang forth from my subconscious with no prior thought or plan.

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But I also realized how provocative the image was, and not just for obvious reasons. In the world of Lowbrow, Rat Fink is a cherished icon, an image to be worshipped, and I was defacing it, like Duchamp drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa – perhaps worse; I was doing a lot more than drawing a mustache after all. It was undeniably vulgar, even juvenile.

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I put it away, only showing the drawing to a few people at the time. But it stayed in my mind, forcing me to put it on a canvas, to make it into something more. Finally I did.

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It came together very quickly. Even I was shocked by how fast it came to be. Again, it was painted almost without conscious thought, as if it already existed in my brain fully formed, and only required me to take the steps to make it real.

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The “C. F.” was originally meant to be the initials of another, more vulgar phrase, but as I was painting, “Close Friend” popped into my head, and I knew that was the real title, the saccharine sentiment contained in the phrase making for a nice balance with the many and conflicting interpretations available to the image. “Origin Of The World” was added as a namecheck to Courbet, and also to reference the role of Rat Fink and Ed Roth, in their influence on my own work, and Lowbrow Art in general.

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click to enlarge

I know this painting will piss off a lot of people, even some of my fellow artists, who will be offended by my trashing of one of their icons. Having said that, i think it is the best, most honest work I have ever done.

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click to enlarge

21 comments

  1. I love the images, but your words interest me even more. This reminds me of the Zen story about the master craftsman who made a bell stand. The gist of it is that he put everything else out of his mind, and then it was kind of inevitable that his hands made the bell stand.

    http://www.thenightcountry.com/2008/10/woodcarver.html

    Link above. Cluttered, but scroll down to the indented poem “the woodcarver”.

    Have you read “Free Play” by Stephen Nachmanovitch? My synapses may just be crosstalking, but I think it talks about the same sort of creative approach.


  2. flapsfink!


  3. I broke into a mad grin when I saw the first sketch in this post. Like you said, many will hate it, but I think it is pure blasphemously juvenile genius.


  4. Hell-Fuck Yeah!
    This piece rocks! Reminds me of the ol Outlaw days of Devil-Girl 69 and Gorilla’s dis-membering women!
    Bring back the Zombie Mystery days!!


  5. Marvelous work!


  6. Love it! Sure it’s inspired by Rat Fink, so what, it’s certainly not a rip off. I’ll bet Ed would have taken it as a complement. The way you’ve cropped the painting from the sketch/inking, makes it even more distant from RF.

    Besides… fuck ’em. 😉


  7. Honestly, I’m not a fan of this one. Not because of the Rat Fink defacing, the artistic quality is inline with your other subjects yes, but it’s just not pleasing to the eye (no pun intended).


  8. Awesome Coop! As a big fan of Ed Roth, I love it!. lighten up angry doods.


  9. Awesome! Love when you blog about your paintings. If I had the money I’d be proud to hang it in my home! Keep up the good work.


  10. It’s amazing. What’s the point of doing art if it’s not going to stimulate opinions and create dialogue? Easy to be a rebel about things that are “safe” and “easy to target”, not so easy when you manipulate things closer to your own, for lack of better phrasing,”scene”. I’m sure this itouch screen I’m looking at it on isn’t doing it much justice either; this is one to be seen in person for sure…


  11. I’d hit it.


  12. Just plain love it.


  13. Good instinct on this being some of your best work. As a fellow “artiste”, I know that feeling, that you’ve actually made the work that you’re supposed to be making. It’s like knowing you’ve bowled a strike the minute the ball leaves your hand.

    Anyone who doesn’t love it has their brow set too high.


  14. Thanks, Marshall! Thanks for the nice comments from everyone, in fact.


  15. I have to agree with you saying this is your best work, as it is obviously painted with great passion, and with less forethought than some of your other more *acceptable* work. It’s brilliant in it’s parody, and reverent in it’s homage. Love it.

    I hope it will inspire you to even further reaches.
    And more bloggin’…


  16. “A major problem for our culture is that, because its values are inverted, we often elevate the lowest caste to the highest — hence, the production of a type of art that not only holds no appeal, but is disturbing to anyone who is remotely awake. The vile man not only likes such things, but is attracted to them precisely because they mirror his own disordered interior and therefore legitimize his sordid existence. People need Light, but if they can’t see it, they will demand vivid Darkness instead (ironically, they call it “realism”). Gravity takes care of the rest.” – From One Comos


  17. I dig this! It reminds me of a tattoo i’d seen a few years back of a virgin of Guadeloupe that looked like a ” C.F.” It made me feel dirty for liking it. I like the large paintings you have been doin’


  18. Awesome work! I love it. And interesting thoughts about Lowbrow art and provocation in art in general.


  19. Cheers, mate. Do whatcha like.

    isn’t almost every artists’ inspiration built on the work of others? What’s wrong with this instance?

    I think you’re doing ER’s work an honor by building on it here — that is, of course, because you’re not hiding or camouflaging the original subject. You’re keeping it real, transparent, and genuine. that’s being transparent — who’d have a beef with that?


  20. Hey Coop,
    saw your other piece on the FAS, followed the link and couldn’t stop smiling!
    your Close Friend rules, I like it !


  21. please Please PLEASE do a run of stickers with the ink drawing. My skateboard needs additional adornment.



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