“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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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