JACOB LANDAU: A FINE ARTIST’S CAP (AND KIRBY) CONNECTION

Sniper

The forgotten Quality Comics hero THE SNIPER stands as a Golden Age feather in the cap of Jacob “Jay” Landau, in the decades before he became a noted educator, illustrator and fine art printmaker. A retrospective of Landau’s war-themed work is on display at NJ’s Monmouth University, April 10 through 24.

Originally published on 13th Dimension, April 6, 2014

It rushes at you like a chaos of riderless horses. Lunges for your gut with fixed bayonet.  Flails a desperately groping hand that causes you to shrink back a step, even as you wonder if there’s anything you can do to ease the epic anguish of the twisted figures before you.  

When encountered for the first time, the lithographs, woodcuts and drawings of the late artist Jacob Landau can be a jarring thing to behold — a stark and elegant/ugly plane of Holocaust tableaux; visions of Dante’s circles of Hell and the insomniac fables of E.T.A. Hoffmann. Scenes of displacement and despair that nonetheless pulse with the faint heartbeat of a stoic humanism — turning proud General Lee to a somber shadow, and Mark Twain to Edgar Allan Poe.

The artist’s passionately held, lifelong anti-war beliefs course through A Judgment of War: Selected Works by Jacob Landau, a retrospective exhibit of works hosted in the seminar room of the Monmouth University library, and opening with a 4:30 pm reception on Thursday, April 10. Curated by MU’s Scott Knauer and Susan Douglass, the installation covers several of the works that Landau (1917-2001), a longtime resident of the Monmouth County, NJ artist community in Roosevelt, is noted for among fine art experts. It also folds in some previously little-explored corners of the artist’s early career — from his stint as art director and editor of wartime military magazines, to the Hitler-punching exploits of America’s most super of soldiers, Captain America.

Young Landau’s involvement, in the creator-run shop overseen by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for the first ten issues of Cap’s title, is among the topics that will be discussed (along with The Sniper, a rifle-toting Robin Hood appearing in Military Comics, the Quality title that introduced Blackhawk to the world) by Steven Brower, the award winning designer, author and former creative director of PRINT magazine. Brower — who wrote this vanguard study of Landau’s comix connection, and whose other writings on the topic have included this illuminating piece on Kirby’s photocollage background experiments, and this fond farewell interview with the great Joe Kubert — comes to Monmouth’s West Long Branch, NJ campus on April 17 for a first-ever talk about Jacob Landau’s mystery-shrouded career as a superhero comic book artist.

Your upperWETside Control Voice spoke to Steven Brower on Landau’s brief but fondly recalled romance with the comics business, and the ways in which sequential storytelling continued to impact the artist’s later work (and perhaps, vice versa).

HEROES AND VAUDEVILLIANS: HE DREW ‘EM ALL

KirbyMarxThe Living Planet himself, Jack Kirby, graces the cover of Drew Friedman’s upcoming portrait parade HEROES OF THE COMICS…while a circa-1960 Marx Bros herald the opening reception for the Friedman solo show OLD JEWISH COMEDIANS, at the Society of Illustrators.

Originally published on 13thDimension.com, February 2014

Robert Crumb…that avuncular Nucky Thompson of the comics underworld…stood in awe of his talent and technique. The Times Book Review likened him to Vermeer; Kurt Vonnegut compared him to Goya; Howard Stern said he was better than Picasso. And Joe Franklin elevated him to the pantheon of “the greats” by virtue of an epic lawsuit, about which more in a moment. 

There were cautionaries among the compliments, too, with Will Eisner telling him to “lose the dots;” Harvey Kurtzman calling him “nuts” for his labor-intensive pointlllistic detail, and Crumb tempering his words of encouragement with a note of concern about the young artist’s eyesight.

Once even more obsessed with those devilishly detailed “dots” than Little Dot herself, Drew Friedman stippled his last staccato stab of the Croquill pen some twenty years ago — bravely putting aside his signature technique in favor of a watercolor flume-ride that looped crazy circles around the messy, littered carnival of the popular culture. While fans of his earlier, dottier dissections of sad old celebrities and neglected New Yorkers — often featuring the savvy and surreal script contributions of his brother Josh — could still enjoy those grainy, late-night B&W reruns in collections like Warts and All and (recently reissued) Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental, Friedman’s second-act portfolio served to get him noticed like those first glimpses of Color TV in the appliance store window — that cavalcade of unforgettable faces leaving their niche cubbyholes of Raw, Heavy Metal, Weirdo and Screw to go blinking out into the bright lights of a vividly expansive new universe of mass media.

While he may have been regularly picturing Beltway backroomers, Botox’d bimbos and boardroom bigwigs going for the gusto in the pages of everything from The New York Times, New York Observer, Village Voice and The New Yorker to Time, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and that budding-cartoonist grail known as MAD, the man who famously said “Liver spots are my NINAs” never lost his affinity for the weathered and leathered faces of vintage entertainers. Specifically, the Old Jewish Comedians that he lovingly rendered in a series of “BLAB Storybooks” edited by Monte Beauchamp.

Those boys (and a few girls) of the Borscht Belt, burlesque houses and beyond — from Berle, Burns, Benny and Brooks to — uh, Menasha Skulnick? — reside at the big, generous heart of Drew Friedman’s new solo exhibit, also called Old Jewish Comedians and opening at Manhattan’s Society of Illustrators gallery with a reception on the evening of Wednesday, March 5. Populated by people whose faces were cathode-cannoned into his consciousness by a youth spent seining the phantom channels of local New York TV, it’s a kosher keynote to a two-month installation highlighted by an April 24 panel on “The Evolution of Jewish American Comedy” that teams Drew with, among others, Larry (F Troop) Storch.

The son of novelist and playwright Bruce Jay Friedman has another pipelined project to promote, centering around comics of a different discipline — Heroes of the Comics (Fantagraphics), a celebration of the early years of the comic book that ditches the masked mystery men in favor of the dedicated creators who made their adventures pop. Siegel and Shuster, Finger and Kane, Ditko and Kirby, Kurtzman and Wally Wood — to say nothing of Fawcett artist Ma Raboy and cover kingpin L.B. Cole — are all among the 80-plus portraits included in the volume that further features a foreword by Gang of Idiots godfather (and Friend of the Asbury Park ComiCon) Al Jaffee. Like the Comedians series and the single-volume Sideshow Freaks, it’s a genuine labor of love that confers instant Hall of Fame status upon its subjects, by dint of the passionate portraitist who painted them.

Drew Friedman’s magazine-work collection Too Soon? sports an intro by the artist that answers a lot of the questions we’d normally want to ask — from his work chronology and greatest influences, to his pen nib of choice (Hunt No. 4) and his personal pick for “funniest non-Jews who ever lived” (Bob and Ray). The bio page on his website devoted to fine art prints offers a succinct summary as well — and his very entertaining blog ventures wherever it may, from “Godfrey Cambridge’s Rent A Negro Plan” to “The Musical Stylings of Anthony Quinn.”

Your upperWETside Control Voice rang up the ever-industrious Friedman, at the Pennsylvania home he shares with his wife and occasional collaborator Kathy Bidus, plus beagles. Read on…

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8/13: Turning HEADS in the Out-of-Doors

Romanian-born painter, sculptor, field anthropologist and “sexual prankster” Dumitru Gorzo is giving the entire town of Red Bank HEADS, during an outdoor art show that’s visible at various locations from now through October 14.

The opening of an exclusive major exhibition of paintings by an internationally acclaimed artist would be a feather in the cap of any town on the map — and an absolute must for a cranny of culture that was ranked third on Smithsonian Magazine’s list of The 20 Best Small Towns in America.

If you’ve been wandering Red Bank in search of the New Jersey Museum of Contemporary Art, don’t despair — simply set the controls for 99 Monmouth Street. Or 21 Bridge Avenue. Or 84 West Front Street, 50 Maple Avenue and a handful of additional addresses where the “floating” arts entity NJMoCA will be presenting HEADS, an ongoing, open-air (and in-your-face) “observation of the individual spirit”  that takes to the borough’s exterior walls from these dog-star days of August, to the harvest-moon evenings of early autumn.

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2/4: Save the Roller Disco!

TRAGEDY returns to Asbury Lanes, as the ONLY metal Bee Gees tribute you’ll need see this weekend puts on their bowling shoes for a bit of Saturday Night Kegler — while lensman Mike McLaughlin is among the vibey visionaries represented in PINK NOISE, the 3rd Anniversary group show opening at Parlor Gallery.

All in all, it wasn’t the best week in which to be PINK.

Between the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s face-reddening “Pink-Gate” PR debacle, and the viral backlash against the infamous McNuggets “Pink Slime” photo, the once-proud color of Barbie and Elvis and Quisp was looking a beat-up and pulpy shade of purple by Friday. Which is why Pink Noise, the official Third Anniversary group show installation at Asbury Park’s pop-art paradise Parlor Gallery, could not have arrived with better timing to pull the PINK back from the BRINK.

A chance to feel “In the Pink” is especially needed here in a week with the news that Asbury Lanes — that Cold War-era tenpins taproom turned kitschy-cool alterna-arts odditorium — had been sold by its longtime owner to local developers Pat Fasano and Vince Gifford. It’s a bit of news that set off brain-alarms in anyone for whom the Lanes has served as everything from Fellini-esque corner bar, to a destination worth crossing several state lines to reach — and, justified or not, it was a potential tragedy that put many of us on a reflexive “Save the Roller Disco” alert straight out of 80s movies like Xanadu and Lunch Wagon.

Of course, the Lanes is no stranger to Tragedy, having hosted this hemisphere’s premier all-metal tribute to the music of the BeeGees many times over the years. Tonight, February 4, the 2012 edition of the continent-crossing metalizers (brothers Barry Glibb, Mo’Royce Peterson, and Robin Gibbens, with little brother Andy Gibbous Waning on bass and family patriarch The Lord Gibbeth, on drums) retakes the center Lanes in a late-skewed setsnack for which your award-winning DJ Jack the Ripper will serve as “amuse bouche.”

Before that, however, the windows of the Cookman Avenue arts bloc’s Parlor Gallery will be steaming up like an electric casserole dish, as First Saturday rages in downtown Asbury and some dozen music-minded artists (including DEVO poindexter Mark Mothersbaugh) team up for a de-waxing blast of Pink Noise.

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To Protect, To Preserve, and To Party

 

Actually, that was supposed to be A Concert ON, not IN, the Lake — but when ArtsCAP throws its annual summer fundraiser party on Saturday, August 13, local fave rocker Josh Zuckerman is expected to make his usual big splash.

Meetings! We’ve all had to sit through our share — and if you’re one of the lucky ones, you at least agreed on the date of the meeting before moving on to whatever obfuscatory flapdoodle passed for “business” in your neck of the office plaza. Still, strange as it may seem, there are those who occasionally get something accomplished at the conf table — and weirder still, they’re people who represent nonprofit entities of low- (or even NO) budget, meaning they don’t even get paid for the privilege of kissing off those not inconsiderable slabs of Life.

Following is a roundup of what some of our fightin’ arts and/or historical orgs have been up to lately; a list that begs to be highlighted by the Black Box of Asbury Park. The long-running (but lately largely dormant) “incubator of ideas” is coming off a successful poetry slam-poon entitled “The Great American Beat-Off,” in which the black ‘n boxy Saint was transformed for the afternoon of August 6 into an Interzone of wannaBeats and savvy inheritors of the spirit. On Sunday afternoon, August 14, the Box gets a Re-Boot in a public-invited preview party at Chico’s House, with details here as posted previously on Upper WET Side.

Before that, the folks at the Arts Coalition of Asbury Park — a nonprofit that’s invested a lot of sweat equity and thinkpower in its ongoing mission of creating a genuine destination for the arts in AP — is making final preps on their third annual summertime benefit party. Going on Saturday evening, August 13 at an “undisclosed location” (not really; it’s a lovely private residence on Deal Lake), this “major fundraising event of the year” carries on an August tradition that’s worked out well for the ArtsCAP volunteers (check out our archived piece on the 2009 event and its featured star Rachel Garlin) — a cocktail-hour concert that, in the words of ArtsCAP prexy Dennis Carroll, “will enable us to fund an expanded arts agenda announced as part of our recently announced Strategic Plan.”

Under said Strategy (viewable here in short form), the ArtsCAP board is currently focusing their energies on three new established committees dedicated to Advocacy (chaired by The Showroom’s Mike Sodano), Enterprise (chaired by John Vigg of Collective Art Tank) and Public/ Private Partnerships. Add to this the group’s role in an afterschool program at Asbury Park High School (where a full time dance and drama teacher has recently been hired) and, well, you’d still only have a part of the overall picture.

“We’re also involved in a plan to develop artist workspace around town,” explains Carroll. “Particularly in undeveloped areas like Memorial Drive and the West Side.” In addition to all that, the Coalition crew has forged an alliance with Interfaith Neighbors, whose new work-in-progress Springwood Center project is set to include office space for ArtsCAP.

Kicking off Saturday’s soiree with an hour of complimentary cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and desserts, the concert component kicks in at 7 with fave local rocker Josh Zuckerman (whose latest release Got Love? is triangulated as “an infectious mixture of pop rock and soothing ballads, all of them electrified with a powerful message of love and self-acceptance”) AND the Asbury acousticana of Carl Chesna. Tickets ($25) for the event at 2115 Sunset Drive in Asbury Park are available via PayPal right here, or reserve by emailing artscapfndrs@yahoo.com or calling Ginny Otley at 732.874.3884.

But wait, as they say on TV, there’s more…

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SICA Lines Up Another Shot

Owner “Sica” buyer, for way-out House of Ideas: Doug Ferrari’s Shore Institute of the Contemporary Arts in Long Branch edges ever closer to a planned Asbury relo, with a mini-golf gala lined up for August.

For a fella named Ferrari, his marque is anything but status-symbol. In fact, his personal style simply flies in the face of any Hermes-scarved stereotype associated with a cutting-edge art gallery owner. Time was, he even sported a ‘stache that would not have been out of place on Wilford Brimley.

Given his obvious strengths in the economy and mileage departments, we’d pin him as, say, a sensible Kia Rondo over some stallion-stud Continental driving machine.

We kid Douglas Ferrari, of course. The true fact of the matter is that few among us have ever possessed the moxie, the mojo, the fine madness to have mortgaged our home in a quest to transform a drab old olive oil cannery into an uncanny ideas factory. And that’s precisely what the art teacher and sculpture connoisseur did, as founder and curator of the Shore Institute of the Contemporary Arts in the way-off-Broadway realm of downtown Long Branch — a genuine cultural oasis that’s hosted a slew of forward-thinking visual art exhibits, in addition to dance troupes, open mics, spoken word slams, conferences, classes and sonic entertainments that would likely find a sympathetic stage nowhere else in Shore creation.

It was SICA that brought the annual SculpToure display of outsized, outdoors, out-of-limits 3D artworks to the boardwalks, boulevards and building-tops of the Friendly City. SICA that furnished a first forum for several musical acts that have since staked their place on the local scene and the music biz at large. SICA that offered ultra-convenient, second-floor studio space to artists, filmmakers and media people. SICA that sponsored competitions and exhibit opportunities for high school and college age creatives from all over NJ; SICA that opened its doors (and its cozy cafe space) to dance troupes, video artists, performance poets — as if any of it represented a license to print money.

Still, if that concrete cavern of quirky crannies and stairways-to-nowhere remains something of a Best Kept Secret to the general pube-lick some seven years after its 2004 opening, it’s also no secret that Ferrari has long had one foot out the door of Long Branch — with the aim of relocating lock, stock and  barrel to Asbury Park. While not quite there yet, Signor Ferrari has found his cause championed early and often by AP Mayor Ed Johnson, whose efforts have included lending his name and his tournament-grade hook to last winter’s Mayor’s Bowl fundraiser at Asbury Lanes. This August, Hizzoner tees off in support of SICA once more, via a planned event tentatively titled The Mayor’s Golf Outing.

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Remembering the Rembrandt of Red Bank

The late James Avati, pictured in the early 1990s at his Broad Street studio, employed friends, family members and Red Bank neighbors as models for his sought-after paperback cover paintings of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.  (Avati photo by Piet Schreuders)

He was the King of the Paperback Book Cover Artists — even the Rembrandt of the Paperbacks, according to some. An innovator who set the pace during what’s widely considered a golden age of American illustration — and he did it all from his walk-up studio above Broad Street in Red Bank.

During the years dating from the end of the Second World War to the era of the WIN Button, the late James Avati created hundreds of vivid, powerful cover paintings for novels by FaulknerDreiserO’Hara and many other leading literary lions of the day — as well as for upstarts like J. D. Salinger and Mickey Spillane, whose hardboiled epics were reportedly no favorites of the artist.

Famous for reading every word of every book he was hired to do, Avati was commissioned for dozens of high-profile titles from New American Library and other top publishing houses, and found his smoldering, moody style quickly imitated by his peers. It would have been easy for him to work exclusively with the best available models, but what truly set Avati’s work apart — what gave it that edge of authenticity and heart — was his preference for “real people” subjects; many of them drawn from his circle of friends, relatives and neighbors in and around Red Bank.

Beginning this Friday evening, July 15, those faces that once called out to readers from drugstore bookracks and bus station spinners will be on full-size display, as the Monmouth Museum on the Lincroft campus of Brookdale College hosts an opening reception for The Painting World of James Avati. A sampling from the world’s largest collection of the artist’s sought-after work, it’s a priceless portrait of American realism in words and pictures; a painted diorama of a bygone Red Bank, and a fascinating glimpse into the creative process of a man whose signature work has been described as “the darker side of Norman Rockwell.”

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Up at McKay’s, a Tribute to John K.

The colorful, creative “Drawings and Such” of the late Tinton Falls artist John Kochansky are the stuff of AFTERTHOUGHTS, a new exhibit that opens this week at McKay Imaging Gallery.

When the husband/wife tagteam of Robert and Elisabeth McKay reworked their second-floor studio space at 12 Monmouth Street to include a gallery exhibition room, the mission statement couldn’t have been clearer: advance local interest in the captured image as fine art. Elevate photographers to the sort of status enjoyed by painters, sculptors and illustrators. Apply their own passionate advocacy and love of craft to the creation of a forum that would inspire the shutterbugs of New Jersey to new and greater heights.

Then in walked John Kochansky, and things immediately went from fine-tuned to fuzzy.

A high school classmate (and on again/ off again friend) of Bob McKay’s, Kochansky had spent the interim decades pretty much picking up from what he already did throughout his teens — busying himself with the creation and exhibition of a staggering body of original art works. Vivid paintings and cartoony drawings; wearable oddities and grandly graphomaniac statements; sculptures in wood and metal and “repurposed” esoterica. All of them infused with an all-seeing, all-knowing sense of humor that reflected their author’s outsize personality and infectious joie de vivre.

When McKay explained that the new room was to be all about the photo, Kochansky returned with a set of vintage photographic portraits that he had rescued from thrift shops and antique stores, treated with bleaches, dyes and organic materials — and transformed from orphan castoffs to provocative works of art. And when McKay Imaging Gallery opened its doors on July 14, 2005, it was with an inaugural exhibition by the name of Found, Not Lost: Works by John Kochansky.

This Friday night, June 17, the McKays will host an opening reception for another display of Kochansky creations — this one a collection of “Drawings and Such” presented under the name Afterthoughts. Like their previous Kochansky solo shows in 2005 and 2006, it’s an event that promises to draw a sizable crowd and generate a positive buzz — but conspicuous in his absence will be John Kochansky himself.

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