The Fine Arts Building isn’t just for art students. Housed in the Art Building across from Storrs Center are the Contemporary Art Galleries, which currently feature an exhibition of the work of Robert Crumb, an American cartoonist and musician. The drawings, prints and books from the collection of Dale Rose are on display until March 6.
“I was so alienated when I was young, that drawing was like my only connection to society,” Crumb says in a clip from an interview, “A Compulsion to Reveal” by Louisiana Channel. The interview transcript on display talks about Crumb’s lack of social skills driving him to invest his time into comic-book art. “That was the only thing that I could see was going to save me from a really dismal fate of God knows what.”
Born in Philadelphia in 1943, Crumb “contributed to many of the seminal works of the underground comix movement in the 1960s,” according to the description for the serigraph “The Adventures of R. Crumb Himself.” The exhibit is bright and lively with music playing in the background, samples of his colorful comics on display and a video of the artist playing on a television towards the back. Crumb is known for his provocative style of work, featuring sexual themes that often alienated people. His art is quite vibrant and detailed, as well as featuring the typical comic style of overemphasized body parts. It is most known for being “surrealistic” and “psychedelic.”
Besides being a founder of the first successful underground comic publication, “Zap Comix,” Crumb contributed to other publications like “East Village Other” and introduced original characters like Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural. A serigraph of “Fritz the Cat” from 2001 was on display to represent the series from the 1960s. The comic strip is set in a “supercity” of anthropomorphic animals and features Fritz, “a feline con artist who frequently went on wild adventures that sometimes involved sexual escapades,” according to the accompanying description.
The magazine-sized comics anthology from the 1980s and early 1990s “Weirdo” was also on display. It “served as a ‘low art’ counterpoint to its contemporary highbrow ‘Raw,’” as described below its display. The anthology had personal touches from Crumb’s life, such as his interests in outsider art and fumetti, the use of speech balloons in a comic or cartoons.
Later on in his career after the decline of the “underground,” Crumb adopted a more biographical and autobiographical approach to his work and refined his drawing style with strong cross-hatching with pen-and-ink. This later style was inspired by late 19th- and early 20th-century cartooning, as described in the exhibit.
One of the most interesting items on display was “Introducing Kafka,” an illustrated biography of Franz Kafka. Crumb adapts some of the novelist’s most prolific works that UConn students may be familiar with, like “The Metamorphosis,” “A Hunger Artist” and “In the Penal Colony.” The adaptations accompany a mixed biography of the writer, presented through part illustration, part essay and part sequential comic panels.
“I don’t choose to draw, it’s not a conscious thing,” Crumb says in the interview showing on the television in the exhibit. “Which means that while I’m doing it, I don’t know exactly what it’s about. You have to have the courage to take that chance.”
Hollie Lao is a staff writer and the social media manager for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.