Thursday 23 July 2009

"The van Gogh of the Gross-Out"

Basil Wolverton's art has been admired and despised in equal measure, but few reviews have been as scathing as this one in the New York Times.

"He reserved some of his most repellent effects for images of women. Like so much of American culture in the ’50s, when a new feminist consciousness was just beginning to coalesce, his work comes across as spectacularly misogynistic. That he turns men into freaks too doesn’t really alter the impression that Wolverton’s art is a for-boys-only art."

And a certain "Protestant sect" gets a mention:

"In 1941 he had become a member of a Protestant sect called the Radio Church of God, later the Worldwide Church of God. He was ordained as an elder in 1943, and as his contribution to the sect he illustrated some of its apocalyptically minded publications, as well as the biblical account of the earth’s final days.

"Several of his end-of-the-world pictures are in the show, and they’re wild. Plagues descend on the sin-ridden human race. Bodies break out in disfiguring boils. Faces burn, shrivel and stretch into masks of fear... In those profoundly and ingeniously disintegrative images, everything inside the body — viscera, muscles, mucus, bones, brains — moves to the outside. Heads multiply; tongues turn into noses; hands become feet. Figures become dripping, leaking containers of crude matter, like the figures of sinners and saints in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment,” who scowl and weep and pout as they float above the pit."

If you're in the Big Apple you can view the masterpieces for yourself through Aug. 14 at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery, 515 West 24th Street, Chelsea. Click over and read the full review. Be sure to view the slideshow while you're there.


Mel said...

Apparently, when Wolverton won Al Capp's contest for drawing "Lena the Hyena"(AKA: the ugliest girl In the world), his winning drawing was this one, from the total of seven which Basil submitted.

Does anyone have a link to any of the other six submissions?

And, is it true that the most hideous of Basil's submissions has never been allowed to be seen by the public, and has been kept in a locked vault in 'Area 51' for the good of humanity, and has the alternate name of "Loma the Blowhwa"?

Anonymous said...

The Times review is indeed scathing when it deems Wolverton's work as "spectacularly misogynistic."

However, for Wolverton's work to be associated with Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment" is rarified praise.

Mark said...

Given what The New York Times could have said about the (old) WCG, their take was rather mild. I was disappointed that the slide only had one "apocalyptic" image, however.

Leonardo said...

Even in my days as a die-hard member out in Pasadena I never liked ANY of Wolverton's bizarre artwork - and I can't help but think that many other members quietly felt the same way.

Two comments included in the NYT slide show portion pretty much sums up my views:

"The images in pen and ink — Wolverton worked almost exclusively in this medium — were a virtuoso exercise in bad taste, made all the weirder for being so meticulously executed."

And a reference to...

"...Wolverton's appetite, which could verge on the pathological, for deformations and mutilations of human flesh."

I personally knew a number of other Church members who were talented artists, and much of their excellent work is FAR more deserving of being displayed in a New York art gallery instead of Wolverton's visual monstrousities.

Come to think of it, though, I rather consider Wolverton's grotesque art to be quite symbolic and representative of COG religion - sort of a graphic expression of the idealogy at one time we all so foolishly bought into.

GL said...

Picture #5 in the slide show sure looks a little like old Herbie when he saw the new coeds coming on campus!

Anonymous said...

Since the Herbie Worship Archive has now imbibed of the GCI Kool-Aid, The Bible Story has been removed from Internet circulation. Or so they thought.

Get copies of PDFs of TBS here.

For a look at 87 of the gruesome pictures that children of the church were exposed to courtesy of TBS, see "Our Own Private Apocalypse" on ISA Part 1, and Part 2.

Anonymous said...

Good man, that Basil Wolverton. Not many made it to the front cover of LIFE.

Lake of Fire Church of God said...

Mel said, "....and has the alternate name of "Loma the Blowhwa"?"

MY COMMENT - No Mel, that was actually part of the problem with HWA unfortunately for poor daughter Dorothy - "Loma didn't Blowhwa".


        AMERICAN KABUKI said...

The only thing I liked about the WCG was Basil Wolverton. But then I read Mad Magazine as kid too. Does that make me misogynistic?

I think of all those boring Spokesman Club meetings where the only entertaining thing was Basil's drawings in the Club Manual.

PS: I could have done with out his apocalyptic drawings. Those did give me nightmares.