It’s always interesting to see exhibitions consisting of the original artwork for book illustrations. Between my photography and printing backgrounds, I’m very sensitive to the distinction between the initial creation and the finished piece. It’s nice to see the behind-the-scenes nature of pasteups and contact prints. Yet very rarely can those components overshadow the intended final printed piece.
The Daniel Clowes exhibition at the Oakland Museum is the third such exhibition I’ve seen in the past year.* Clowes’s work in particular is worth seeing in the museum. His drawings are super-precise and are served well by being seen in their original larger size.** It’s also instructive to see how he pastes fine details like faces and highlights on top of the base drawings and how he uses pre-printed fill patterns to give texture to things like clothing and hair. The results are almost computer-generated, even in the large paste-up versions.
**roughly twice the dimensions of the printed pieces.
Yet, as much as I can appreciate the craft, over and over again I found myself just reading the panels and getting into the story—generally a good thing for this kind of art but frustrating in a museum where not all panels are present. I’m not familiar-enough with all the comics to fully appreciate the panel artwork—unlike Genesis or the Commedia, each of which I’m somewhat familiar with storywise. Many of the panels though did stand on their own so it’s not all frustrating.
To be fair, the museum has provided samples of the various graphic novels and bench to sit on while you read them. But that’s a much longer-term commitment to the museum than I had available to me last weekend.
I just wish they were selling prints of the “Oakland” panel from Wilson. Any exhibition which can produce a laugh-out-load moment like that is worth seeing.