When I was over in San Francisco I managed to miscalculate how much time I’d have on my last day, and woke up early, packed my bags and checked out of the hotel. Sitting having breakfast in a diner around the corner from Powell St, I pulled my itinery out of my rucksack and worked out how long I had until my flight – six hours!!! It was a happy realisation, a little gift of time which I hadn’t bargained on, enabling me to do one last thing before I returned to the UK.
I knew immediately what I wanted to do. The day before I had headed over to the Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts hoping to see an exhibition of Robert Crumb’s comic book drawings, which included a selection of new stuff as well as old, but was disappointed to find that the museum was closed on Mondays and had to miss out. So I jumped on the underground and dashed over, only to find the place still closed. Only because I was too early, though. As I’ve mentioned before, the weather in San Francisco was ludicrously hot, so I sat prone in the sun at the neighbouring park, allowing the fine spray of a nearby fountain to cool my arms. Soon enough, the doors sprang open and I raised myself and went in.
Crumb’s drawings are fascinating – all are highly detailed, allowing no opportunity to document the texture of skin to be passed up, and many highly immature and adolescent, raising a contrast between Crumb’s naivity and his interest in social degredation and sex. Some of the drawings portray women in a pretty unforgiving light, yet Crumb details men’s failings, sexual and otherwise, with an equal frankness. Perhaps the most moving drawings are those which deal with Crumb himself, particularly an inability to vocalise his feelings – which manifests itself in one particularly lovely comic strip where, standing to face the reader, he can think of so little to say, and feels so awkward, that he is reduced to singing a song, moving from nervous to enthused and back to awkward in a series of highly comic frames. His interest in ennui means some of the drawings really do explore life in some philosophical depth – and yet others remain frank, filthy and funny.
By far my favourite is a drawing I’ve written about on this blog before, but can’t resist reproducing again. His ‘Short History of America’ (below, click to enlarge) is just magnificent, one of my favourite works of art of the twentieth century – I don’t care that Crumb is a comic book artist; the 12 frames of this drawing buzz with meaning, emotional currency and history. Brilliant stuff, and a brilliant exhibition.