Discover more from The Symptoms
TOO LOWBROW FOR THE SNOBS, TOO HIGHBROW FOR THE SLOBS
A Guest Lecture from Jay Abel, Artist Extraordinaire
While I’m polishing off another two-fisted Symptoms tirade to warm your lonely screentime, I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce the hopelessly uninformed among you to Jay Abel, illustrator and writer of enormous ability. I’m not generally prone to promotional poses, either for myself or the countless number of far-superior creators I know, but encountering Mr. Abel’s stellar drawings on the Information Superhighway not long ago gave me quite a start. Further discovering his darkly funny essays, I could only come to one conclusion: This guy’s got the goods.
One of the best things about the internet – even better than the popup ads and data mining – is discovering and even connecting with inspiring creative types, and Jay has most definitely been inspiring. On that note, Mr. Abel addresses here the transition from oldskool illustratrix to newfangled cyber-hustler, the effects of the pandemic on artist types, and glories of print-on-demand book publishing in a virtual world. – Ashley Holt
”Gee professor, What did you do during the big pandemic!”
“I dunno Billy, that’s a good question. My spouse and I bought a case of smoked trout and some surgical masks online, I fixed a leak under the kitchen sink and caught up on my alcohol consumption. After that my options for positive action were exhausted… Save for one slender book of graphic art…”
I’ve published around 9 books so far, after Lulu.com made publishing a book almost as easy as falling off a unicycle after four sombrero slammers. (I tried it, It’s easy).
“Blackmarks” is near to the only book, bearing my name, that I actually like, or can even stand to look at after the torturous editing and revision a book demands.
The first few examples are pre-pandemic. I was called upon to draw some antifascist posters for a California Community College and I was far from politically neutral. Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows weren’t gonna cut it for that job, I wanted to singe a few torpid eyeballs. The century old “Die Bruke” woodcuts, blood raw, half-way to 3/4 nuts, informed by hard liquor and opium, naked jitterbugs and revolution for the hell of it, would inform my call to resistance.
My rude Antifa graphics were well received by the commies, geriatric hippies, Bernie babies, vegans and tree-huggers that define my academic workplace. The block-cut template is the one I would pursue for the next couple of years.
In March 2020, the first case of Covid came at last to the tiny, alcoholic, ramshackle border town where I reside. Shortly after that the great pandemic came down like the fist of god.
America was shut down.
I was lucky. I had been teaching art history classes, online, since 2017. My morning schedule, diet, wardrobe and work environment remained constant - coffee, slippers, a hoodie with enough room for a family of four, (bought in Idaho, with “property of John Deer” stenciled across the front) and an orange tabby cat contesting with my laptop for a front row seat. A depression at one end of the sofa was in perfect conformity to my southern quarters. I did a few graphics with my choppy new buzz mainly to get out of my spouse’s way as she vacuumed around my feet. I sent some of that work to a T-shirt franchise that would also print images on coffee cups, throw pillows, easter eggs, and anything else, up to and including running water. I put a great deal of hard labor into those designs and I submit that most of my offerings were far better than the venue demanded, which isn’t really saying very much.
I made just enough money to buy one of their dumb T-shirts, responsibly re-investing into the business. Managing success has never been my problem, nor has having any success to manage.
Regarding the American art scene, or what little is left of it, I’m what the English call a rank outsider. Most “outsiders’” were taggers (before they got inside) or just street people. I am neither. I hold a crappy little BA and I secured a part time teaching position 35 years ago when requirements were often casual if not lazy. I am an outsider mainly by inclination but also by exclusion. Passively exiled from the museum establishment by 2014, a partial list of contemporary art movements that I have disliked, avoided, been rejected by, or booted out of would include Neo-dada, Neo-realism, Neo-expressionism, deconstructionism, conceptualism, installation, video and large-scale earth works. There is no red dot on the cultural map where such as I can call home, nor even so much as throw a bedroll.
Long before that I lost my shaky post as a feature Illustrator, along with almost everyone else in that line. At least I had a fall-back position that did not involve restocking shelves with BBQ flavored taco chips and Ding-Dongs.
Regarding the hot new buzzes, AI and computer games, the width of an atom is greater than my interest or my sympathy.
Too lowbrow for the snobs, too highbrow for the slobs.
For most of 2020 then, I retreated to a comfortable mental bivouac, detached from reality. This is an OK place to be, so long you’re not driving a greyhound bus or mailing letter-bombs to the local school board.
And so, when plague winter was visited upon us, social isolation did not find me on the bathroom floor at 3 AM, railing against the immortal gods like King Lear, or throwing cinder blocks through the car window. While bodies were stacked up in urban morgues like cordwood, and doctors and nurses and PAs and support staffers passed out in their white sneakers from back to back 16 hour shifts, I am chagrined to confess that the pandemic was not all that bad for me. I was ruminating in my studio for much of the time, alternating Jethro Tull with Mahler and kicking back shots of Jack Dan honey until the dark, but sometimes interesting visions, came forth.
The better ones are represented in this book, available on Lulu.com for 12 lousy bucks, plus ship.
The thrills don’t get no cheaper. See this and other available art books from J. Daniel Abel on this page -
Many thanks to Ashley Holt for this offer to expand my admittedly low horizon on his fine website.
Ashley can write and he can draw. This pairing of skill sets is given to few.
He’s also very funny.…