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THE ART OF S. CLAY WILSON
(Ten Speed Press; 2006)

An absolutely essential acquisition for lovers of Underground Comix, or, I contend, anyone with an interest in the visual arts: a coffee table art book devoted to the one and only S. Clay Wilson.

     Wilson, for those who don’t know, is the master of all things extreme. His universe is a deranged realm of unremitting filth and sleaze, inhabited by bloodthirsty pirates, rowdy bikers, horny demons, homicidal lesbians and rotting zombies. Acts shown in Wilson’s art include rape, castration and dismemberment…and those are among the nicer things he depicts!

     Yet there’s much to be admired about Wilson’s art beyond its shock value. His senses of proportion and detail are formidable, and put to mind-scraping use in his jam-packed canvases--to call Wilson’s paintings dense would be a massive understatement. His “graphic agoraphobia” is legendary, resulting in drawings and paintings so minutely detailed they must be closely studied to be even partially grasped.

     This book contains numerous full page reproductions of Wilson’s art, presented (mostly) in chronological order. It begins with early-1960s comic strips that graduate to orgiastic depictions of pirate and biker brawls (with titles like “The Gypsy Bandits Tangle with the Bike-Freak Dykes”), followed by the more representative comic strips Wilson drew for the notorious Zap Comix in the early 1970s (where he worked alongside other underground legends like R. Crumb and Robert Williams). Also included are many of Wilson’s black-and-white “Spots” drawings (as identified in the 1989 Wilson collection of that title), the gaudy illustrations he made for novels by William S. Burroughs, James Crumley and others, and quite a few miscellaneous canvases showcasing bursting penises, vagina-filtered marijuana, a nun’s ass getting tattooed and more, all depicted in Wilson’s irrepressible style.

     The book is prefaced with several admiring essays on Wilson by his old pal R. Crumb, the museum curators Mark Pascale and Geoffrey Young, and publisher Charlie Plymell, who in praising Wilson uses the following quote from William S. Burroughs: “A sure sign that an artist has mastered the craft is when you immediately recognize the work from a single glance…” That’s certainly true of S. Clay Wilson’s art, which, love it or hate, will never be mistaken for that of anyone else.

     

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