Los Angeles


Molly Barnes Gallery

Badajos has been the cartoonist for the Los Angeles Free Press since the wonderful Ron Cobb went away. He draws a lot like Cobb, but with less restraint vis-à-vis the graphic temptations of doing psychedelic Plasticman. On the Freep, eschewing a doper’s Surrealism would be the hard road, since a good deal of the readership (little tie-dyed hoppers walking barefoot through the winos’ spit and broken tokay bottles on the way to and from the Pasadena Kazoo bookstore, with a copy of Rolling Stone, or an ecology poster probably demands it. Nevertheless, his panels are good—placement, black-and-white, line quality and variation—in the formal sense, but his characters, the human side of the business, aren’t very well drawn (in both senses of the word). All his figures, be they cop, Chicano militant, Eros, pusher, Free Man, are corpses between Chester Gould and Peter Max, with identity solely through uniform: badges, hats, hairdos, equipment, etc. (Odd that the Freep cartoonist would see people that way; much the same way, in fact, that the Kiwanis Club president sees hippies.)

His show at Molly Barnes is comprised of the originals for a book, Filipino Food (a folding mini-mural accordioned between wood covers, wood-burned, and bound with string). The installation is fantastic; the drawings are mounted in a zigzag progression which matches the sequence of the book, but which constitutes, in the gallery room, a corollary spatial adventure. It’s not that it’s big, it’s just that the installation, done by the artist, is a zingy idea, brought off well. The “plot” of the book is more or less an odyssey, that of a sort of Every youth, who is transformed, via the hypo, cops, the army, wild sexual-mechanical situations, ethnic archetypes, etc., into some kind of head-banded Free Soul, and then, alas, back down again, to be hit by what looks like a ’46 Plymouth and carried off in a streetcleaner’s pushcart. Or that’s how I read it. Anyway, this is all accomplished, unlike in Phoebe Zeit-Geist, without a lot of printing (none at all—no dialogue balloons, no sound effects-, no narration) and with a whole lot of scene-splitting, jumping and re-splicing, as in Last Year at Marienbad. The work is obviously aimed, through a shared response, at a subculture (or pseudo-subculture; have you checked the prices at Jeans West?) to which I don’t belong, and that is why I feel the spacy smorgasbord aspect as an artistic fault. On the other hand, I wasn’t around in the Krazy Kat era, but that damned thing—cop, kat, brick, mouse, black-and-white, dialogue, existential humor and all—appears to me a timeless wonder.

Peter Plagens