Friday, May 18, 2012

Drew Friedman "My Way"

Three weeks ago I attended my first art show opening. I've been to a fair number of galleries over the years, but not to so many recently and never to an opening. When I learned that Drew Friedman was having his first-ever retrospective at the Scott Eder Gallery, I decided to attend. Friedman is a major caricaturist. I grew up admiring the caricatures of Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Al Hirschfeld, David Levine, and Ronald Searle, so perhaps it was time for me to do a little catching up with the contemporary scene.

I knew of Scott Eder's comic art business through his sales on eBay as seller chesslove. As you might have gathered from my recent post on one of André François's New Yorker covers, I have nothing but admiration for a man who appreciates a good game of chess. Now, I didn't realize from his eBay sales that he had a gallery so close to home in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn. I went there on Friday evening April 27 for the first time to attend the gallery opening, and I must say this could easily become a habit. By chance, I shared the elevator with Mr. Eder's beautiful family. The gallery was only on the second floor, so there wasn't time for too much of a chat--which is well and good, because, as events will show, I'm not much of a chatter.
Drew Friedman, My Way gallery exhibition poster

The exhibition, Drew Friedman "My Way" filled virtually all of the gallery space. It will be on view through May 31. The opening was well-attended. Unfortunately, this being my first opening, I didn't know the rules. Apparently you're supposed to grab a McSorley's and stand around hobnobbing and pretending that you "get" the comics. I'm afraid I spent a bit too much time looking at the artwork and trying to read the minuscule lettering. It turns out that if I had taken my eyes off the gallerly works for a few minutes, I might have actually been able to say hello to the artist. I also might have met his father Bruce Jay Friedman and then I could have gushed about meeting the author of Stern. (Seriously, I'd love to find out whether some of the sexier scenes early in that novel really happened. I suspect they did. Aw, forget it, I'd never be able to ask.)

If I had paid attention, I also might have met Drew Friedman's brother and onetime collaborator Josh Alan Friedman, and other Friedman siblings. Cartoonists Stan Mack and Rick Meyerowitz were also in attendance, and it would have been absolutely thrilling to meet them as well. I just may be the world's most socially inept blogger. Or I may simply have left way too early.

I had forgotten that Drew Friedman did some work in the 1980's for Heavy Metal which, at the time, perplexed me. It still does, the decades notwithstanding. Avant-garde French comics in translation made perfect sense, but a fellow American's bizarre riffs on celebrity culture left me bewildered.
The Lord of Eltingville on
  the Merits of Ed Platt.
Heavy Metal 1984.
Pen & ink on paper
(8 x 11.25 inches),

I certainly don't claim to be steeped in Hollywood lore. Strips such as Laugh Makers, below, seem to be based on real celebrities and in part on possibly real events, but there are strange elements of fantasy here too. The location of the dividing line between the real and the surreal, if there is one, just isn't apparent to me.
Laugh Makers, 
Pen & ink on paper
(8.25 x 10.75 inches),
$3500 SOLD

Here is another example with Drew Friedman's early, fine--I'm not going to call it obsessive--stippling technique once again on display. The first illustrated panel is available as a limited edition signed and numbered print from the gallery. Drew Friedman is truly obsessed--here I'll freely use the word--with Shemp Howard.
More Laugh Makers, 
Heavy Metal
Pen & ink on paper
(8 x 11 inches),
$3500 SOLD

Letterpress; Signed and numbered edition of 50
Arches Cover cotton paper (12 x 9 inches )
Image added October 14, 2012
The show features both comics and caricatures. Most or all of the work has been published. Comics are somewhat difficult to absorb on a gallery wall, but I think I'd have difficulty following the flow of these comics under any circumstances. Some of the comics were created for High Times, and perhaps that's a clue to the mental state one requires to make sense of these. Judging from the examples here, Friedman and his brother Josh Allan Friedman have spent an inordinate amount of energy savaging the benign Joe Franklin. Why? 
The Incredible Shrinking Joe Franklin, 
Heavy Metal
Pen & ink on paper
(8 x 11.5 inches).

Is "The Joe Franklin Story" humor or character assassination? Is it both?
The Joe Franklin Story, High Times 1980.
Pen & ink on paper
(10 x 13.5 inches each page).
$12,000 SOLD

Eighteen of the 37 works on display were already marked as "sold" at the opening. Sold? Did I miss the preview? It sounds a little suspicious--I mean, I arrived only 15 minutes after the doors opened--but the gallery's website diligently lists actual prices even for the sold items, so it's as if they really, truly have been sold.  Perhaps a wealthy collector bought them up. Now, three weeks later, the website lists one additional work sold. This part sounds about right.

Mr. Friedman has an incredible gift for photorealistic caricature, yet he draws quite small, rendering his skillful technique nearly invisible. Even up close, it's difficult to make out how he achieves his incredible stippling technique on the older black-and-white works. If you go, be sure to bring your magnifying eyeglasses. And please don't bring along Joe Franklin.

The main image for the "My Way" show is really quite unique. Sid Vicious shares the concert stage with Frank Sinatra and a "fat" Elvis Presley. Does Drew Friedman really believe Sid Vicious belongs up there with those musical giants? I certainly don't, and maybe you don't, but I believe Friedman is being absolutely honest with us here. I think the artist has a real affection for a great many of his subjects, but not by any means all of them. Distinguishing his true intentions isn't always possible from the artwork, admittedly a difficulty for me. At any rate, there's something extraordinarily personal about this trio, and I don't think anyone else would have come up with it.
My Way (Sid Vicious,
Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley), 
NY Daily News 
Watercolor on paper
(6 x 7.5 inches),

Next is the cover to Harvey Pekar's third American Splendor anthology. (Covers for the first two books were done by R. Crumb.) For comparison, I've added the published cover from Mr. Friedman's own blog, and a photo that I believe might well be the artist's source material.
American Splendor
Anthology cover 1991.
Pen & ink on paper
(9.75 x 12.75 inches),

Image added October 13, 2012

The New American Splendor Anthology, 1991
Image added October 13, 2012

Harvey Pekar. This may be Drew Friedman's source photo.
If so, Friedman has parted Pekar's lips slightly, exposing his teeth.

Image added October 13, 2012

Here is Woody Allen as a Knicks reporter. It looks to me as if he is unceremoniously covered in liver spots, although Friedman insists they're freckles. Friedman says he admires Allen, as he does so many Jewish comedians, so I don't think the way Allen is painted is meant as any sort of personal criticism.
Woody Allen, Sports Reporter, 
The New York Observer
Watercolor on paper (8.5 x 9 inches).
$3500 SOLD

Here's a detail of the above image from the flickr photostream of fantagraphics. I wonder if Friedman was influenced by Chuck Close.
Well, maybe they are freckles. Conan O'Brien is decorated the same way, and surely he is too young to have liver spots everywhere. I see a problem with the artist focusing too much on blemishes and wrinkles. It adds little to the personality of the subject. Ultimately, caricatures have to be about character. I think the spots are a distraction.
Conan Takes the Plunge, 
The New York Observer
Watercolor on paper
(7 x 7.75 inches),
A few others, with more of my comments:

Friedman's over-the-top composition The Party is a real tour de force. Even enlarged to full screen, it's difficult to read the words. Indeed, when the artwork was right in front of me on the gallery wall, I couldn't really make out what was in the word balloons. Uh, the frame must have been a little above my eye level.
The Party, Rolling Stone 1999.
Watercolor on paper mounted on board
(30 x 10 inches) --*the largest piece
$16,000 SOLD

Hollywood Squares, new and old together. The likenesses are rather strong, no? Drew Friedman really excels at this sort of celebrity grouping. Hey, where's Whoopi?
Hollywood Squares, 
Entertainment Weekly 
Watercolor on paper
(7.75 x 8 inches),

So Alfred E. Neuman has a girlfriend now? I never got the memo! It looks as if Mad rotated the cover art a few degrees
counterclockwise for publication. The angle at the bottom edge of the wash, though suggests that Friedman may have intended this.
Mad Color Classics
Cover 2004.Watercolor on paper
(11 x 11.5 inches),
$4000 SOLD

Alfred's pointing pose, below, is borrowed from a notorious prisoner abuse photo from Abu Ghraib in which a female American soldier points mockingly at the genitals of naked male Iraqi prisoners. The celebrity pile refers to other awful photos of naked, hooded prisoners in Iraqi jails, their bodies piled on top of one another by their captors. Mad actually published two different covers for this issue, possibly out of concern that this one's point of reference would be extremely disturbing to some readers. I've decided not to display the sickening prison photos here, even though this would be my usual practice with an illustrator's source material, as it would radically darken the tone of this entire post. I'm a little surprised--only a little--that Mad's editors thought they could milk any humor from this appalling episode.

Mad #449 Cover 2005.
Watercolor on 2 pieces of paper
(13 x 9 inches),

Is it my imagination, or is this New York Observer illustration below based on the very same photo of Donald Trump as the Mad cover? Friedman, as you may know, collects celebrity photos to use as references for his illustration. He likes to use unusual, unguarded shots such as this open-mouth view.
Meet The Trumps, 
The New York Observer
Watercolor on paper
(7.25 x 9.5 inches),
$3000 SOLD

This image is not a part of the "My Way" exhibition, but I believe the same Donald Trump reference photo was used by Drew Friedman for the book cover to this 2009 New York Observer anthology:

The Kingdom of New York, 2009
Image added October 14, 2012

Next is a rather spiffy illustration of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani looking quite well-off.
Really Rich Rudy
The New York Observer 2005
Watercolor on paper
6.5 x 7.25 inches
Image added October 18, 2012 

Jackie Chan's illustration with its silly cartoon violence is actually pretty light and appealing:

Jackie Chan, 
Entertainment Weekly 2001.
Watercolor on paper
(8.25 x 8 inches),
$3000 SOLD

Image added October 18, 2012

Harvey Weinstein is the Incredible Hulk:

Hulk Harvey (Weinstein), 
Entertainment Weekly 
Watercolor on paper
(8.25 x 8 inches),

Image added October 14, 2012

T.V. Bathing Beauties
(Aunt Bea, Lucy, Granny),
T.V. Guide.
Watercolor on paper
(9 x 7.25 inches).

Image added July 2, 2017

Howard Stern and Al Sharpton here are newly-minted politicians shown kissing a repulsed baby with New York's Rockefeller Center serving as backdrop. In 1994, Stern toyed very publicly with the idea of running for Governor of the State of New York. That year Sharpton ran in the Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat from New York. Neither campaign got very far and today New York State is the better for it.
Howard Stern & Al Sharpton, 
The New Yorker
Pen & ink on paper
(6 x 9 inches),

If you don't care for my opinions, here's a bit of lowbrow fine art criticism from Howard Stern:
"Drew Friedman is Better Than 
Picasso" - Howard Stern

I pride myself on letting my readers know the prices fetched by artwork in today's uncertain market. With this audio segment, Howard Stern weighs in on what Drew Friedman's artwork should be worth. No doubt Stern's millions have made him financially savvy about art market prices. If he's right, today's buyers of Friedman's artwork are sure getting a sweet deal! If he's wrong, well, ignorance is bliss, as they say, but the buyers still own great illustrations.
Howard Stern: Drew Friedman's 
paintings are worth 300 billion dollars 

Links:  Works for sale by Drew Friedman from the "My Way" show at the Scott Eder Gallery can be found here, alongside the numerous apparently pre-sold works that we'll pretend you could have bought if you'd been quick enough on your toes. You can still buy a few caricatures for a lot less than Howard Stern thinks they're worth, and he ought to know. Why not pick up a nice nude of Anthony Weiner to hang in the bedroom? On second thought...
Anthony Weiner, 
The New York Observer
Watercolor on paper (11 x 8 inches),

Image added October 13, 2012
"The Bare Facts About Anthony Weiner," The New York Observer, June 20, 2011.
Anthony Weiner resigned his House seat the day
after this was published. Coincidence?
Image added October 14, 2012

Drew Friedman's Source Material:  Burt Reynolds Centerfold, Cosmopolitan, April 1972
Image added October 14, 2012

Read more about Drew Friedman "My Way" at the Huffington Post.

Drew Friedman's very own blog post about the "My Way" gallery opening is here.

Scott Eder's photos from the gallery opening are here. No, you won't find any pictures of me.

Film buff Mel Neuhaus was at the opening too and wrote a funny, even gushing, review here, for those who prefer their art criticism without any criticism. He took some photos as well, but was way too cool to try taking any of me.

And don't miss this photo of Drew Friedman and Joe Franklin chumming it up. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Note:  This artwork by Seth from yesterday's post was sold on eBay by none other than the Scott Eder Gallery. This could easily be my favorite New York gallery for illustration art.


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