Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Last Gasp 40th Anniversary Show

Last Gasp 40th Anniversary Art Show: a Who’s Who of Lowbrow Art,111 Minna Gallery, San Francisco. April 1 – May 2, 2010

Although this show has closed, it was such an amazing event that I just have to post about it. The Last Gasp 40th Anniversary Art Show assembled a top-drawer lineup of artists to celebrate this milestone with a party and gallery show. Last Gasp was founded in 1970 by Ron Turner. Last Gasp’s first publication, Slow Death Funnies #1 came out on the first “Earth Day,” April 15, 1970, and has continued through the decades to publish a vast array of art, comics and alternative literature. The show included original art by Gary Baseman, Tim Biskup Glenn Barr, Mark Bode (this is his Self on the left) Robert Crumb, Richard Corben, Guy Colwell, Ron English, Tony Fitzpatrick, Christopher Felver, Camille Rose Garcia, Justin Green, Bill Griffith, Rick Griffin, Ed Hardy, Frank Kozik, Joe Ledbetter, Carol Lay, Adrian Lee, Michael Manning, Chris Mars, Scott Musgrove, Junko Mizuno, Liz McGrath, Laurenn McCubbin, Mitch O’Connell, Annie Owens, The Pizz, Mark Ryden, Michael Rosen, Trina Robbins, Spain Rodriguez, Dori Seda, Winston Smith, Eric White, Robert Williams, Attaboy, Aye Jay, and others.

The 111 Minna Gallery is a large (recently expanded) space encompassing what used to be two large high-ceilinged retail spaces in downtown San Francisco. This popular gallery space is also a nightclub and bar, so people going to see this show could view it in style. The opening night party was so packed with artists, local celebrities and assorted weirdos that it has started to slip into local legend, or as Jon Longhi said in his review for NBC Bay Area, “The event was one of the most impressive gatherings of artists I've ever seen. It's a good thing there wasn't a terrorist attack because a bomb going off in that room could have wiped out alternative culture as we know it.” Here are more photos and commentary on the opening on the blog of artist Isabel Samaras.

Immediately on entering the space, the visitor was greeted by a tribute wall to Ron Turner that included many vintage photos, a large print of Robert Williams’ surrealist piece In the Pavilion of the Red Clown and R. Crumb’s painting Leaving Home. Throughout the exhibition, the walls of the gallery were not only packed with framed artwork, but the upper walls above the art were covered with large banners printed with the covers of books Last Gasp has published over the last 40 years. It’s a show that might have felt claustrophobic in a traditional gallery space, but it worked in a large urban nightclub with high ceilings. I have heard complaints about the lighting in this space in past shows, but the gallery seemed to have made a special effort here, as every piece seemed to be carefully lit to its best advantage.

Although the show generally seemed to focus more on paintings than comic art drawings, one standout was a series of Zippy splash pages by Bill Griffith, including a time travel story, and Zippy’s first meeting with aliens. I found myself staring in fascination at an incredibly detailed collage by Winston Smith, reconstructing Velazques’ Las Meninas (1656) as an advertisement selling the young princess as a commodity. Another striking piece was a large painting by Mark Bode (Self, 2010) in which he shows his cartoon alter ego in tears, used as some sort of Matrix-like living battery. Rick Griffin’s 1989 drawing Art and Death (on the left) also seemed to be a self-portrait, as it portrayed a biker dude in shades defending himself with pen and ink as a skeleton stands at his shoulder, playing the violin. While viewing it, I couldn’t help thinking of how haunted Griffin looked whenever I would see him in the late 1980’s, and how this drawing evoked a feeling of eerie loneliness.

Seeing this large and eclectic mix of lowbrow, highbrow and just plain odd artwork, I marveled at the different forms of expression on display, and was very grateful to Last Gasp for making it possible. The 111 Minna web site still has many images from the show available on-line at http://www.111minnagallery.com/2010/04/last-gasp-40th-anniversary-art-show/ .


  1. Sorry, Kim, but unless it's a re-creation, SELF is by Mark's dad Vaughn.
    It very well could be a re-creation- Mark's done a fair number of those and the color is slightly different than in the print versions I've seen.
    Was there an exhibition catalog? so sorry I missed this one...
    And no, I haven't forgotten that exhibit write-up you needed!

  2. Hi Diana! There wasn't a catalog (or I haven't found one on Last Gasp's site). I took really careful notes on this one though, as it was such a stunning painting in real life. I wonder if this father/son dynamic changes the connotation of the painting?