Tuesday, July 24, 2012
The Artist as Servant: Studio Laffitte
Continuing this week's focus on CCS artists, let's take a look at some comics from Jon Fine. Studio Laffitte is his take on French painter Georges Rouault and his patron/manager Ambroise Vollard. Fine fictionalizes both to zero in on a particular aspect of the artist's life: his relationship with commerce as a poor working painter. Fine has two significant advantages in crafting this portrayal: he's skilled enough as a painter to get away with doing the sort of things that Rouault did, and he's a fine enough illustrator to create a clear and compelling narrative. His clear, steady line reminds me quite a bit of Jason Lutes, though it's a bit more cartoony. I love his drawings of his Rouault stand-in, Alain Moreau. He's a dumpy, balding man with questionable hygiene and only a vague understanding of how to get along in the real world. With a tireless work ethic, brutal self-critiquing voice and a narrow belief in exactly what his art should look like, Moreau is a "pure" artist but barely functional as a human being. Fine explores how those around him tended to exploit these characteristics.
Moreau is constantly admonished to paint landscapes, pretty women, etc--things that the middle class would want to buy. Instead, his focus was solely on the human figure and women in particular, reveling in a grotesque appreciation of the female form. At the end of the first issue, he's given a seemingly ideal proposition: a patron who would let him live in the studio above his art gallery, pay for all of his expenses and supplies. The price was first crack at representing him and getting his paintings. As the second issue reveals, this turns out to be a devil's bargain as the patron condescendingly gives him tips and suggestions to make his work more salable, all the while refusing to give him a gallery show. In effect, he was keeping Moreau all to himself, until the ending of the second issue when the patron dies and his successor throws Moreau out, declaring that the paintings belong to him. It wasn't until a friend of the artist pointed out that he was being manipulated that Moreau even decided to act, until his devil's bargain got much worse. The cover of the second issue is quite clever: an expressionistic account of the patron looking over the artist's shoulder. The second issue is considerably more assured in terms of the art, as Fine really gets his footing here in creating a vivid set of characters who interact in interesting ways in space. Overall, a story about the exploitation of the artist by their financial backers is still quite timely, and this one is well told and vividly realized on the page.
Also worth noting is Fine's stream-of-consciousness "comic assemblage", I Said Be Quiet. This is a stylistic mish-mash that starts with strong, angular lines depicting a service at a synagogue that turns into an explosion of Joan Miro-esque figures. A man then walks into an unusual bar and is served a drink with a whole egg plopped inside of it. When he refuses to eat the egg and throws it at the wall, a gun is pulled on him. None of this adds up to much of anything other than getting a chance to see the artist's imagination committed to paper in very attractive fashion.