Thursday, March 7, 2019

Uncivilized: Dash Shaw's Structures 57-66

The Structures series of minicomics from Uncivilized speak to publisher Tom Kaczynski's professional interests as an architect. Of course, the nature of structures--especially man-made ones--has also always been a part of Kaczynski's personal, aesthetic project. In particular, the ways in which we interact with structures and how they explicitly and implicitly represent aspects of the wider culture and interests of capitalism is at the center of his work. The relationship between evolution and civilization vs. humanity's basest instincts also informs everything he does. As such, it's clear that when he assigned an artist an issue of Structures to do, he was interested in seeing how they would interpret the concept. In a sense, it's a kind of anthology series, riffing on a single theme in radically different ways.

Dash Shaw did Structures 57-66, and his take on the concept was surprisingly clear and linear. Earlier in his career, Shaw went heavy on coded symbolism and metaphor in his comics. In more recent years, his storytelling has become more straightforward in some ways, especially his use of line and narrative. His use of color is what's become the interesting wild card for him, using a wildly expressionistic style to convey emotion and meaning. It's interesting to see him return purely to line and not color in this comic, especially since it's so straightforward and even whimsical. Each drawing is a sort of fantasy of a building project outside his house. The first is a "Monument To Jane," his partner. The monuments utilize a thick but simple version of his line, laid out as a kind of sculptural montage. For Jane, we see her from various angles engaged in various activities with an assortment of instruments.

There's a warm and loving monument to his parents, engaged in a hug that merges their faces. There's a soaring monument to Tezuka, a funny and solid monument to Gertrude Stein, a monument to Francis Picabia that mimics that artist's drawings and even a monument to "the kicker of the monument." Shaw's sense of humor can be dry at times because he's so committed to the reality of whatever scenario he creates, but the reality is that a lot of his work is whimsical and sometimes emphatically funny. This comic is a nice workout for him that allows him to explore a number of different shapes and align them with concepts that gently tweak the art world.

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