Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Childhood Excursions, on Paper

The following gallery features illustrations I created between the years of 1967 and 1972, from the ages four to eight, a time when the impulse to visualize trumped any hesitation of confidence, a state I wish was as natural now as it was then. I certainly knew what a mistake was, even as a young child, and can clearly remember feeling great frustration when the lines I put down didn’t match those my brain had whispered to me, but there was something unrestrained in childhood, an unspoken license to fail, failure being the path to “getting things straight”, as my father used to say, about most everything my siblings and I attempted, but rarely realized with anything nearing initial success.
I’ve been told I didn’t walk until I was nearly two years old, all it took to keep me happy sitting in a corner was a sheet of paper and something to draw with. My mother recalls me drawing turtles during this early artistic sit-in, indicating each section of the turtle’s shell, an uncanny look of concentration on my face.
Looking back on these drawings now, nearly forty years later, I feel a strange kinship with the images. They might seem amusing and brimming with the naivete of childish instinct, but I also see something of the conscious effort to compose my budding visual vocabulary, an effort I struggle with to this day, always sensing that old challenge when offered a new task, part of me retreating to that quiet corner of the room, my back propped to the wall, my eyes set with determination as I seek the connection of ease that lingers, with varying obscurity, between the elusive pedestal of my mind and the reactive notion of my hand.

1. Daddy
A life drawing of my father, asleep in his chair after returning home from a business trip, circa 1967, Strathblaine, Scotland. It appears that he quite liked the flavor of his sideburns.

2. Superman
An early attempt at copying from an existing illustration, most probably executed in 1971 or ’72, my exposure to American super heroes being almost non-existent before moving to the States in ’71. Wayne Boring would be proud.

3. Naked Ladies
From a 1967 school exercise book, a diversion from my intended studies, the subject of my artistic inclinations showing itself quite early on in the game. Not much has changed. Not even the functional particulars of ladies.

4. Drugs are People Too
This strange act of animating pill bottles and remedies is from 1971. I have no idea what compelled me to do this. Perhaps, as a recent émigré to a new world, it had something to do with the culture shock I was experiencing. Perhaps I just had a headache?

5. Glasgow Storefronts
The city of Glasgow was a dark and often unwelcoming place during the late 1960s, its shipbuilding yards towering over woebegone streets lined with little shops that seemed perpetually coated in ash and soot. Every trip into the notorious Scottish port was an adventure, leaving me with fleeting images of the brutish side of life, even as the flickering lights in a toy shop window beckoned me inside, my pocket weighted with pennies. I drew this for a school assignment, in 1968, after having returned from one of those impressionable weekend shopping visits.

6. Kids: a sociological breakdown, as rendered by the young artist
While enduring the trials of cultural assimilation, I here attempted to sort things out for myself, applying old world class divisions to my new set of American peers, in this clinically perceptive bit of stereotyping from 1971. You can well imagine how surprised I was to learn that “poor kids” on both sides of the Atlantic subsisted on a regular diet of snails.

7. Fortress of the Future
Like most boys my age, I was compulsive about the details of the world of working things; the operations of airports, train stations, military machines, the tank at the back of the upstairs toilet (it wasn’t me who poured in half a box of soap detergent, I swear it wasn’t). This busy schematic, from 1970, of an armed futuristic city, came complete with an amiable and floating satellite enterprise, congenially named Joe’s Repair Shop.

8. The Rubbles
One of the keys of successfully adopting a new culture is to embrace its cartoon icons, something I was desperately trying to accomplish here, in 1971, with this awkward focus on Barney Rubble and Bam Bam, along with a mightily-confused Dino. To this day I can feel the instant shame of realizing I had drawn the car too small. My instinctual cover-up with the dialog balloons was perhaps one of the earliest indications that I might have a future in cartooning. The alternative was to work on the mechanics of scale, but who wants to do that?

9. Weirdoes
From 1972, an exercise in ballpoint color, and the adventurous meanderings of the antler. A proud moment in a young career.

10. Which is Nice?
Culled from a 1969 school workbook, another deft usage of ballpoint, along with a spontaneous barrage of lettering. Note the written indications of the particular sweets each boy has held in his cheek.

11. Destroy All Monsters!
Here is one of the many battle pictorials I excelled at during my pre-adolescence, this one, from 1972, featuring many of my newly-favorite monsters, Gammera, Rodan and Reptilicus. Was anything more seductive to an eight year-old than the sight of a rubber lizard stepping on a building full of screaming people? I think not.

12. Richard Petty
Though, perhaps watching Richard Petty racing his stock car came close. This colored-pencil tribute to my favorite race car driver is from 1972, I being well on my way to absorbing the prime divinities of the American way of life.

13. “Wresterls”
Here’s another tribute to new heroes, this time the many faces and forms of professional wrestling, circa 1971, most stars of the WWWF, like Chief Jay Strongbow, Haystacks Calhoun and, of course, the inimitable Andre the Giant. Back then, my Saturday mornings were divided between the ring-pummeling bruisers and the Tokyo-smashing monsters. Was it any wonder I’d spend the rest of the afternoon rolling about the lawn like a turbo-charged hamster? My hat is off to anyone who can decipher the identities of all of the pictured wrestling stars by the initials labeling them.

14. A Silly Symphony
The origin of this picture is a mystery. If I indeed took in a symphonic performance in 1971, when this was drawn, I cannot recollect it. Nevertheless, it exhibits a keen interest in audience reaction, the “boo fans” seeming to have gained the upper-hand over the piously-saluting fans below. Was the Boston Pops ever really so divisive?