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The thing about art, which most dullards fail to grasp, is that it is generally not the execution but rather the conceptualization that is the artistic nougat of the piece. Painting an overstated likeness of a Campbell's soup can does not require an intense application of graphic dexterity, but composing a finished work of art without an external precedent requires a vision that only an artist can muster. The application of paint to canvas or chisel to stone is a mechanical task; the revolution of an idea is art.
With Sacramento artist Jay Howell, however, it is pretty clear that virtually anyone (quadriplegics excluded) with a pencil could not only mechanically produce the artwork in Negatron, but could also lightly spring over the mental hurdles to come up with it. Slogans such as "The future might be stupid" will hardly impress most fine art connoisseurs, and giving Negatron only a cursory glance may lead one to summarily write off Howell's collection altogether. But, put into perspective (Howell pointedly defends his rendering of a pants-less Arnold Schwarzenegger, circa Predator, with the disclaimer that "I'm not fucking Walt Disney dude, sorry."), there is an undeniable comic value to Negatron's scrawled characters, half-baked ideas and poor spelling. In addition to his artistic motivation, Howell also possesses a fairly deft sense of irony, of which the afore mentioned narrative (entitled "Whats Up Sacto"), is indicative; as Howell puts his consciousness to paper he sits aboard an Amtrak train slinking through California, pining for the intellectual and cultural values of Europe while condemning the "Wal-Mart, BLTs and Diet-Coke" mentality of Americans. The irony, of course, is that Howell is simultaneously sneaking peaks at the momentarily-exposed-as-a-result-of-movement midsections of female passengers, comparing their tattoos to obscure trivia from bad American sci-fi/action films.
In Negatron's textual captions (which generally command more attention than the illustrations), Howell employs his sense of irony alongside healthy doses of sarcasm, disillusionment, disdain and lethargy to flesh out his ramshackle drawings. Howell is not boneheaded, to be sure, but that is not to say that the illustrated Motorcycle Diaries of two miscreant druggies named Rudy and John-Paul have any lasting value. A comparison to Trey Parker would undoubtedly be more appropriate, but I dare to say that just as fans of Gustav Klimt are often polarized by their affections for his early versus later works, so too does Howell manage to endear and frustrate his audience at the same time. Some of his work is hilarious, some of it unremarkable, but none of it goes without comment.
Howell's work fails to reach the intellectual platform of like-minded illustrators such as David Shrigley, but the rough-hewn aesthetic of Negatron, which is actually a collection of work previously issued in limited form, and the anti-Corporate Art edge with which it is delivered are worthy of applause. At the very least, Negatron is entertaining, worthy of a cursory chuckle or, for the Bevis and Butthead-loving middle class, a hearty laugh. Not to mention inspiring. I mean, after all, you could do that. SEE ALSO: www.abidevisuals.com
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
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