THE LAUGHING TIKI
AN ESSAY ON MODERN ART
BRADLEY MASON HAMLIN
I think of the old cats, writers, artists, poets and painters
hanging out, always some special sacred group of them. The bohemian Lost
Generation, the artists of Termite Terrace, the Beat Generation, The Rat Pack,
They all had their tribes. But what now? You find most groups of
artist-writer-singers gathering at coffee shops and clapping at each other’s
lack of invention over whipped cream and espresso.
Whatever happened to good taste?
The previous groups seemed to have a sense of real style. They
had art on their walls and it was important to have art on the walls. Sure,
people have art on their walls now, but mostly prints of the previous
generations or lame efforts of the new. I haven’t met one modern “artist” yet
(from the coffee shop crowd) that produces something I’d like to hang for all to
see. They scribble incomprehensible pretension and simply pretend it’s art. I
would much rather hang the artist on the wall. Even then, he or she would remind
me of the bad art in the first place and still piss me off.
Yet there are alternatives.
Let’s define that word: alternative. You can find just as much
crap in the so-called alternative world as you can in the chosen popular
expressions. Alternative should mean, finding a different venue that you can
relate to separate from the one the mainstream control system offers. The coffee
shop, once a backdrop for the literary outcast is now a painfully above ground
venue, sporting weak underground mutations for all who will look or listen. As
soon as it’s deemed cool or alternative to hang out reading bad poems or
penciling elves with square-tipped ears—you’re in trouble.
Stay out of Starbucks.
Well, you can buy your espresso, but then get the hell out of
there. Quickly. Because while you’re hanging out listening to the latest my
daddy fucked me in the ass poem or looking at some balloon-headed pencil drawing
from some kid you used to steal lunch money from—art is happening all around you
You have to stay away from the coffee shop generation. They’re jittery, and
worse than lost, they’re confused. They believe in made up expressions like
“Generation X” that has no meaning or basis in an actual group expression at
all. That term had been used plenty of times before it was slapped on the cover
of a book in the early ‘90s to simply make money off of a generation out of
sync. No tribe. No unity. No collective expression. Of course we have to
understand that Generation Out Of Sync has always been around and is simply a
symptom of being a blockhead or a square. Someone who refuses to open his or her
mind. And you may say, how dare anyone be so presumptuous to call someone else a
blockhead! Who said you were cool? Well, yeah, that might be a step in the right
direction. Don’t just question authority: question everything. But back to the
point, the half-hearted artists will give you art with the least amount of
effort and energy and ask for a thunder of applause in return.
Some of the greatest no-talents in the world expect the most
noise at their arrival. Examples of overrated artists include but are definitely
not limited to:
The music of mumbling Dave Mathews.
The smug acting of Julia Roberts.
The sleepy-safe writing presented in The New Yorker magazine.
Or anything produced by the popular child molester Michael Jackson. Now there’s
an applause junky for ya.
There are many artists hard at work in all sorts of popular and
unpopular venues that usually fall into a category that isn’t considered Art
with a capital “A” at all. One of the great original American art forms is of
course the comic strip, book, or graphic novel. The art form that gave us Dick
Tracy, Superman, Flash Gordon, and Batman. If you want the greatest example of
modern art, simply read any comic penciled by the great Jack Kirby. Or look at
the animation of comic heroes produced by Bruce Timm. Or how about the nameless
artists that put together the kooky three-dimensional representations of pop
culture, such as lunch boxes, action figures, or cereal box prizes? I would much
rather have a vintage Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea lunch box on my shelf than
a clay sculpture of someone’s abusive mother from Europe.
The Ramones understood.
And they should have had their own TV show, but that’s a
You don’t need to follow the rules of the past to get in touch
with art, but you should examine the past and take along with you the necessary
tools to move forward. In other words, beg, borrow, and steal. Beg yourself to
get off your ass and find the missing treasure of history that they forgot to
teach you in class, then go find those rare garage bands that you’ll never see
on MTV. Borrow inspiration from art that gives your heart an erection. Steal
bits and pieces of everything you love and build a new monster out of the arms
and legs of those who have gone boldly before you. The art that surrounds you
should not just express what the artist feels; the art inside your house should
illustrate the pieces of your own soul as well.
I grew up with punk rock, cartoons, comic books, and science
fiction-fantasy television shows. So, hanging a picture of Tina Louise as Ginger
in my living room would be perhaps just as pleasing to the eye as say, a Monet
depicting a particular scenery important to someone else. For me, Monet’s
sceneries don’t say anything. I can appreciate his intense use of color
combinations, okay, but the pictures themselves do not speak my language.
Art should make you feel like dancing with yourself.
Well, what is art?
Art is a creative representation that you can relate to,
something that lowers your stress level when you look at the thing. At least
that’s what good art does. Bad art does just the opposite. Bad art raises my
blood pressure. Looking at a Six Million Dollar Man action figure in the red
jumpsuit with bionic eye lowers my blood pressure. A poster of the latest remake
movie raises the pressure.
Someone timeless and exempt from generational viewpoint would be Picasso. He
painted the actual soul in action, but how often are we given such human
treasure? These goofy kids today can’t seem to speak past their peers. Everyone
wants to mumble like Dave Mathews during this cycle but last time around
everyone wanted to mumble like Kurt Cobain—and look what that did for his mental
health. I mean, what the fuck happened to that little whore called the muse? Did
she get tired of being used and leave town forever?
I believe we have to find our own gods and goddesses and let them speak inside
our own ears until they reach the heart and make it pump. It’s the same thing
with food. People are told that “gourmet” food is better food. But more often
than not, gourmet food is over-complicated and poisoned with strong cheeses and
sour sauces and just as overproduced as a modern Quincy Jones album. A good
cheeseburger & fries is just as good as any other meal, and perhaps better. A
taco is the perfect creation, high art food for sure.
So, when you come to my house you need no longer ask why a grown
man has a collection of comic books, action figures instead of Van Gough prints,
vintage TV show videos instead of Federico Fellini, or lunch boxes on my shelf
instead of a bust of Beethoven.
It is my art.
G.I. Joe is my magic totem.
Gumby my light-bearer, reminding me of pure creativity.
The Monkeemobile my time machine taking me back to a safe state of mind,
allowing the imagination to flow freely.
Magic belly dancers.
All high art.
And now the preaching is done. It is Saturday. There are
cartoons to watch and later I will play Justice League vs. the Legion Of Doom
with my son. Perhaps I will find a mint condition Fat Albert lunch box on eBay
today. Iggy Pop has a new album out and Stephen King’s latest paperback has just
hit the shelf. There’s plenty of it, too much of it. Art all around. So go, get
your coffee, and don’t walk: run. There are monsters and rockets and mystery
people with dark masks waiting to pull you around the corner—into the cave of
the unknown full of hieroglyphics and graffiti that only you can read. You may
need x-ray vision or 3-D glasses to interpret them, but all the better. All the
better for you.
Keep em’ flying,
-Bradley Mason Hamlin
NOTE: I've been a longtime tribe mate of Brad's and am kicking
myself in the ass for not getting his writing on board here earlier.
Brad's responsible for a ton of great stuff in the Sacramento area and
worldwide, and you can continue to see new stuff from him in the future here at
retroCRUSH, and his site MYSTERY ISLAND.