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THE LAUGHING TIKI
AN ESSAY ON MODERN ART
BY
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, etcetera.

Hemingway.
Tex Avery.
Kerouac.
Sinatra.

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 outside.
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.

Meanwhile …

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 different article.

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.

Why?

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.
Laughing tikis.
Magic belly dancers.
Flying saucers.
Low-tech robots.
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
brad@retrocrush.com


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.
 

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