Why I do what I do

For as long as I can remember, creating “Art” of any kind has been been more about the process than the end product. Even as a child, I didn’t draw to replicate what I was seeing, but to respond to things emotionally. I was acutely aware of how what I saw affected me, and how what I was feeling affected the way I saw.  For example, a donut will look very different depending on whether I’m hungry or not. When not distracted by hunger, I’m more inclined to notice all the different colours, shapes, textures, smells, and imagine how they might taste. I’m more aware of details, such as how the light reflects off the individual specs of sugar; the contoured edges of the glossy frosting; the spongy, rounded surface of the golden pastry…

When I’m starving, I see a singular thing: a donut.

Whenever I produce a physical, tangible, visual response to my own internal chatter, things become clearer. My muddled thoughts start sorting themselves into orderly queues instead of simultaneously clamouring for attention.

To put it another way: imagine hundreds of oddly shaped, different coloured Lego bricks scattered on the floor around you, making it difficult to step in any direction without hurting your feet. Each brick simply one part of the unsightly, stress-inducing, insurmountable MESS.

It is easy to become so focused on “The Mess” and planning how to be rid of it or how to get around it that you fail to see The Bigger Picture. But what if you were to stop, crouch down for a closer look, give each and every brick your full attention, sort through them, start piecing them together to build a single, solid something? You might see how each seemingly insignificant piece, while not much use on its own, transforms into something entirely different when connected to the others. Each little piece plays a vital role in constructing The Whole. By the end of the process, you’ll still have the same number of oddly shaped, different coloured bricks as you had before, but now there is cohesion and clarity, and more space in which to manoeuvre (For the techies: like defragmenting the hard drive on your computer)

That’s how I see the arts process; picking through the chaos in my head, examining and fitting together seemingly random thoughts and feelings until I find a common thread. Because everything is related. Nothing is random. no thought meaningless. Everything matters. The answers are, more often than not, hidden in plain sight.

And then there’s The Flow! Have you ever tried catching a feather or leaf that’s fluttering on the breeze? The more you wave your arms or move your hand, the further away it gets. When I get into that creative zone, aka “the flow”, my mind becomes very still. I’m no longer chasing or running or flailing about desperately trying to make sense of things. I’m quietly opening myself up, letting those fluttering objects drift down and settle upon me.

Externalising my thoughts, feelings and imaginings in this way also makes them accessible to others. This exposure to scrutiny and criticism terrifies me, and I do feel extremely vulnerable. So why do it?? because I feel more connected to “The World” when I am open and honest about my reactions to it.

It’s something I find very difficult to write about without feeling a tad wanky. But there you have it.

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Graffiti artist David Choe set for Facebook windfall

A US graffiti artist who painted Facebook’s offices is set to become a multi-millionaire when the social network begins trading as a public company.

David Choe painted the first Facebook offices in 2005

David Choe, who first spray-painted the walls of Facebook HQ in 2005, accepted shares in payment for his work.

Now the site is planning to float on the stock market, its thought his share could be worth around $200m (£126m).

Writing on his blog, Choe said he was the “highest paid decorator alive”.

Although he had initially thought the idea of the social network was “ridiculous and pointless”, the artist decided to take the stock option instead of cash “in the thousands of dollars” according to the New York Times.

Choe’s payout could be worth more money than auction house Sotheby’s attracted for its record-breaking $200.7m (£127m) sale in 2008 for a collection of work by Damien Hirst.

The Korean-American artist, 35, was first asked to paint erotic murals for Facebook’s first office in Palo Alto, California, by the site’s then-president, Sean Parker.

The site’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, later asked Choe to paint “tamer” art for its second office in 2007.

However art from the original headquarters was cut out from the walls and is on display at other Facebook offices around the world.

Choe – whose work can now be seen in galleries all over the world – is currently painting the site’s new offices in Menlo Park, California.

The artist, who began spray-painting in his teens, created the cover art for Jay-Z and Linkin Park’s multi-platinum album Collision Course in 2004.

In 2008, he also painted a portrait of the then-Senator Barack Obama – a picture that now hangs in the White House.

BBC News – Graffiti artist David Choe set for Facebook windfall.

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P!nk shocks with graphic self-harm, attempted suicide, anorexia scenes in ‘F…in’ Perfect’ video clip

Disturbing scenes … P!nk’s graphic new video for her single F**king Perfect is expected to shock. Screen grab from You Tube

PREGNANT pop star P!nk has sanctioned graphic scenes of self-harm, attempted suicide and the ravages of anorexia in the video for her single F…in’ Perfect.

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In a statement accompanying the controversial clip F…in’ Perfect which debuted online this morning, the 31-year-old singer songwriter claimed she was attempting to promote awareness of the escalating problems of “cutting and suicide”.

“… two very different symptoms of the same problem, are gaining on us. (the problem being; alienation and depression. the symptoms; cutting and suicide),” she writes.

“I personally don’t know a single person who doesn’t know at least two of these victims personally.

“A lot of us have seen certain starlets showing off their latest scars on a red carpet somewhere, usually right before they head back to their favorite rehab.

“It’s a problem, and it’s something we should talk about.”

Napoleon Dynamite star Tina Marjorino plays the teenager struggling with bullying and self-esteem issues who harms herself.

But the video has a happy ending. Marjorino grows up to become a successful artist and a mother.

Pink, who has played out her own teen struggles in videos for Family Portrait and Just Like A Pill, said recording the song and video was a “very emotional experience” for her as she gears up to give birth to her first child with husband Carey Hart.

“I have a life inside of me, and I want her or him to know that I will accept him or her with open and loving and welcoming arms,” she said.

“And though I will prepare this little munchkin for a sometimes cruel world, I will also equip this kid to see all the beauty in it as well.

“There are good people in this world that are open-minded, and loving. There are those that accept us with all of our flaws. I do that with my fans/friends, and I will do that with my child, whoever they decide to be.”

For more information on depression and to seek help on suicide prevention, please contact:

Lifeline on 13 11 14 http://www.lifeline.org.au/
SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) http://www.sane.org/
Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 http://www.beyondblue.org.au/


P!nk shocks with graphic self-harm, attempted suicide, anorexia scenes in ‘F…in’ Perfect’ video clip | News.com.au.

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Sylvia Sleigh, Provocative Portraitist and Feminist Artist, Dies at 94

By WILLIAM GRIMES

Sylvia Sleigh, a British-born artist who put a feminist spin on the portrait genre by painting male nudes in poses that recalled the female subjects of Ingres, Velázquez and Titian, died on Sunday at her home in Manhattan. She was 94.

Sylvia Sleigh, prominent in the surging feminist art movement of the 1970s, turned traditional portraiture on its head.

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Ms. Sleigh’s reclining male nudes recalled female subjects of Ingres or Titian. Above, “Lawrence at Carbondale,” 1967.

The cause was complications of a stroke, said Alice Judelson, an owner of I-20 Gallery in Manhattan, which represents her.

Ms. Sleigh, who came to prominence as part of the surging feminist art movement of the 1970s, turned traditional portraiture on its head by presenting the male nude posed as a reclining Venus or odalisque, although she also painted both sexes, clothed and unclothed.

The 1971 painting “Philip Golub Reclining” depicted the son of the artists Nancy Spero and Leon Golub sprawled on a sofa in the pose of Velázquez’s “Rokeby Venus.”

In “The Turkish Bath” (1973), Ms. Sleigh borrowed the theme of Ingres’s painting of the same title, but instead of voluptuous harem nudes she depicted a nude man with his back to the viewer strumming a guitar for five nude male companions, among them the critic Lawrence Alloway, her second husband. (She often used her friends, among them well-known artists and critics, as models.)

“I wanted to give my perspective, portraying both sexes with dignity and humanism,” she once said. “It was very necessary to do this because women had often been painted as objects of desire in humiliating poses. I don’t mind the ‘desire’ part, it’s the ‘object’ that’s not very nice.”

In “SoHo 20” (1974) and “A.I.R. Group Portrait” (1978), which showed the members of two all-women cooperative galleries, Ms. Sleigh documented the rise of the feminist art movement. She helped found the SoHo 20 Gallery in 1973 and became a member of the Artists in Residence Gallery the following year.

Sylvia Sleigh was born on May 8, 1916, in Llandudno, Wales, and grew up in Hove, Sussex. After studying at the Brighton School of Art she worked as a dresser at a women’s clothing store on Bond Street. “Every customer had a lady to look after them,” she told the online magazine Art Interview in 2007. “It was very interesting. One of the most exciting things was undressing Vivien Leigh.”

She opened her own shop in Brighton, making hats, coats and dresses, but closed it when World War II began.

After marrying her first husband, an artist named Michael Greenwood, in 1941, she moved to London and started painting again. In 1953 she had her first solo show, at the Kensington Art Gallery, but she worked in obscurity even after moving to the United States in 1961 with Mr. Alloway, who died in 1990. No immediate family members survive.

Through her work with the Ad Hoc Committee of Women Artists and Women in the Arts, as well as her exhibitions with the SoHo 20 Gallery and A.I.R., she emerged in the 1970s as a prominent artist with an audacious take on traditional art history.

Not only were the sex roles reversed, but her paintings also wittily cast her all-too-human subjects in situations reserved for the gods of antiquity in Renaissance art. Idealism was brought firmly to earth by her habit of recording body hair in painstaking detail and up-to-date fashion statements like cutoff jeans and flip-flops.

In 1999 she completed her most ambitious work to date, a large-scale pastorale reminiscent of Watteau that was 20 years in the making. Titled “Invitation to a Voyage: The Hudson River at Fishkill,” it consisted of 14 continuous panels stretching out to a length of 70 feet. It depicted a group of the artist’s friends gathered on the banks of the Hudson near the railroad tracks, some picnicking on the grass, others strolling or lounging against the Arcadian backdrop of the river.

Sylvia Sleigh, Provocative Portraitist and Feminist Artist, Dies at 94 – NYTimes.com.

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TED Prize Goes to J R, Who Gives Slums a Human Face

J R/Agence VU

In 2008 J R pasted giant portraits of women on houses in a dangerous area of Rio de Janeiro. He has created similar guerrilla art in Cambodia and Kenya and is at work on a project in Shanghai. More Photos »

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It’s not common for important philanthropic prizes to go to people whose work involves criminal trespass and who make statements like the following: “You never know who’s part of the police and who’s not.”

But the TED conference, the California lecture series named for its roots in technology, entertainment and design, said on Tuesday that it planned to give its annual $100,000 prize for 2011, awarded in the past to figures like Bill Clinton, Bono and the biologist E. O. Wilson, to the Parisian street artist known as J R, a shadowy figure who has made a name for himself by plastering colossal photographs in downtrodden neighbourhoods around the world. The images usually extol local residents, to whom he has become a Robin Hood-like hero.

For most recipients, the value of the six-year-old award has less to do with the money than with the opportunity it grants the winner to make a wish to devote the funds to a humanitarian project that will almost inevitably draw donations and other help from the organization’s corporate partners and influential supporters. The chef Jamie Oliver, the 2010 prize winner, recently proposed setting up an international effort to further his campaign against obesity; Mr. Clinton’s wish has channeled significant resources toward the creation of a rural health system in Rwanda.

Reached by telephone on Wednesday morning on a bus in Shanghai, where he was headed to work on a largely unauthorized photo-pasting project to draw attention to the city’s demolition of historic neighborhoods, J R said that he had learned of the prize only two weeks ago and that he had not yet had time to think of a wish.

But he said that it would undoubtedly involve his kind of guerrilla art, which he has been creating with the help of volunteers in slums in Brazil, Cambodia and Kenya” where the outsize photographs, printed on waterproof vinyl, doubled as new roofs for ramshackle houses.

“I’m kind of stunned, he said of the prize. I’ve never applied for an award in my life and didn’t know that somebody had nominated me for this.”

At a time when street art is being embraced not only by the art world but also by branding interests, J R, who dislikes being called a street artist, preferring the term “photograffeur” (graffeur is French for graffiti artist) has become known for rejecting corporate sponsorship offers and other outside help. He said that he reinvested most of the money he makes by selling his art in galleries and at auction” one piece went for more than $35,000 at Sotheby’s in 2009 ” into creating more ambitious projects, and that he would use the TED prize money for the same purpose.

“If theres one thing I’ve always taken care of with my work, it’s that it’s never an advertisement for anything other than the work itself and for the people it’s about, no “Coca-Cola presents” he said, speaking in English. “I think the TED people knew that that was one of my main concerns, and I feel pretty sure that we can come up with a project that works that way.”

Amy Novogratz, the director of the prize, said that picking an artist like JR  “he is 27 and fiercely protective of his anonymity, identifying himself only by his initials ” was an unusual choice but that the prize committee felt that his work could catalyze the whole TED community to support an art-centered philanthropic project, which will be announced at the organization’s next conference in March.

One of my concerns at first was that he wasn’t going to be accessible or available, which could be off-putting when you’re trying to get partners to get excited about a project, she added. And, in fact, the first time prize officials had a Skype conversation with the artist, he appeared in sunglasses with a hat pulled low over his forehead.

But then he said, “You know, I trust you guys, and he took them off,” Ms. Novogratz said, “and we just had a regular old conversation.”

During the interview on Wednesday morning, J R said that he had not been nearly as trusting of Chinese officials, as he and a crew of helpers erect towering pictures of elderly Shanghai residents on the walls of a neighborhood that is now more than three-quarters demolished.

“I keep thinking we are going to get into trouble,” he said, adding that anyone he talks to might be an undercover police officer. But then he described an illegal act: pasting a 20-foot-tall wrinkled face around the facade of an old water tower he spotted from the highway.

“We went into the building next door, and it was empty, and we went up to the tower, and nobody stopped us, so we just started working,” he said. It’s crazy. This city is so huge and overgrown, the more you’re in the middle of things, the more you feel transparent.”


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Mother-in-law recreated with huge toast portrait

Toast loving Laura Hadland has turned a photo of her mother-in-law into the world’s largest toast mosaic – using a staggering 9,852 slices of bread.


The 27-year-old museum curator roped in 40 friends to help her make the massive mosaic out of 600 loaves of bread as an odd 50th birthday present.

Using nine toasters over six hours each slice was browned to a set degree before being carefully arranged to make the giant 32ft 8ins by 42ft 3ins picture of Sandra Whitfield.

Laura says her mother-in-law Sandra was amazed by the unique gift… and she now feels the toast of the town.

The ‘World’s Largest Mosaic’ event in Warrington, Cheshire was part of the HTC Wildfire Experience which aims to bring together virtual friends in the real world.

Mother-in-law recreated with huge toast portrait – Odd News | newslite.tv.

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Al Jaffee Talks About His “Mad Life”

Al Jaffee recounts his “Mad Life” in a new book

By most standards, Al Jaffee is one of the great cartoonists of our time. He was a major contributor to “Trump” and “Humbug,” two short-lived humor publications edited by Harvey Kurtzman, whom Jaffee met in high schoo, he wrote and illustrated the syndicated comic “Tall Tales” (collected by Abrams in 2008 in a volume introduced by Stephen Colbert) and was a long time artist for Timely Comics and Atlas Comics, where he worked on many humor comics, including a long run on “Patsy Walker.”

Most people know Jaffee, however, for his over 50 year career as one of the most important members of Mad Magazine’s “usual gang of idiots.” Jaffee has contributed hundreds of comics to the magazine over the decades, but he is best known for creating the magazine’s most endearing feature, the fold-in page. Working entirely by hand, Jaffee continues to create the fold-in and has composed all but three that have appeared in the magazine.

Mary-Lou Weisman is a journalist who met Jaffee when they were neighbors in Provincetown, Massachusetts more than thirty years ago. Weisman is the author of multiple books and has written for “The New York Times,” “The Atlantic Monthly,” “The New Republic” and many other publications. For her, the interest in writing was simply toshare the story of her friend’s life, where he lived in Savannah, grew up on a shtetl in Lithuania and escaped to New York City before the Nazi invasion, all before turning thirteen. The two friends spoke with CBR about theHarperCollins published book, which details the amazing story of Jaffee’s life and includes numerous original illustrations.


CBR News: Mr. Jaffee, people who have heard you speak on panels and at conventions have heard some of the stories recounted in the book, but what made you want to set it all down in wiriting?

Al Jaffee: I had no intention of setting it all down. [Mary-Lou Weisman] were friends, and in ordinary conversation, little things would come up. Something about what I did in Europe as a child, for example. That intrigued Mary-Lou and she did a short piece which was published in an art magazine a couple of years ago. James Sturm read that piece and said, “You’ve got to tell the whole story.” He was interested in the Jewish communities of Europe that no longer exist. That’s how it came about.

“Al Jaffee’s Mad Life” by Mary=Lou Weisman is available now

It was Mary-Lou who went to work on it and went to work on me. I suppose if Mary-Lou hadn’t started this and someone like James Sturm came to me and said, “You really ought to do a graphic novel about your life,” I might have, because graphic novels are so popular now. It was much easier for me to work with Mary-Lou because she asked the right questions and I was able to dig deep into my memory and come up with the answers. Some of the answers I probably wouldn’t have come up with on my own.

Mary-Lou, I know you did a lot of research into what happened in Lithuania and what happened to Mr. Jaffee’s mother, who unlike the rest of the family, did not escape before the Nazis invaded.

Mary-Lou Weisman: Initially, that was terra incognita to me. Al has an extraordinary ability to recall, maybe not what he did yesterday, but what he did in 1927, he’s really sharp on. One of the things that became obvious to me is I needed to learn about this little town, this shtetl, of three thousand people that he had lived in for six years. He was transported from a middle class Twentieth century life in Savannah to a shtetl life, barely in the Nineteenth century, in Northeastern Lithuania. I needed to research that. I needed to try to find ships manifests of the comings and goings to check on Al’s memory.

Then, I needed to find out something that Al has been reluctant to find out all of his life, which was the fate of his mother, who refused to be rescued by her husband. She turned down the opportunity two times. Al had never wanted to delve into that. Al’s youngest brother was not rescued until just weeks before the Nazis moved into Zarasai and killed every Jew in the place. Al knew that his brother had been rescued, but he didn’t know how. Through the web, we were actually able to find the ships manifest on which his brother is listed.

Do you talk or think about your childhood much, Al?

Jaffee: No, I don’t. Very early on, when I realized that I was going to have a very difficult experience, being uprooted from my life in Savannah with my whole family, and I was going to be shipped off to who knows where with my mother and brothers and leave my father behind – at that point, I realized that this family was being torn apart and I had to make, not a conscious decision, but I think it was a subconscious decision, that I have to survive day to day and just surmount anything that’s coming my way. I was only six years old when I felt this very strongly. It happened in the railroad station in Hamburg, where my brothers were running all over the place and my mother was nowhere to be seen. It was at first a very frightening experience, but I think out of it came a survival instinct which has served me throughout my life. I really don’t look back. I remember. There’s a momentary twinge, a feeling of loss and pain, but moving on became my mantra. I know it’s a cliche now, politically and otherwise, but in my case it was the only way I could deal with whatever misfortune came my way. And a lot did come my way, but I managed to overcome them.

Weisman: I think that, just to add to that, this is how he survived. We talk a lot of psycho-babble about abandonment and child abuse and your inner child and all the stuff that is the vocabulary of our time. Al doesn’t think that way. Al reports his life anecdotally. We’re talking about a life that is filled with trauma, separation anxiety and all that stuff, but that’s not how Al sees it. Al sees it as just something to get through and keep moving.

Art from “Al Jaffee’s Mad Life”

One of the things he explained to me early on was a phrase that is common in cartooning, “the plausible impossible,” which is a kind of stretching of reality. I think it was coined by Walt Disney. When Bugs Bunny leaps over a chasm and it’s an impossible leap, way too wide a leap, he’s able to do it by keeping his little legs running in mid-air. Al was giving me an education in cartooning and in some of the techniques he used. The minute he said that to me, I knew that’s a metaphor for how Al survived. He just never looked down. If Bugs Bunny never looked down and kept his feet moving, he could get across the chasm. If Al Jaffee just kept moving, he could get past one nightmare after another. And he did.

It’s interesting you say it like that, because many of the great comedians, comic film stars and humor writers had tragic and traumatic childhoods and young adulthoods, but they managed to process those experiences very differently than most of us do or could.

Jaffee: I couldn’t agree with you more. Their survival mechanism was humor. In many cases, tinged with tragedy. I think humor played a very large role in my life because ultimately all of our experiences start to be ridiculous in the framework of the millennia that the world exists. Everybody has good days and bad days and horrible days, but there’s also something very funny about our battles with these things. I was able to see the humor in my own ridiculous life. It made it very easy for me to see the humor in the ridiculous posturing of politicians and religious figures who tell you to do one thing and they do the opposite. I have always viewed my life, and everybody else’s, with a tinge of humor and ridicule.

Weisman: I think that one of the keys that distinguishes Al from other comic/tragic humorists is that Al is really a satirist. The fact that he was taken from his home, plunked down without language – people were speaking Lithuanian, people were speaking Yiddish – he’s six years old, plopped down into the nineteenth century. Then he gets picked up when he’s twelve and plunked back down into New York where he’s now speaking his native tongue with a Yiddish accent. He’s put in the third grade because he’s been unschooled. That kind of, to use the psycho-babble term, displacement, has had a permanent effect on him, and it’s both good and bad. It has made him a man without a country. He’s never ever, ever at home anywhere. Not really. He’s not comfortable, ever. As a result of that, he sees what we all see through a very different lens. He’s kind of our man from Mars. Given his artistic talent, you could almost run a film of the story of his life backwards and realize, of course, this would make a talented artist and an intelligent man into a satirist.

I think an interesting aspect of the book is tracing this satirical, anti-adult sense of the world through Al’s life. It’s a sensibility that is the sensibility of “Mad Magazine.”

Weisman: I think that is why the book is aptly named “Al Jaffee’s Mad Life.” It was his mad life that led him to “Mad Magazine.”

Jaffee: Not to belabor the point, but I think the thing that makes me laugh is hypocrisy. My God, you cannot pick up a newspaper or turn on a show without hearing tons of it. People are not honest. There are wonderful people, wonderful teachers and wonderful parents and all of that, but you can’t just assume that parents are wonderful. Parents abuse children. You can’t assume that salesmen are honest or that religious figures are honorable. The excuse that’s given by society generally is that it’s one rotten apple. Well, from my point of view, and all of these years that I’ve lived and observed, there are a lot of rotten apples. That gives me fodder for pointing up the nonsense and the foibles and the ridiculousness of our daily lives. Someone might say that that’s a bitter way to look at things, but I don’t look at it bitterly. I have fun with it.

Your childhood had a lot of sadness, but it also sounds like you had a lot of fun and a lot of freedom with a very Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn kind of childhood.

Jaffee: Yes, there was that. As a matter of fact, Mary-Lou and I touched on that yesterday. After dwelling for a long time on all the downsides of my life, it just suddenly came out of me, “Wait a minute, I don’t remember it always being a bad time!” The summers were wonderful in Lithuania. You could go swimming and go boating. The shtetl was surrounded by lakes and we spent lots and lots of time in the water, but there was an undercurrent. You were always being warned, almost like in a fairy tale, we would be constantly reminded that you go into the wrong area, a non-Jewish area, you’re likely to get hit with a rock or otherwise abused. We were aware of that behind the scenes problem, but being little kids, you don’t think about those things all the time. You think about jumping into the water or making a fishing pole.

My brother Harry and I were very inventive. This was a town that had nothing for sale for children. I mean, life was hard for everybody. We remembered American toys and we would build little cars and airplanes. All kinds of things which fascinated the local kids. In winter, there was a lot of sleigh riding and adventuring in the deep snow and stuff like that. So there were good times.

Weisman: One of the ways that the bad was transformed into good, really because children are so adaptable, is that Al was often neglected by his mother. The neglect took the form of failing to feed him. He and his next youngest brother, Harry, a fascinating man, would steal fruit from the orchards around town. In order to do that and not be torn to bits by the dogs that were guarding the orchards, he and his brother would invent fruit-stealing devices. It’s this inventiveness, this necessity mothering invention that can also be seen as the very beginning of “Al Jaffee’s Mad Inventions.”

So much of your work doesn’t rely on words. How much of that do you think was because, for so much of your childhood, you dealt with the challenge of moving between countries and languages.

Jaffee: The main reason why I do a lot of wordless humor is that I think of drawing as a language. If you want absolute proof of that, check out Sergio Aragones’ work in “Mad,” which has been going on for forty or fifty years and hardly ever has a word in it, but tells complete stories. I feel I can do that, too. I broadened my approach to the work and did lots of different things, but Sergio and I are on the same page when it comes to telling stories with pictures as our language. I love the challenge of that, because to me, it’s the ultimate artistic expression. I think fine artists feel the same way when they make a painting and hang it in a museum. They hope that it speaks to the people who come to see it. Some of it, of course, I feel is total goobledygook that no one can understand, but a lot of it speaks to a lot of us.

That’s the only explanation I can give for why I do wordless humor. I do a lot of it in “Mad” as ancillary business. I’ll have a scene in which the script explains what’s in the captions and stuff like that, but then I’ll throw in a lot of stuff on the side or in the background that I feel, or hope, enhances the experience. Another person who did that a lot was my good old friend Will Elder, one of the original artists in “Mad Magazine.” He would just fill every panel with funny stuff going on that’s on the side, but always had some connection to the main thrust of the story. I don’t know if I’m explaining this sensibly, but I guess I’ll stick to the fact that I feel cartooning is a language, with or without words.

A few years ago, you received the Reuben of the Year Award from the National Cartoonists Society for your body of work, one of a handful of “Mad Magazine” artists who have been so honored with Sergio Aragones and Mort Drucker having received it previously. What did such an award mean to you?

Jaffee: It would be wrong for me to say anything other than it’s a wonderful thing to happen, but philosophically, I’m not a great believer in awards. As a means of telling somebody your work is admired, I suppose it’s fine. I certainly am very proud that my fellow cartoonists chose me for the award that year, and it does mean a lot to me that people I admire in my business felt like giving it to me, but I still have to go back and say your work is your reward. The appreciation that people show by buying your books or magazines or wherever your work appears, that’s the award.

I wanted to ask about two people you met in school who have been a big part of your life and career – Will Elder, another great cartoonist who worked at “Mad” whom you mentioned earlier, and Harvey Kurtzman.

Jaffee: Yes. Will and I met in junior high school and remained very very close friends. He was closer to me than my brothers were. We were very competitive. We were constantly arguing about who could draw a cartoon funnier or better, but it was a feeling of great love and affection that we had for each other. I regret that he’s not around anymore because he was very talented and a very nice person.

Harvey Kurtzman. The word genius is something that I dislike because people you admire become geniuses; people that you don’t admire, don’t become geniuses. I think Harvey comes as close to being a genius in our business [as possible]. Harvey was a very bright, very intelligent guy, but he was particularly adept at creating things in the business of publishing. He was a terrific editor. I loved working with Harvey. He was the toughest editor I ever worked for. If Harvey looked at something and said, “I think it needs to be changed,” even though you worked on it for two days, he made you see why it needed to be changed. I will always have the highest regard for Harvey Kurtzman.

This “Mad Life” of yours, both the book and your own life – I know that you don’t look back, but I’m curious how you feel about it and what you’ve accomplished.

Jaffee: Well, I feel that I have no disappointments. Oh, it would have been nice to have become a billionaire just from my writing and drawing. There are lots of things that, if I could write the script for my life, I would change, but have I had a happy life? On the whole, yes. Have there been tragedies? Yes, there have been tragedies. But it’s been a full life and I’m still enjoying it. If I look back on some of the times that weren’t so great, now they don’t look that bad, because I’m past it. I’m on to something else. The thing is, you either live in despondency and relive all the bad stuff that happened to you, or you look forward to the next cupcake.

What can we expect to see from you in the next issue of “Mad?”

Jaffee: In the next issue, you’re going to see a fold-in. I can’t give away what the fold-in is about. From “Mad” you will also see, in a few months, a four volume box set of all the fold-ins that I have done, up to the point of publication. That’s well over 400 fold-ins. I don’t own it, “Mad” owns it, so I’m not plugging it to make a profit for me. I think that the interesting thing about 45 years of fold-ins is that if read carefully, it’s sort of a timeline of 45 years of our lives done in a funny, tricky way. That’s about all that I can claim for it.

Mary-Lou, I’m curious – do you have any final thoughts on Mr. Jaffee’s life and career?

Weisman: He is [“Mad] Magazine’s” oldest and most prodigious contributor. He was there from nearly the word “Go.” This experience of working with Al has been very special to me, because I started out being interested in this amazing page-turner of a life story and I ended up learning a great deal about “Mad Magazine” and the enormous influence it had, just a tremendous influence on American culture. I began to have great respect, not just for the man and his life, but for the magazine. When I tell people what I’m doing, everybody knows about “Mad.” Everybody knows Al. I guess my final words on the subject are, [readers] think they’re going to be reading a book about Al Jaffee’s career at “Mad,” and they are, but they’re also going to be reading a story of one of the maddest lives I’ve ever heard about. It’s really a potent book full of surprises for its readers. It certainly was for me.

Al Jaffee Talks About His “Mad Life” – Comic Book Resources.

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Mad Magazine’s Al Jaffee: Original Art And Life From ‘Al Jaffee’s Mad Life’ (PHOTOS)

Al Jaffee and Mary-Lou Weisman


89-year-old Al Jaffee and I have been friends for years — we met in the late 70s when we were both renting condos in what had been a net drying shed on the beach in Provincetown. I remember when I first fell under his ridiculous spell. We were walking on the beach at low tide, picking our way through what appeared to have been a mass suicide of jelly fish. “With all these jelly fish around,” said Al, “there ought to be some peanut butter somewhere.” I love a goof ball.

It wasn’t until a few walks later, when Al entrusted me with his astounding life story as a “reverse immigrant” to Lithuania, that I realized I had to tell it and that he had to illustrate it. Finally we have made good on that conviction.

Al Jaffee is a displaced person. He has lived in New York for 77 years and has spent the last 40 summers in Provincetown. Even so, the key to his genius as a satirist, is that he doesn’t feel at home anywhere.

That is because in 1927, when Al was six years old, when Jews all over Europe were trying to get to the United States, Al Jaffee and his three younger brothers were taken from his comfortable home in Savannah by his mother who was homesick for the life she had led as a young girl in a tiny, primitive, anti-Semitic town called Zarasai, in frigid, northeastern Lithuania. She told her husband she was going for a brief visit, but, in fact, she had no intention of returning. As his mother carried him screaming from his father’s arms, Al made his father promise to send him the funnies. For the next six years, the funnies would be Al’s life line to his native land and to his father’s love.

Al got used to life at 20 degrees below zero, to outhouses, lice and kerosene lamps. He learned Yiddish and Lithuanian. He invented and built toys because there were none. He ingratiated himself with Lithuanian bullies by drawing cartoons in the dirt with a stick. He even got used to maternal neglect, abuse and hunger. He stole food. He ran free. He played perpetual hooky and no one cared. In time he became a regular, shtetl-style Lithuanian Huck Finn.

Six years later, when Al was twelve, his father rescued him and took him back to the United States. Al found he was a stranger in his own land. He spoke English, his native tongue, with a Yiddish accent. The next few years in New York would be so full of suffering, privation, humiliation and displacement that he often wished himself back in Lithuania.

Early in our relationship, Al explained a term of art unique to cartooning called “the plausible impossible.” When Bugs Bunny runs off a cliff, continues to run in mid air and lands safely on the other side, it somehow seems possible even though it defies the laws of gravity. What keeps Bugs aloft, what makes the impossible plausible, is not looking down. It is a talent that Al has displayed in his life as well as his art.

— Mary-Lou Weisman

Now, Al Jaffee’s side of the story:



Hamburg Railroad Station



The Hamburg Railroad Station in 1927, when I was 6 years old, is where I learned what survival is all about. I inherited 3 little brothers to keep my eyes on while our mother went who knows where.



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Books & More From Al Jaffee


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Al Jaffee: Mad Magazine’s Al Jaffee: Original Art And Life From ‘Al Jaffee’s Mad Life’ (PHOTOS).

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Giant penis protest hits St. Petersburg

In a piece of cutting political commentary, a group of artists have protested about heightened security in the Russian city of St. Petersburg by drawing a giant 220ft-long penis on a drawbridge.

Passers-by stare at the giant penis on the Liteiny Bridge in St. Petersburg, as it rises to let river traffic throughPassers-by stare at the giant penis on the Liteiny Bridge in St. Petersburg, as it rises to let river traffic throug
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The massive penis was created by the radical art collective Voina, or War, who painted the organ on the bridge to highlight the security measures that will be put in place when St. Petersburg hosts the International Economic Forum from June 17.

Our favourite willy-themed things

Measuring 65 metres (220 ft) long and 27 metres across, the big penis rises and glistens in the light whenever the bridge is raised to let ships pass beneath, framed against a backdrop of the imposing architecture of the former capital city of the Russian Empire.

‘We have painted a giant phallus to show what the FSB and Interior Ministry are doing in terms of security for the forum,’ Voina said in a statement. The FSB is Russia’s main internal security agency, the successor to the KGB – and when the bridge is raised, the now-erect penis stands right beside its local headquarters.

The International Economic Forum will bring together politicians, including  Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and international business leaders.

The penis was painted on Monday, and one of the Voina artists has subsequently been fined by police over the penis. The penis was still visible on Wednesday.

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