Late Bloomer: Robert Mileham

I find one the most lamentable things about the dominance of capitalism is that it demands, of our most talented artists and other modern day prophets, a pursuit of money to survive. So, in many cases, great artists can only take up their craft later in life—when they have attained a modicum of financial security.

Robert Mileham (born 1950) demonstrated skill at drawing in his youth but was not encouraged to pursue it as a career. Instead, he went into the army—like his father and brother before him—followed by some time in business. Only in the last ten years, 8 years in earnest, did he pursue his interest in sculpting.

“Why do I sculpt? I simply love it. I just have to ‘recreate’ life as I see it. I caught sculpture at a turning point in my life. It was infectious, demanding, selfish, totally compulsive…it is more than an image…It has the advantage of presence.”

He took up sculpture in the conventional way, through life classes, but is largely self-taught. Much of his work is commissioned in bronze, “a wonderfully versatile medium”. It’s advantage over marble is in the way it renders a greater spectrum of color and crispness of detail. He has recently taken an interest in Terra Cotta after a commissioned portrait bust gave him the opportunity to reinvent this medium. More than half his work takes human form and he credits his grandfather, Harry R. Mileham (1873-1957)—with his extensive use of the human form and classical training—as his earliest influence.

“…I have grown to love the human body as a subject. The hands, feet and especially the face, are the most exciting to sculpt. For me, feet depict tension and sensuality; hands reveal age and beauty but a face can conceal and reveal life, spirit and personality.”

Apart from his love of the human form, he is quite taken by Springer and Cocker Spaniels and sculpts them frequently. He grew up with them and admires their quick-wittedness and energy. He enjoys sculpting other animals as well but is always drawn back to Spaniels. The following piece illustrates both his love for these breeds and his commitment to involving and encouraging children. This was created specifically for the Countryside Exhibition in 2007.

Robert Mileham - A Team (2007)

Robert Mileham – A Team (2007)

Perhaps Mileham’s most compelling early piece was a commission for a young girl. It was to stand in a yard that was once a Hampshire workhouse between 1791 and 1834. The current property owner wanted a statue to commemorate this as a kind of daily reminder, but did not want it to be too depressing. Although the artist could perhaps be accused of sentimentality, he explains that he wanted to produce a sculpture depicting how these workers might have preferred to be remembered—not as they really were. The figure is lean and ragged, but expresses a wish to make the best of things with a smile. Records of the clothing worn in such places in this period are non-existent, so Mileham chose a Gainsborough’s painting of a little cottage girl with puppy as a model. A second version, Big Sister, of the same edition has clothing made of cloth with her foot on a ball. This piece has since inspired at least two new commissions.

Robert Mileham - Waif (2002)

Robert Mileham – Waif (2002)

Robert Mileham - Waif (Big Sister) (2002)

Robert Mileham – Waif (Big Sister) (2002)

The next work has a very personal meaning for the artist. It was made for a family who lost their ten-year-old daughter to leukemia. The family broke up in a divorce before it was completed so “she” was left in a corner for nearly two years. Mileham’s own son and aunt died in childhood so when The Nicholas Wylde competition “Heavenly Bodies” in The William Herschel Museum was announced, he finished the work and dedicated it to all children who died young. This intense piece was meant to express the exhilaration of life.

Robert Mileham - Ice Breaker (2005) (1)

Robert Mileham – Ice Breaker (2005) (1)

Robert Mileham - Ice Breaker (2005) (2)

Robert Mileham – Ice Breaker (2005) (2)

One of his most popular figures is a nude young girl entitled Anne of Buckinghamshire. This commission was for a specific place on the banks of a tributary of The Thames in a garden which has a connection to Anne Boleyn so hence the name. A retired couple had seen Waif in Hampshire and wanted a sculpture in their garden. These images are in the original clay.

Robert Mileham - Anne of Buckinghamshire (2013) (1)

Robert Mileham – Anne of Buckinghamshire (2013) (1)

Robert Mileham - Anne of Buckinghamshire (2013) (2)

Robert Mileham – Anne of Buckinghamshire (2013) (2)

An interesting trend that keeps cropping up in my work on this site is how so many women purchase artwork of children, even nude children. Mileham says that 75% of the buyers of his child and nude sculptures have been women. There is still something about our culture’s portrayal of masculinity that compels most men to react with anxiety and hostility to images of lovely girl children in a tender or intimate context.

Mileham’s work is in private collections around the world. He continues to work in the countryside, using an old tack room as a studio, surrounded by horses, dogs, cats and abundant wildlife. His blog, Dorset Sculpture, offers an excellent insight into the artistic process, the admirable work of other artists and very English poetic impressions of the countryside.

My research on this artist kept reminding me of another, Charles Summers. He does not paint figures and so could not be justifiably posted on this site. He admired the work of Taylor and Constable since he was young, ran a bookstore with his wife and only painted in earnest when he retired. His work has also received wide acclaim all over the world and is another fine example of a kind of revival of representative fine art.

Robert Mileham (official website where you can see more views of these and many other sculptures)

Delight in the Ordinary: Joseph Cornell

This is really a follow up on the Joseph Cornell post Pip Starr made a couple of years ago. It is thanks to Pip that I got to learn about this artist. I made some small revisions to that post, but after viewing a key documentary, Worlds in a Box, narrated by Tony Curtis which aired on A&E, I felt there was enough new relevant information to warrant this supplemental post.

Although the images here focus on Joseph Cornell’s (1903-1972) experimental films, he is best-known for his eclectic “sculptures” of collected objects arranged in boxes behind a pane of glass. Except for the 3½ years he spent at Phillips Academy Andover, he lived for most of his life in a small house in Flushing, Queens. And though he admired the French culture and collected many materials originating from that country, he never traveled there. Instead, he lived with his mother and his brother Robert, whose cerebral palsy rendered him chair-bound. This condition was a motivating force in Cornell’s artistic development. He felt a strong sense of responsibility for his brother and made ongoing efforts to keep him entertained. In one of his earliest efforts, he took one of his mother’s powder boxes, erected three needles to prop up loose thimbles, added mirrors on the inside surface and holes along the side so that one could peer through to see a “thimble forest” of infinite reflections. What distinguishes these sculptures from the more conventional is that they are not mere compilations of nostalgic objects, but almost always included moving parts that were meant to be handled by the viewer. He took great pleasure in his frequent trips to Manhattan to acquire materials from the various bookstores and thrift shops there. He only began to receive significant sums for this work after a 1949 show at the Charles Egan Gallery.

Cornell’s inclusion of children was not incidental. A psychoanalysis of the man might suggest a kind of perpetual childlike wonder as he tried to imagine things from Robert’s point of view. As he got older, it was as though he longed to be an active participant in children’s activities but could never contrive an excuse to actually do so. He epitomized the Victorian sentimental view of children—observing and enjoying these precious creatures from afar. In his interaction with women assistants, artists and friends, he usually asked for pictures of them as children ostensibly for use in one of his boxes. He was more reticent when engaging with actual children though. In one instance, a little girl to whom he had lent one of his boxes, came to him announcing that she was bored with it. He promptly took it back, went into his garage and pulled out another—which by this time was quite valuable. He simply told the girl that he wished this one would be more satisfactory. His last major exhibition was a show he arranged especially for children, with the boxes displayed at child height while serving cake and soft drinks.

In another effort to entertain his brother, Cornell would cheaply acquire films that had been neglected in warehouses. His earliest obsession was an obscure film, East of Borneo (1931), and when the brothers got bored with it, Cornell would reedit the film—creating whole new storylines. The lead actress, Rose Hobart, was one of his obsessions and as a result of his efforts, the short silent film named for her was produced in 1936. Later, he collaborated with another artist to shoot his own films in some of New York’s public spaces. Much as some people might meditate on the wonders of the universe while sitting and watching ocean waves crash on the beach, Cornell was moved by the bustle of city life—spending hours watching the comings and goings at Grand Central Station. Even seemingly mundane things fascinated him—for example, observing pigeons on the ground and in flight (The Aviary,1954 et al). Two works are of particular interest here: Children’s Party (c1938) and Nymphlight (1957). The Godiva-like scene shown in the earlier Pigtails post appears at the end of the earlier film. Although it is not possible to view all relevant material on YouTube because of copyright restrictions, a fuller collection of his work on DVD can be purchased from The Voyager Foundation.

Joseph Cornell - Children's Party (c1938) (1)

Joseph Cornell – Children’s Party (c1938) (1)

Joseph Cornell - Children's Party (c1938) (2)

Joseph Cornell – Children’s Party (c1938) (2)

Joseph Cornell - Children's Party (c1938) (3)

Joseph Cornell – Children’s Party (c1938) (3)

Joseph Cornell - Children's Party (c1938) (4)

Joseph Cornell – Children’s Party (c1938) (4)

Joseph Cornell - Children's Party (c1938) (5)

Joseph Cornell – Children’s Party (c1938) (5)

Like most artists, Cornell was highly critical of his own efforts; he seemed never to be happy with the results of his filming endeavors, except in one case. Apparently while shooting, a girl in a blue dress was caught in the frame and the cameraman was instructed to keep tracking her as she flitted about for a short time—never realizing she was being filmed. There are many scenes showing children playing or going about their daily business, but this was his favorite. The scene became integrated into the film Nymphlight which was built on the premise of a young girl rushing home in the early morning after a long night of dancing.

Joseph Cornell - Nymphlight (1957) (1)

Joseph Cornell – Nymphlight (1957)

In 1969, Cornell gave a collection of both his own films (and the works of others) to Anthology Film Archives in New York. A few years after his death, the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation was established, tasked with administering the copyrights of Cornell’s works and representing the interests of his heirs.

Richard Avedon and Kenny Rankin’s ‘Family’ Album

I confess I had never heard of Kenny Rankin until one of our readers pointed me toward this album cover.  The cover is from Rankin’s second studio album, Family, and features the musician holding his two daughters Gena and Chandra.  What I particularly love about this cover is that it is a simple, straight-up photographic portrait of father and children, except that everyone is nude.  The cover symbolically says, “This is just me and my children, no pretenses.”  The album was released in 1970 and is very much in keeping with the hippie spirit of the times.

Ray Harris over at Novel Activist has frequently pointed out that children raised in free-spirited, unconventional households, including kids who have appeared in challenging artistic images, often wind up going on to do amazing things, and Rankin’s kids definitely fit that trend.  Gena Rankin-Ray is apparently Vice President of Operations at Freshwire and has held several other important positions in the music industry.  And according to this article, Chandra has a doctorate, though the article does not specify what she is a doctor of.

Anyway, a beautiful cover and a beautiful family.  Rankin passed away in 2009 of lung cancer, and it’s a shame he left us before I even got to know his work.  Meanwhile, some of his music is available on Spotify if you want to check it out.

Edit: Man, talk about missing the boat.  If I had only read all of the long article I posted earlier, I would’ve learned that the image was actually taken by world-class photographer Richard Avedon!  Now that’s something to be excited about!  Avedon was, of course, one of the most well-respected photographers in his field, most famous for his glamor and fashion photography, as well as a certain nude portrait of actress Nastassja Kinski with a snake.

Richard Avedon - Kenny Rankin - Family (cover)

Richard Avedon – Kenny Rankin – Family (cover)

Wikipedia: Richard Avedon

Kenny Rankin (official site)

Wikipedia: Kenny Rankin

East Side Kids: Christine Mackey

An artist friend of mine recently turned me on to a couple of interesting documentaries about Vivian Maier. It is an interesting case where a huge stash of photos fell into the hands of collectors and as more people viewed them, it created a public stir. The biggest collectors then made an effort to dig up the particulars of this enigmatic woman’s life—interviewing some of those who knew her. It reminded me of a similar mystery I was dealing with. I had seen some samples of Mackey’s work on a sales site that intrigued me but, at the time, I just filed it in the back of my mind. When I began to see more of the images, I decided that this artist deserved to appear on Pigtails in Paint. The first image I had ever seen is still the most haunting.

Chris Mackey - (Untitled) (1978)

Chris Mackey – (Untitled) (1978)

Little is known in cyberspace about Christine “Chris” Mackey (1922-2004*) and it is a shame considering what a talented street photojournalist she was. Her most notable work began in the 1960s and continued on until the early 1980s. She received some press in August 1961 when she won a photo contest with the challenging theme, Search for Meaning,‭ ‬which was then published in The‭ ‬New York Times. She also wrote a travel piece about a trip to Mexico in 1964.

Only two major sources of her work are accessible to date. She contributed‭ ‬27‭ ‬photos‭ (‬mostly of‭ ‬Orchard Street on the Lower East Side in Manhattan‭) ‬to the NY Historical Society in 1983. These items were only accompanied by a hand-written note and contained no biographical information. NYHS allowed some pictures to be taken (without flash) of their collection.

Chris Mackey - (Untitled) (1962) (1)

Chris Mackey – (Untitled) (1962) (1)

Chris Mackey - (Untitled) (1962) (2)

Chris Mackey – (Untitled) (1962) (2)

The second source is a collector who purchased a number of images through an online sales site about 10 years ago. I am told that they were organized into small lots totaling about 80 images and, like the Vivian Maier photographs, were most probably acquired through an auction of a storage locker when the owner stopped making payments. Many of the images were scanned and have been made available on the Past-to-Present website. The site also contains a list of some of Mackey’s known addresses for anyone who may want to do further research.

Chris Mackey - (Untitled) (1969)

Chris Mackey – (Untitled) (1969)

Chris Mackey - (Untitled) (1970)

Chris Mackey – (Untitled) (1970)

Chris Mackey - (Untitled) (1972)

Chris Mackey – (Untitled) (1972)

*These are the dates for a person named Christine Mackey, but it has not been verified that these are of the artist discussed in this post. They are the only ones that make any sense given the scant biographical details available. I would be delighted if a next of kin were to come forward to clarify this matter.

Vivian Maier documetaries (here and here)

Estefania Sturchio’s ‘Donde Nace el Mundo’

Here is another of my accidental discoveries.  What I like about this series is all the wonderful contrasts it presents: the softness of the girl against all the hard edges of the machinery, the girl’s whimsically oversized yet grungy clothing, and the girl herself, who is not simply a traditional tomboy–she has a girly side too, hinted at by her fingernail polish.  This is a well-conceived campaign that emphasizes both Sturchio’s photographic skill and her fashion designs.

Estefania Sturchio - Donde nace el mundo (cover)

Estefania Sturchio – Donde nace el mundo (cover)

Estefania Sturchio - Donde nace el mundo (1)

Estefania Sturchio – Donde nace el mundo (1)

Estefania Sturchio - Donde nace el mundo (2)

Estefania Sturchio – Donde nace el mundo (2)

Estefania Sturchio - Donde nace el mundo (3)

Estefania Sturchio – Donde nace el mundo (3)

Estefania Sturchio - Donde nace el mundo (4)

Estefania Sturchio – Donde nace el mundo (4)

Estefania Sturchio - Donde nace el mundo (5)

Estefania Sturchio – Donde nace el mundo (5)

Estefania Sturchio - Donde nace el mundo (6)

Estefania Sturchio – Donde nace el mundo (6)

Behance: Esefania Sturchio

Alienation: Scott Affleck

One of our readers, Kris, who lives in the Philadelphia area recently informed me of an interesting artist who just opened a gallery in Lambertville, a small town in central New Jersey. She sent me a sample of his work which I felt was well done, but I did not give it too much thought. As I learned more about his work, I felt I had better take a more serious look. Scott Affleck (born 1972) specializes in figural painting and convincingly integrates the female figure into his scenes. His pieces are not mere pretty cliches but are strong expressions of social commentary.

Scott Affleck - Gentle Voice (2014)

Scott Affleck – Gentle Voice (2014)

The first image I was shown was actually an unfinished work titled Babel. This is a reference to the Biblical story and a boy is shown focusing on his sand castle (the tower). Apart from offering a lesson about hubris–the tower also standing in as a phallic symbol—the girl is holding her arms out, signifying vastness and futility. The artist states that the girl’s pose is intentionally Christ-like, heightening the contrast between the material and spiritual endeavors of the two children. Joseph Campbell used to say that if a work of art really speaks to you, no explanation is necessary but if an artist wants to be insulting, he will tell you what it means. However, given this age of literary and symbolic ignorance, I think it pragmatic and prudent for Affleck to describe his intention whenever a visitor asks for it.

Scott Affleck - Babel (in progress) (2014)

Scott Affleck – Babel (in progress) (2014)

Affleck discovered his passion for art while attending Hunterdon Central High School, where he participated in an arts program for the gifted. He later studied under the guidance of Valeriy Belenikin and received an Associate’s Degree in Fine Arts from Bucks County Community College. His influences include Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Giorgione, Puvis de Chavannes, Ferdinand Hodler, George Tooker, Ken Kiff and Jock Sturges.

Even his choice of venue for the gallery was fortuitous as it is located in a small town just across from where an artist colony existed in the early 20th century. Participants included Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber and Roy Nuse—the last artist being well-known for his paintings of skinny dippers. The Grand Opening took place on November 8th and the artist sold two paintings that day—one of a cow and another of a tractor. He found that strange since he puts so much heart and soul into his figural paintings.

Many of his works are inspired by literature as in his interpretation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Plato described a group of prisoners who lived chained in an underground cave all their lives. The prisoners spent their time watching a puppet show projected as shadows on the wall, which they mistook for reality. In Postmodern symbolism, dolls are used in place of puppets to reflect cynicism and the recognition of hypocrisy, as though objective values did not exist. In Affleck’s painting, an adolescent girl of about twelve enters the cave to free the prisoners—despite admonitions that she would be killed. Over time, the artist began to appreciate the significance of that age—when a girl reaches a level of consciousness that questions the hypocrisy of the world while still holding on to her idealism. Such sentiments tend to be mocked in contemporary art and Affleck believes it is an inevitable symptom of the greater level of alienation experienced during the transition from childhood to adulthood in the modern industrialized world. The girl stands in opposition to the values of this age and her nudity motivates self-honesty—casting off the empty honors of this world.

Scott Affleck - The Allegory of the Cave (2014)

Scott Affleck – The Allegory of the Cave (2014)

Affleck believes many of his figural paintings are a therapeutic response to today’s pervasive conditions of alienation. Postmodern theory denies this state, so the mood of his work stands apart from those of his peers. It was not his intent to be a contrarian, only to produce art that came naturally to him. Fascinated and influenced by the Symbolist movement of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, he goes beyond the theme of youth as a metaphor for innocence but uses it to represent integrity instead. Perhaps Affleck’s clearest example is Resignation Is Liberation, inspired by George Orwell’s 1984. As a kind of homage to Sandro Botticelli and George Tooker, he painted it on wood.

Scott Affleck - Resignation is Liberation (2014)

Scott Affleck – Resignation is Liberation (2014)

He wasn’t sure if his ideas had any kind of validity until he found this poem written by a 13 or 14-year-old girl. It seemed to confirm his view.

You will never have a home again
You’ll forget the bonds of family and family will become just family
Smiles will never bloom from your heart again, but be fake and you will speak fake words to fake people from your fake soul
What you do today you will do tomorrow and what you do tomorrow you will do for the rest of your life
From now on pressure, stress, pain and the past can never be forgotten
You have no heart or soul and there are no good memories
Your mind and thoughts rule your body that will hold all things inside it; bottled up, now impossible to be released
You are fake, you will be fake, you will be a supreme actor of happiness but never be happy
Time, joy and freedom will hardly come your way and never last as you well know
Others’ lives and the dreams of things that you can never have or be part of, will keep you alive
You will become like the rest of the world–a divine actor, trying to hide and suppress your fate, pretending it doesn’t exist
There is only one way to escape society and the world you help build, but that is impossible, for no one can ever become a baby again
Instead you spend the rest of life trying to find the meaning of life and confused in its maze.
-Fiona Miller, c1987

He recently completed and posted his latest work; he got the idea of painting a trenchcoat on a woman encased in steel. Steel is a particularly potent symbol as it was one of the first materials to be mass-produced in the Industrial Revolution and effectively communicates a visceral reaction to a cold and impersonal age.

Scott Affleck - Progression (2014)

Scott Affleck – Progression (2014)

Official Gallery website
More on Resignation Poetry

Affandi and Kartika

Rarely did Indonesia’s most well known painter, Affandi, stray from his usual subjects: himself and the difficult lives of the ordinary people.

Affand – Affandi & Kartika (1943)

Affand – Affandi & Kartika (1943)

Indonesian artists were radically cut off from the outside world; there were no shows of modern art until the late 1930s.  And conversely, when Affandi toured in India, Europe, America, and Brazil in the ’40s and ’50s he was one of the few artists from his young country to show abroad.

Affandi – Kartika (1941)

Affandi – Kartika (1941)

Affandi did not work in a studio, but outdoors in the open and he was sometimes attacked by the same common people he chose as his subjects; on one occasion sand was apparently thrown at him and the villagers taunted him—calling his painting incomprehensible.

Affandi – Kartika (1943)

Affandi – Kartika  (1943)

Affandi eventually gave up using a brush and applied paint directly from the tube onto the canvass; he painted with his hands and mixed paint on his wrist.

Affandi – Potret met dochter (1939)

Affandi – Potret met dochter (1939)

Affandi had a very close relationship with his daughter from his first wife.  He traveled together with Kartika and began teaching her to paint from age seven.  In fact, Kartika went on to a career as an impressionist artist herself—also painting many self-portraits and the ordinary Indonesian people.

Affandi – Kartika menggambar babaknya (1943)

Affandi – Kartika menggambar bapaknya, “Kartika drawing father” (1943)

Affandi remarked on the topic of girls and his painterly motivations,

“One day an art collector looked in my studio and said he couldn’t select any of my paintings because the paintings he saw hurt his feelings. He asked me why I didn’t make paintings of beautiful objects: landscapes, girls, and so forth. I too like beautiful things, but they do not necessary provide inspiration for my work. My subjects are expressive rather than beautiful. I paint suffering – an old woman, a beggar, a black mountain … I do know the danger of doing paintings with this in mind. I have no intention of becoming a social propagandist, and I must be careful. One day, in India, visiting a village with my Daughter Kartika, I saw a dead body covered by a mattress.  Kartika said, ‘That’s a good subject for you.’ I felt very touched by what we had seen, but I told her I would not paint it. My next painting was of a flower, in reality very fresh, but which on my canvas lacked all life.”

Affandi – Kartika tidur, "Kartika sleeping" (1936)

Affandi – Kartika tidur, “Kartika sleeping” (1936)

Affandi’s legacy, not withstanding his works and his painter daughter who survive him, is his museum in Jogjakarta, which he designed himself in the later years of his life, here is the link to the Affandi Museum site.

RanXerox: An Idea Whose Time Has . . . Gone

The late ’70s and early ’80s were a paradoxical time.  Crime rates, including violent crime, peaked in the United States, and films had become notably darker and more violent, as well as more sexually daring in some ways.  They had even started to address child and adolescent sexuality and child sexual abuse much more directly (and, it should be said, quite often controversially here in the states).  Pretty Baby (1978), You Are Not Alone (1978), The Tin Drum (1979), Beau Pere (1981) and Pixote (1981) had all come out in this period.  As you’ll note, all but one of these were foreign releases, and the exception, Pretty Baby, had a foreign director.

Meanwhile, the precedent for America’s treatment of these themes had been set by 1976’s Taxi Driver, it seems (ironically, a film about a psychotic man who is unable to process his own attraction to a 13-year-old prostitute–played by a young Jodie Foster–and consequently goes on a violent shooting spree.)  This film, perhaps more than any other, I think encapsulates the American mindset with regard to child sexuality.  In a very real sense America is Travis Bickle, and it isn’t surprising that Jodie Foster’s character from the film eventually inspired a very real Bicklesque lunatic, John Hinckley, Jr., to make an assassination attempt on President Reagan’s life.

But film wasn’t the only medium in which Europeans explored underage sexuality.  There were also a few European comics working in this territory.   Of course, they often came with about a metric crap-ton of qualifiers and subterfuge, so as to get around censors.  Although comics are really a much better medium for addressing this topic than live-action film (given the fact that no real children need be involved), in some ways it has been even more subject to taboo than film has.  This may be because comics had traditionally been thought of as a kids’ medium, which only began to shift after the Underground Comix revolution of the late ’60s.  It was also in the late ’70s–1978 to be specific–that Europe gave birth to one of the most outrageous examples of comics dealing with underage sex, Tamburini and Liberatore’s RanXerox.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (pg. 15 - splash)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (pg. 15 – splash)

I have already mentioned how these explorations often used subterfuge to get around the censors, and RanXerox is the perfect example, for, although certain female protagonists of the series–including one of the main characters, Lubna–claimed to be 18 years old, it is visibly obvious that they are in fact much younger.  Not that there aren’t extremely tiny, nearly flat-chested 18-year-olds in real life, but what are the odds that two of them would be friends?  What’s clear here is that Stefano Tamburini and Gaetano “Tanino” Liberatore were conspiring to pull a fast one over on their readership, and for the most part they succeeded.

RanXerox got it’s start in a small Italian publication called Cannibale in 1978, but it really didn’t become well-known until the American sci-fi and erotica magazine Heavy Metal picked it up in June of 1983.  Right from the get-go the series was controversial, not only because of its blatant sexual transgression and graphic violence but also because its original title, Rank Xerox, was a dead rip-off of a very real business entity.  Eventually the title was shortened to RanXerox of course, but again, this was just a sly way to get around what was actually intended by its creators.

The story is set sometime in the future and revolves around RanXerox himself, an ultra-violent, snub-nosed musclebound cyborg constructed from parts of a copier machine (hence the name) and his precocious drug addicted girlfriend, the aforementioned Lubna.  RanXerox is a Punk Age monster, a force of unchecked violence and rage, yet he is often mistreated by his young girlfriend, the only person he loves.  She is therefore the only one who can actually tame his violent tendencies, though mostly she exploits his talents to clear obstacles from her own path.  Richard Corben, another Heavy Metal alumnus, says it best:

RanXerox is a punk, futuristic Frankenstein monster, and with the under-aged Lubna, they are a bizarre Beauty and the Beast. This artist and writer team have turned a dark mirror to the depths of our Id and we see reflected the base part of ourselves that would take what it wants with no compromise, no apology – and woe to the person who would cross us. But it is all done with a black, wry, satirical sense of humor.

But why has Corben suggested that Lubna is underage?  After all, by the third page in the very first story arc in HM we are told that Lubna has recently turned 18.  One at first wonders why it was necessary to make this fact known so soon.  But the creators didn’t stop there; there are references to both Lubna’s age and the age of her friend Martine (who sleeps with Ranx after Lubna is separated from him for a time) throughout.  It’s possible the creators were overcompensating for their own insecurities about the youthful appearance of these characters, but it’s more likely some editor or publisher insisted on it.  Ironically, the constant references to the girls’ ages only serves to draw attention to the fact that physically they are nowhere near 18, and appear to be more in the neighborhood of 12 or 13, which was obviously Tamburini’s intended age for them.

But their youth isn’t simply gratuitous.  The point was to show a future based on projections of the social and criminal trends of the time, a future in which ever-younger kids fell prey to the corrupting lure of the drugs, casual sex and general misanthropy that dominated youth culture in the late ’70s.  To reinforce this point, an even younger girl–a child no older than 3 or 4–is often seen on the street corner that Lubna and her friends haunt; she wears outfits that expose her tiny undeveloped breasts and makes obnoxious comments to Lubna and others.  She’s a little Lubna in training, another sign of the growing inverse relationship between the age and worldliness of the characters in the RanXerox universe.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (page 17, panel 4)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (page 17, panel 4)

The story begins with Lubna on the prowl for another fix of “plasma” in her home city of Rome, Italy, as she begins to feel the ache of withdrawal.  They eventually wind up in the home of the wealthy, psychic (and psychotic) painter Rainier, who gets her high and then tricks her into shutting down her robotic lover and protector.  Afterwards, he and his compatriot dump Ranx’s inanimate body near the Colosseum and kidnap Lubna for purposes unknown.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (page 20, panel 4)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (page 20, panel 4)

As it turns out, Rainier has plans for both Ranx and Lubna, using the former (after tampering with Ranx’s head) to kill an entire club full of people, though the real target is an art critic Rainier despises who happens to be at the club at the time.  But there’s a notable scene just before the massacre where a small girl offers a rose for sale to Ranx, only to be met with a particularly brutal response from the still-malfunctioning robot, whose impulse control has been compromised.  It’s scenes like these that earned RanXerox its notoriety.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 5 (August, 1983) (page 51, panel 8)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 5 (August, 1983) (page 51, panel 8)

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 5 (August, 1983) (page 52, panel 1)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 5 (August, 1983) (page 52, panel 1)

It’s eventually revealed that Rainier has the notion to use Lubna as part of an art piece to be titled Cadaver of a Young Drug Addict.  But of course, Ranx comes smashing into his apartment and breaks his neck, even though Lubna isn’t there.  It’s striking that the first major villain of the initial story arc is a pretentious modern artist who makes ridiculous amounts of money off his meaningless art, and Liberatore, a mere comics artist in many people’s eyes, no doubt relished seeing Rainier meet his end at the hands of his and Tamburini’s creation.

With Lubna now missing and Ranx still hunting for her, he temporarily hooks up with Lubna’s friend Martine, who appears to be about the same age as Lubna.  They have sex at Martine’s place, and the girl, a student of Bioelectronics, at last repairs his busted brain.  It’s noteworthy that in some reprints of these stories this scene was heavily censored.  Particularly bothersome to the censors was the appearance of Ranx’s penis.  Their tryst is interrupted by the sudden intrusion of Martine’s insanely jealous and abusive boyfriend outside her door, but Ranx makes short work of him with a single well-placed punch . . . through the door.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 22)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 22)

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 23)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 23)

Later, as Martine is changing the battery in Ranx’s back, a group of street thugs make a particularly conspicuous comment about her age, with one of them mistaking her for a 12-year-old and another correcting him.  Later the group plans to gang rape the girl, with one of them commenting, “I bet she’s got an ass on her as tender as a filet.”  Ranx, of course, doesn’t go for that.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 25, panel 5)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 25, panel 5)

After several violent episodes and a lot of traveling around the city, Ranx eventually finds that Lubna is being held prisoner by a wealthy, leather mask-wearing man named Volare and goes after her, only to be captured by Volare, who intends to use the robot to stage a Fred Astaire routine as part of a retrospective on the famous dancing actor.  His speech to Ranx amusingly references Heavy Metal, the very magazine the story is running in.  It seems Tamburini was doing meta before meta was cool.  Meanwhile, Lubna is watching a cartoon with a bird character who proclaims, “Goddamn it!”  A quite prescient observation when one considers the popularity of shows like Family Guy, South Park and American Dad today.  (Remember, this series was published in the early ’80s.)  Here it’s just another sign of the decadence and social decline of the future.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 57, panels 1 & 2)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 57, panels 1 & 2)

By now Lubna has bought into Volare’s promises of wealth and fame and blatantly manipulates Ranx by appealing to his love for her (not to mention giving him a hand-job) as they fly to New York in Volare’s private plane!

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 58)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 58)

Ranx agrees to this as long as Lubna can stay with him, but Lubna betrays her robot mate by remaining with Volare while Ranx is training, ostensibly so as not to distract him but more likely because she is attracted to Volare’s wealth and power.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 59, panels 5 & 6)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 59, panels 5 & 6)

After 24 hours, which is all Ranx’s electronic brain needs to memorize Astaire’s entire song-and-dance oeuvre, Ranx and Lubna are at last reunited, with Lubna ironically behaving very much like a child.  Observant readers will note that she is listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 60, panel 4)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 60, panel 4)

In the final issue of the first story arc, Lubna seems to have age-regressed not only behaviorally but even physically.  She may be attracted to Volare, though more than likely it’s just the drugs talking.  While Ranx is performing in the show, she attempts to seduce her abductor in a scene that is likely to send shudders down the spines of anti-abuse and anti-human trafficking advocates everywhere.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 9 (December, 1983) (page 35)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 9 December, 1983) (page 35)

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (December, 1983) (page 36)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (December, 1983) (page 36)

While Ranx is performing, Lubna attempts to seduce Volare; unfortunately for her, Ranx notices.  He stops the show and smashes his way to Volare’s balcony box.  Violence ensues.  The object of his hatred is destroyed, yet Ranx is profoundly affected by this last and worst of Lubna’s many betrayals and, atypically for him, stands up to her abuse in a humorously inappropriate way that symbolically acknowledges her true age: he gives her a bare behind spanking.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 9 (December, 1983) (page 39)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 9 (December, 1983) (page 39)

For something so controversial, RanXerox has had its influence on other creators, most notably manifest in a surreal French fantasy film called La Cité des enfants perdus (The City of Lost Children), directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, which really deserves its own article on Pigtails in Paint.  The physical resemblance of One and Miette to Ranx and Lubna cannot be overstated.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro - Ron Perlman and Judith Vittet in 'The City of Lost Children' (1995)

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro – Ron Perlman and Judith Vittet in ‘The City of Lost Children’ (1995)

RanXerox is a role that was made for Ron Perlman, if it could ever be filmed.  Of course, it can’t.  Indeed, the environment is such today that even a comics magazine like Heavy Metal likely wouldn’t dare repeat it.  It’s a concept whose time has gone.  Or has it?  There have been sexually precocious minors in comics since RanXerox‘s time, though, to my knowledge, rarely without some built-in moral consequence, where bad things befall the child and/or the adult involved with them, or they are clearly the product of sexual abuse.  Yet, in its way, RanXerox may be the most moral story of all of these, for I imagine few people can read it without being repulsed by the characters’ behavior somewhere down the line.  These are not people we would likely ever want to meet, and that may be Tamburini’s point.  When you imagine a future filled with these blatantly immoral folks, you can see that Ranx and Lubna’s world is a true dystopia, one created not by government oppression but by gradual desensitization and moral erosion of the populace.

Tamburini might’ve believed this was where we were headed as a society.  Of course, he was wrong.  Reality never follows so straight a path.  As for Tamburini himself, only three short years after the first run of RanXerox in Heavy Metal–1986–his lifeless body was discovered in his apartment in Rome.  He had apparently died from a heroin overdose.  He was 30 years old at the time of death.

In addition to the HM runs, this series has been collected into books (three major volumes) and translated into several languages.  Here is the cover for one of them, RanXerox 2: Happy Birthday, Lubna.

Tanino Liberatore - Ranx 2: Happy Birthday, Lubna (cover)

Tanino Liberatore – Ranx 2: Happy Birthday, Lubna (cover)

And a cover for the Spanish comics magazine El Víbora (The Viper), featuring Ranx, Lubna, Martine, the toddler girl from the street corner (who Lubna sometimes babysits and whose name I do not know), and another girl I don’t recognize.

Tanino Liberatore - El Víbora, No. 47 (cover)

Tanino Liberatore – El Víbora, No. 47 (cover)

An unidentified image of Lubna working on Ranx:

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox

And just for the hell of it, let’s throw in an illustration of these characters by Paul Pope.  You’ll note that Pope also did a tribute illustration to Moebius’s short story The Apple Pie.

Paul Pope - Ranxerox and Lubna

Paul Pope – Ranxerox and Lubna

You can read the entire first story arc and a handful of the other RanXerox issues (as well as most of the early issues of Heavy Metal) at this site.  The first story arc runs from issue v07 #04 (July 1983) through issue v07 #09 (December 1983); there’s also a great interview with Liberatore in that December ’83 issue.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: RanXerox

URBAN ASPIRINES: RANXEROX: By Tanino Liberatore and Stefano Tamburini

Comic Vine: RanXerox (Character)

He Killed the Song: The Marina Experiment

This disturbing story reminds me of a Bill Moyers interview with Joseph Campbell where he retells a Pygmy parable about a boy who finds the bird of the most beautiful song in the forest. He brings it home and asks his father to bring food for the bird. The father refuses to work to feed only a bird and at some point, he kills it. The moral is that the man killed the bird and with the bird, he killed the song and with the song, himself.

Pip first told me about the strange story of Marina Lutz (b. 1958) and at the time, I could not do much about it as it was late 2012 when Pigtails in Paint was shut down. It appears that Abbot Lutz (1917-1985), the father, had become obsessed with his daughter and compulsively recorded the first 16 years of her life. Over a decade after his death, Marina found a huge archive of materials: film, audio and over 10,000 photos. Far from being a precious record of a beloved child, the material actually revealed a kind of psychological abuse, particularly that of neglect. It is hard not to feel the emotional impact when examining this story and serious thought needs to be given before a fair judgment can be made. Some issues I bring up here have been discussed online, but many that I find particularly relevant, were not.

Marina’s therapist was the first to be exposed to the work. Short films were composed to illustrate some point about Marina’s childhood to the therapist. The source materials were compelling and Marina was encouraged to submit a short film to various film festivals in 2009. The reception was favorable and she actually received a couple of awards. Like the Vivian Maier photographs, this work was never meant for public viewing and so ethical issues arise about its use. On the one hand, this is the private efforts of one man, but considering the unhealthy environment that was fostered, there can be some justification that this work might be used for Marina’s therapeutic benefit and bring light to something that exists in the dark recesses of the dysfunctional family life of many women. Since Marina is the subject, it seems reasonable that given both her parents are dead, that she should be at liberty to engage in this sort of self-exploitation. Abbot’s material is strictly documentary so if there is any artistry, it is due to Marina’s efforts.

With the volume of material to go through, what made her choose what she did? Marina explains in interviews that she watched every film, listened to every audio tape and examined each photograph. Her explanation of what was chosen is that those things which had the most hurtful impact were used. She edited the film in such a way to maximize and more clearly communicate the emotion she felt when viewing them. It was clear in many of the images that she was irritated by the invasion of her privacy but over time, she must have became numb to the experience as though she were a deer in headlights.

Abbot Lutz/Marina Lutz- The Marina Experiment (c1970/2009)

Abbot Lutz/Marina Lutz- The Marina Experiment (c1970/2009)

It might be fairly said that many artists (including some covered on this site) have had a kind of obsession with their children and involved them in their art. But the critical distinction here is that in a loving family, the children are engaged in a relationship with the parent—sometimes remembering the photo sessions as a fond part of their emotional bonding. In contrast, Abbot’s cold observation gave me the distinct impression that he rarely if ever gave his daughter physical affection that would communicate a sense of being loved. When first sifting through the source material, a friend of Marina’s commented that it was as though she were a lab specimen and thus the title “The Marina Experiment” was coined. The most wrenching part for me is a recording where Abbot asks Marina to sing. His clear prioritization of propriety over love is reflected in his incessant interruptions in correcting Marina until she finally gives up—no longer wishing to sing the song.

On the official website, Marina shares some of her thoughts about the experience and she makes the suggestion that she was regarded as an object of sexual desire. But I believe that such a passionate reaction implies a warmth not consistent with his personality. In 1949, Abbot did solicit the participation of women to engage in erotic photography, but whatever emotional stirrings that may have implied were converted to cold fascination by the time Marina came along.

All told, I don’t believe most of the superficial observations made in this case have been especially insightful. Certainly, I am glad that many women have been able to come forward with their stories and take solace that their experiences were not unique or mere figments of their imagination. And I am glad that skeptics have come forward to caution us about the dangers of attributing sinister intent on Abbot’s part. Dysfunctional families exist and the peculiarities of their members can be expressed in bizarre and unhealthy ways. It also makes for an intriguing story to tell and I only hope that Marina can find a kind of emotional closure for herself that will give her some freedom from the shackles of her past.

The Marina Experiment: Part 1 (Marina’s original intent was to produce three parts)

Marina Lutz interview

2012 Commentary on The Novel Activist

Advent of the Attack Ad

In the United States, tomorrow is an election day. A couple years ago, I saw this interesting ad featuring a little girl. It was a scare tactic to get voters to vote for President Johnson in the 1964 election. His principle opponent, Barry Goldwater, was regarded as a warmonger and expressed a willingness to use nuclear weapons. It was designed to impress upon voters the gravity of their decision during a period of nuclear brinksmanship.

Tony Schwartz - Daisy Ad (1964)

Tony Schwartz – Daisy Ad (1964)

What I did not realize at the time was its historic importance as a landmark in political elections and that many believed it was responsible for Johnson’s landslide victory. Although the Johnson campaign staff was condemned for airing this powerful but indirect ad hominem attack, some commentators credit it for opening the door to the more vicious examples we see today. The ad was aired only once on September 7, 1964 and featured two-year-old Monique M. Corzilius counting the petals on a daisy before cutting to a missile launch countdown. You can read more on the “Daisy” Ad on Wikipedia where you can also view the entire ad.