The above is a 1994 New Yorker cover by Robert Crumb.
If you’d like, please take a few moments and consider what it says to you.
Here is what it says to me:
I’m first impressed by the color tones and palette. If I blur my focus, the composition could hardly be more beautiful, symmetrical, and balanced, transitioning eloquently through soft and complimentary pastels.
I next notice all the people are young men, young men of different races. Yet, in New York City, these men of different races have all become remarkably similar. They all are wearing their baseball caps backwards. Each similar cap has a prominent advertisement, not for a sports team or something individual, but rather for a corporate brand or consumer product. A comic note being played is that New York, the great melting pot, has in fact homogenized the diversity right out of this generation.
Each young man slumps a little. Each has an identical round gold earring. Each is walking alone. Each is not being social with any other. Each is pretending not to be paying attention or “seeing” any of the others.
Of the skyline, the buildings are generally monochromatic. The newer they are, the more square and similar in architecture they tend to be. The older buildings have more stylistic distinctiveness than the newer ones. Atop these marvels of architecture, antennas reign supreme, evidently persuasively sending their signals of conformity across the broad city.
The most warmth in the picture is the illuminated sky as the sun sets on another day, mostly obscured from the point of view of humans walking on the streets.
And poetically and humorously, the method of persuasion calling the young man toward sexual temptations, is a simple leaflet, ink on a piece of paper.
In 1994, Terry Zwigoff also created the amazing documentary about Robert Crumb and several of his family members, titled “Crumb.”
Of the film and Robert Crumb, Roger Ebert wrote: “People who have been damaged by life can make the most amazing adjustments in order to survive and find peace. Sometimes it is a toss-up whether to call them mad, or courageous.”
“Crumb” is an excellent movie, and I highly recommend it.
Behind Robert Crumb’s sarcasm, there lies tremendous insight.
Inside his fixations about sexualities, there exist uncommon perceptions of reality and worthwhile social commentary.
His life’s work can be considered, among many other things, as a response to the question of: If you could only communicate using imagery, a pencil, some colors, inks, and pieces of paper, what could you achieve?
Responding to the provocative query raised by Roger Ebert, I would assert Robert Crumb’s life and work has been far more courageous than it has been mad.
I have a toast for Mr. Crumb:
“Here’s to you making the most amazing adjustments.”
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On a side note: My brain visually catalogues images. I suppose most people’s brains do. From that internal catalogue, when I studied Crumb’s 1994 cover image above, I remembered and recognized a visual similarity to Thomas Hoepkner’s famous photo “Marine Recruits” from 1970:
At the time this post is being written, unfortunately there is no English Wikipedia article for Thomas Hoepkner.
© All rights reserved by the respective artists.
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