Artwork based on preexisting material is tricky because great art challenges us rather than comforts us with the familiar. In recent years, a multitude of artists have come forward to build work based on fandom, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. Not every painting and sculpture has to be drawn from landscapes and models, and pulling from popular culture doesn’t necessarily hurt the piece. Pop Art, one of the most striking artistic movements of the 20th century, partially grew out of comic books.
Where it gets murky in the case of fan-art is how much the artist can show appreciation while still establishing something that’s daring enough to be more than comfort food for movie nerds (and I say this as someone whose apartment is lined with Mondo posters). Crazy 4 Cult 2 runs the gamut of stunning tributes to lazy mash-ups, and that range makes it a curious and revealing collection.
Crazy 4 Cult 2 starts out on a shaky note with a forward by Seth Rogen, who admits he doesn’t know much about art, and only connects with the stuff in the book because it provides the familiar. That’s not to be snobby on my part, but when you look at the amount of effort that goes into some of the work in this book, then the observation should be deeper than “Hey! I like that movie too!” (It doesn’t help that Rogen seems to have banged out the foreword when he had about 15 free minutes).
That’s not to diminish the work in Crazy 4 Cult 2. It’s simply a different kind of art. It’s populist and, to agree with Rogen to an extent, anything that speaks to someone on some level has value. But if it’s going to speak, then it should do so eloquently and with some thought otherwise the tribute feel hollow. Such a tribute is channeled through an artist’s style, but the artist doesn’t give anything back. It’s nothing but a shiny, elaborate reference rather than a thoughtful celebration.
Matt Taylor‘s Easy Rider screenprint, “We Blew It”, is an art tribute at its best. It keeps Peter Fonda’s Wyatt in silhouette, and highlights the stars-and-stripes helmet and bike, which asserts the ideals of the movie before the character. I also love the way the front tire is tilted over at an angle. Even though the bike is upright in the image, the turned tire is a subtle way of foreshadowing the film’s tragic conclusion.
Like Taylor’s “We Blew It”, Eric Tan’s “In George We Trust” does more than simply reference a movie (in this case, Back to the Future). It conveys the tone. The screenprint has an upbeat and comic tone, but it also doesn’t go for the obvious reference like the DeLorean or the Hoverboard. Instead, it wryly takes the throwaway line “Hey George! Have you thought about running for class president!”, and turns it into a campaign poster. Tan then provides a depiction of George’s shocked face, as if to say, “This is about as confident as I could make him look.”
By contrast, Glen Brogan’s “Marty’s Room” is Marty and Doc playing Nintendo while Jennifer reads a book on Marty’s bed for absolutely no reason. It’s fan fiction but done as a digital print.
Just as bad are the mash-ups such as Misha’s “Yokai Busters”, which is a Yamato-e spin on Ghostbusters. Mash-ups like these are the worst because while they may be cute, they’re rarely clever. Why not mash-up Ghostbusters with Greek pottery or Renaissance paintings? How does this convey an appreciation of the movie?
If there is going to be a mash-up, it needs to be all-in; a tribute that excites the eye and captures the energy of being a fan of so many films. Roger Barr & Louis Fernet-Leclair’s “8-bit Spring Break” takes dozens of movies and films that have nothing to do with 8-bit video games (even though the art in the giclee is 16-bit), but it pops off the page, and is fun to look at. It may not be a specific reference, but it creates a relevant emotion because the characters depicted provide a sense of joy, and so does the giclee print.
The success of reinterpretation is best exemplified by two works based on The Iron Giant. Jason Liwag’s giclee print “This Is Not a Gun” sticks a moustache on the giant’s face and underneath bears the French words, “Ceci n’est pas une arme à feu.” That means next to nothing in this image. If what the artist does with a painting could easily be applied to any other movie, then the artwork has failed.
On the opposite page, there’s Mike Mitchell’s “Portrait of an Iron Giant as a Young Vin Diesel”. Lame title aside, it does a wonderful job of capturing the giant’s zen expression. The birds rest comfortably on his shoulder, a nice reference to the giant’s appreciation of organic life. However, the light red background provides not only a hint of danger, but also the sunset palette from the end of the movie. This is a piece that incorporates subtle visuals to tap into the viewer’s appreciation of the film and in turn provides a respectful tribute to the film itself.
Crazy 4 Cult 2 is a mixed bag, and that’s a good thing. The weaker pieces help illustrate the stronger pieces, and vice versa. This contrast illustrates how art, even if it’s a tribute to a movie, can still provide insight as long as it pushes past appreciation to reveal inspiration.