In which our 13-year old editor pays tribute to the lowbrow genius and his eye-popping anthology. Check out some of his illustrations at the bottom of the page.
BY FRED MILLS
Tucked over in the righthand margin of the Amazon.com page for Mitch O’Connell—The World’s Best Artist (Last Gasp Books) is a notation that reads, in part, “Looking for the Audiobook Edition? Tell us that you’d like this title to be produced as an audiobook, and we’ll alert our colleagues at Audible.com…” Lordy. One can only dream. But the FBI would probably get involved.
Chicago-based Mitch O’Connell—who is not, despite the similarity of spelling, rightwing Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, although I would vote for O’Connell in a heartbeat if he ran for public office—is a prominent force among the so-called “Lowbrow” Art movement that initially emerged from the underground comics scene during the late ‘70s. Think: Robert Williams, The Coop, Gary Panter, punk rock posters, hot rods, tattoos, Juxtapoz mag, Sympathy For The Record Industry, tits. Wikipedia suggests that a synonym for “lowbrow art” is “pop surrealism”; what, no “transgressive” in there? Let’s just call it “youth-corrupting filth” and be done with it.
Okay kids, your parents out of the room now? Let’s proceed.
One of the first sights to grace the peepers upon opening this massive, elaborately packaged compendium of O’Connell’s work is a curvy brunette, naked sans unfiltered cigarette, her shaved twat staring you right in the face. As the artist himself pledges in the text immediately below the babe, “Excitement! Fun! Nudity! Thrills! Balloons! Nudity! Alcohol! Cake! Hilarity! Nudity! Oh, what amazement awaits! Do you have goosebumps too?!”
Well, that and a raging boner, Mitch.
One could argue that O’Connell’s book, and perhaps the bulk of his colorful career to date (which includes having his art published by Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Spin, The New York Times, Time, Playboy, Entertainment Weekly, The New Yorker and, er, Juggs; he’s also a sometime tattoo artist), is aimed directly at 13-year old boys, or more accurately your inner 13-year old boy, since the only way a 13-year old boy is going to be able to obtain this volume is by shoplifting, which I do not recommend despite the fact that as a 13-year old boy I had a lucrative hobby shoplifting Playboys and Penthouses from the newsstand of Mr. Tollison’s Pharmacy and Soda Fountain in my hometown. That’s a story for another day, however. Page after page here is oozing quim, a veritable harvest of boobs, from the recurring visage of Betty Page to buxom alien-fighting space wenches to hot-to-trot rockabilly mamas to devil gals to the random dominatrix. I mean, Ker-rist, you can practically smell the musk scent as you flip through The World’s Best Artist.
Sprinkled here and there are photographic examples of some of O’Connell’s muses, such as a Bunny Yeager-esque pic, burlesque dancers and Russ Meyer vixen Tura Satana. There’s also an extended spread near the back of the book that’s the equivalent of a guided tour of O’Connell’s actual house, which is crammed with his art, naturally, and also prominently features all manner of collectible dolls and lingerie-clad store mannequins. But by and large, it’s the illustrations that power the vehicle here. Did someone mention nudity?
Of course, the pop culture aspect goes hand in hand with the tits. Tons of gig posters, like one for a roller girl derby, a music showcase and a B-movie film festival. O’Connell has designed his share of record sleeves and band merch, too—Supersuckers, Ramones and Less Than Jake among them. In that vein there are also plenty of celebrity representations: Foo Fighters, Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, Peewee Herman, Mr. T, Jayne Mansfield, what may or may not be that pipe-smoking dude from the Church of the Sub-Genius, and a somewhat unsettling image of Dean Martin’s disembodied head surrounded by floating slices of cream pie and bacon. (The latter painting, which depicts a sleeping female dreaming of Martin, is from 2003 and is titled, you guessed it, “Wet Dean.”) And ladies, just so you get equal time here, there are also a number of beefcake drawings plus the occasional fat cock.
There’s more, of course, including comic book and magazine covers—the sci-fi and horror fields apparently have provided the artist with steady work over the years—and an awesome two-page Star Trek poster featuring Kirk and Spock front and center. (I’ve got a thing for Star Trek.) O’Connell also provides a running commentary so you can trace his career and get a clear sense of what informs his aesthetic. Tits, yes, but still…
World’s best? Maybe; we’ll let posterity decide that. But world’s coolest, definitely. Now excuse me, I think I hear my 13-year old son stirring upstairs. He loves gifts, and I think I have just the book for him.