Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Zak Smith's Gravity's Rainbow Illustrations

As I just mentioned, I'm writing a little something about them. This post is not that, it's just my free associations about his project.

Basically, he made little tiny postcard illustrations for every single page of that little book by Thomas Pynchon (whose new novel, by the way, Michiko Kakutani pretty much trashed). I remember seeing them at the 2004 Whitney Biennial and thinking they were hilariously pretentious, but after reading this interview I'm warming to Mr. Smith. I hate to think it's for as shallow a reason as the fact that he's adorable and clever and sarcastic, but knowing myself, that's very possible.

Don't you guys think that Emma B should date him? Now that I think about it, does she know him?

Anyhow, my first impression was that the illustrations were slapdash sketches for a half-baked comic, artworld opportunism banking on punk/comicgeek street cred. In the context of the Biennial, can you blame me? But after spending more than ten minutes with them, I don't think that's fair. Smith spent a year making three or so little postcard illustrations a day. The illustrations themselves are unabashedly earnest in a way that only a 30-year-old still sporting his adolescent green mohawk would ever try to be. But some of them really work, like this

There are 3 big shoes in the illustrations, all of which were based on observation of actual shoes and all of which get a lot of attention. I think they're kind of a good example of a time when the subject was kind of mundane but the picture nailed it.

As for shoes and fate--well in the South they say if you meet a stranger, look at their shoes.

Ok, why? Well, the theory is, your clothes change all the time, but your shoes don't change as much, so they've been through what you've been through and show the signs of it.

Not that I imagined any of this at the time, but a big thing in the book is Slothrop trying to hold onto his sense of himself despite being rootless and changing clothes and roles all the time. So maybe when we think of Slothrop's shoes we're thinking more about trying to remember everything he's been through as opposed to how when we see his Hawaiian shirt or his zoot suit or his pig suit or his moustache we just think about what role he's playing at the moment. Ok, that's my Shoe Theory.
That's actually, like, insightful.

And then some of the pics are just cool-looking, like this illustration for this passage:

based on

He knew there were six carbon atoms with a hydrogen attached to each one - but he could not see the shape. Not until the dream... Kekule dreams the Great Serpent holding its own tail in its mouth...

And because I like comics and I like pretty boys, I like moments like this

based on
...your blood spurting from the flaccid stub of artery, the snowy roofslates fallen across half your bed...

As Zak says,

my project was to draw my understanding of the scenes as written. The sentence says "you"--when I read the word "you" then I understand it as referring to Zak Smith. If Alan Greenspan were doing the illustrations we would then have a picture of Alan Greenspan being ushered into the Volkswagen.

There's actually one other place where Pynchon uses second-person--near the beginning he says something about "you" getting your arm blown off--so there's me with my arm blown off--but I'm facing left so people didn't recognize me from my haircut.


So why did I think it was slapdash? It was partly just the fact that there were so many jumbled together in a little room, and they were so cluttered and tiny. And it was partly because some of them look like this.

As Zak pretty accurately says,

I think a lot of the best stuff I did on GR comes at the intersection of Pynchon's ideas about death and my own sort of punk/metal thing. The Angel of Death in the center of the last page is pretty nice--I might get a tattoo of that--and page 748--the "ravens of death have now tasted of the poison of god" is pretty fuckin' sweet if I do say so myself.
I trashed at least a hundred, I should've trashed about a hundred more.
Anyhow, here's the whole project.

p.s. This is to give Emma B. that extra incentive to pursue him when she's in NYC next month:


  • At 12:58 AM, Blogger Emma B said…


  • At 3:11 PM, Anonymous Generic Viagra said…

    The pictures really caught my attention, specially the last 3, the guy without the arm, the abstract art and the cat, they can be very nice for decoration.
    Thanks for sharing, nice post.



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