Ben Marks

Ben Marks is the senior editor of CollectorsWeekly.com

Art from a Seattle-born painter kept in a WWII internment camp

Published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name (through December 13, 2014, at Washington State University’s Museum of Art in Pullman), Roger Shimomura: An American Knockoff offers a crisp look at the recent work of this Seattle-born painter of Japanese descent, who spent some of his earliest years in a World War II internment camp in Hunt, Idaho. Forced ostracization helped shape Shimomura’s sense of otherness, which has found expression in his work since the 1970s. Not surprisingly, some of the most powerful paintings reproduced in the exhibition catalog – which includes an essay by Anne Collins Goodyear and an interview with the artist – depict imagined images from those years. Because Shimomura was just three when he and his family were sent to Camp Minidoka, though, he relied upon translations of his grandmother’s diaries to create pictures of the surreal circumstances of trying to live a normal American life while imprisoned. My favorite, “Classmates,” captures two girls – one with Euro-American features, the other Japanese – holding ruby-red apples and smiling, seemingly untroubled by the barbed wire strung between them.

Other paintings in the book are comic-book-style self-portraits of the artist as iconic characters like George Washington (famously crossing the Delaware) and Superman (his trademark costume covered by a kimono). While these images may appear to be pop polemics designed to poke a thumb in the eye of some of America’s most patriotic icons, the artist demurs: “Sometimes people mistake my usage of them as painting the enemy,” he’s quoted as saying. “But it really comes out of my visual reverence for them.” For the artist, the paintings are conversation starters, as in “Shimomura Crossing the Delaware,” which is supposed to make viewers ask themselves, ‘What if George Washington had been Japanese American?’ In other words, how might a heroic Japanese figure early in the nation’s history have changed our culture? Well, one might answer, the current president of the United States is African American, and that fact has done little in many precincts to further the dialogue about race. But the lack of easy answers in Shimomura’s work is fine with the artist. “If my work is seen as raising more questions than it answers,” he says, “I’d be pleased….”

Roger Shimomura: An American Knockoff

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Fat Tire Flyer: Repack and the Birth of Mountain Biking

When the race that became known as Repack was first run on October 21, 1976, a half-dozen or so people, along with a dog named Junior, lined up at the top of Pine Mountain Road just west of Fairfax, California. Before them was Cascade Canyon Road, a twisting dirt plunge that dropped 1,300 feet in roughly two miles. An Oklahoma transplant named Alan Bonds came in first on that cloudless morning, but it was Bonds’s roommate, Charlie Kelly, who became known as Mr. Repack, thanks to his role in helping to set up that initial race and organizing just about all of the 24 Repacks that followed.

Now, in Fat Tire Flyer: Repack and the Birth of Mountain Biking, Kelly candidly tells the story of the rock-n-roll-soaked years that led up to that race, as well as the business he started a few years later, MountainBikes, with his other roommate, Gary Fisher, with whom he coined the phrase we all take for granted today. Kelly gets to tell this tale not just because he was there -- he was one of the sport’s principal instigators and evangelists, the guy who kept the records, got on the phone, and regularly made lots of stuff happen. Thus we follow Kelly on rides out to Mineral King in the southern Sierra and up over Pearl Pass in Crested Butte, Colorado, a two-wheeled ambassador of sorts for his nascent sport. Filled with Wende Cragg’s cinema-vérité photographs, many taken at a brutally sharp left-turning switchback called Camera Corner, and with a foreword by Joe Breeze, who built what many consider the first true mountain bike in 1977, Fat Tire Flyer is a terrific read, although it’ll probably make you want to put the book down, dust off that clunker that’s been buried in the garage, and head for the hills.

Fat Tire Flyer: Repack and the Birth of Mountain Biking by Charlie Kelly

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When Art Rocked: San Francisco Music Posters, 1966-1971

Ben Marks explores the history of the psychedelic rock poster.

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Absurd and brilliant comics designed to be read right-side-up as well as upside-down

From 1903-1905, a Japanese-born, Dutch artist named Gustave Verbeek turned America’s Sunday funny papers on their collective head.

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Art in the Infographic Age

Artists Tom Whalen and Kevin Tong break into the sophisticated, rapidly growing world of infographics with their exhibition, Info•Rama.

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Jimbo Phillips: the world's greatest snot artist

“My dad always told me not to be an artist,” says Santa Cruz Skateboards artist Jimbo Phillips to Ben Marks. “He said, ‘You should be a dentist and make some real money.’”

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The Rock Poster Art of Chuck Sperry

The radiant rock art illustrator exhibits his luscious silkscreen prints in a 17th-century church in the tiny coastal village of Tellaro, Italy. Ben Marks reports.

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Rock poster community fights back for one of its own, San Francisco 1/3/14

On Monday October 21, 2013, rock-poster artist Alan Forbes was standing outside a bar in the Lower Haight neighborhood of San Francisco, minding his own business, when someone coldcocked him, completely out of the blue. The only thing taken was his cell phone, but Forbes’s assailant left him with two skull fractures, migraines, and enough damage to his right eye that he’s eventually going to need glasses.

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Chris Shaw re-imagines the Madonna at SFMOMA

ChrisShaw MadonnaScience2

As the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art prepares to shutter its South of Market location for the next three years, during which it will spend almost half a billion dollars to more than double its size for the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection, the museum’s restaurant on Third Street closes out its more modest exhibition program with nine acrylic-on-canvas paintings by Chris Shaw, on view through June 3, 2013. Admission is free.

Best known locally for his rock posters, Shaw has used his swan-song time slot to present a series of vividly colored Madonnas, each based on Madonnas by such 15th century artists as Bellini, Botticelli, and Ambrogio de Predis. For Shaw, the Madonna is just another propaganda icon, a vessel to be filled up with whatever one is trying to sell.

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Bill Gold, the master of the movie poster

It’s rare that any of us gets to start at the top: Brandon Crawford’s first hit for the San Francisco Giants was a grand slam, Tatum O’Neal’s first movie, Paper Moon, netted her an Oscar for best supporting actress at the tender age of 10.

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Tom Whalen Goes Daffy for Mondo

For a little over a year now, Tom Whalen has been Mondo’s go-to artist for contemporary movie posters of classic cartoons. Mondo, of course, is the Austin-based gig-style movie-poster publisher whose limited edition screenprints generally sell out within minutes of being offered online—these guys are literally printing money. Whalen, whose work can be seen at strongstuff.net, is the son of the Pennsylvania coal country, a working stiff who still holds a day job as an editorial illustrator for a medical publisher.

On Saturday March 10, Mondo will release “Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century,” its first Looney Tunes print. In another first, the print will be part of Mondo’s debut exhibition in its new gallery space at 4115 Guadalupe Street in Austin. The theme is Science Fiction, and there will be almost 40 pieces of original art and screenprints from more than 30 artists, including Whalen's "Duck Dodgers." Hours for the opening are 6-10pm.

Naturally, Whalen was tapped to come up with the image, probably because he’s been creating cartoon posters for Mondo since February of 2011, when the company’s first Disney piece was released. That largely black, white and silver screenprint imagined a poster for the 1928 Disney short “Steamboat Willie.” Printed by DL Screenprinting in Seattle, “Steamboat Willie” was published in an edition of 200, plus a variant of 60 that swapped silver for sepia, among other minor changes. We hear the edition size of the seven-color “Duck Dodgers” will be 320, and the price will be $40. Good luck getting your hands on one.

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