by Jeff Milo
Part 1 of 3
(...or at least, "...of 2")
Ryan Standfest is no comedian. Well, technically not. If his art is humorous at all, it’s by no means escapist or some hackneyed stand-up styled 'Hey–what's-the-deal-is with airline food' riffing.
No comedian, “by any stretch of the imagination,” says the local illustrator/writer/publisher (operator of Rotland Press.)
If Standfest get gets a laugh out of you, you’ll either resent or revere him for it. Actually, you may just be repulsed by the illustrations etched not just by him, but his creative co-conspirators collected in his latest book.
That’s not entirely the point of his work, or any of the provocative works displayed in Rotland's new anthology Black Eye 2 – The point, if he has one, is to cause you to question your own reactions – particularly when confronted with difficult subject matter that’s presented with a perceived levity, or, if you will, irreverence.
The way Standfest sees it: art should bite. It should be made with teeth built into it.
Maybe it’s not pointedly humorous. Maybe its absurdist, yes, and maybe even a bit Dada-ist. But through the art of Standfest (and the talented, teeth-baring artists in Black Eye 2, out this month -info-here-), you can deal with your discomfort, your “panic,” as Standfest says, “in a way that points out the fundamental absurdities in those things. That’s grounds for an interesting conversation.”
ROTLAND DREADFULS #1" (2013), by R. Standfest
“People respond,” says Standfest, “...they react, sometimes negatively. And they might not want to know why they had that negative reaction. But others have a secondary impulse and they question: why?”
CARBUNCLE" (2012) by R. Standfest
Again, not a comedian, but
For Standfest, “
humor is a strategy. Or rather, a representation of the absurd, without necessarily resulting in laughs, ...thus a closer representation of what we are living through.”
Standfest was raised in a suburb of Detroit, under a father who spent some of his working-life on the undersides of cars (...dealing daily with tar and undercoating in a dark, windowless auto-plant.)
His formidable experiences include discovering pornography by way of a magazine, soggy with rain and mud, stuck into a plastic bag behind his school playground. His sensibilities surged with a steady regiment of Mad Magazine during its quintessential era (Al Jaffee, Antonio Prohias), and his magnificent-yet-morose tastes toughed with the discovery of a strange, confusedly received publication edited by Charles Addams (of “Addams Family”-fame) titled “Dear Dead Days,” (featuring a “startling selection of photographs and drawings depicting murder and accident victims, torture devices, arcane medical practices, freaks, oddities and mutilations
Rear and Front covers of "BLACK EYE 2" (2013), by Ben Jones, Manchester, UK
I should note here that Standfest laughs often, easily and quite heartily in conversation
if, just, maybe at some of the more darker, tweaked, or transgressive sentiments that come up. That’s likely influenced by his grandfather’s role in his rearing: “
a lowbrow gagman” who told outrageous jokes with a strange vaudevillian expression, whilst clenching “
a Phillies Tips cigar between his teeth.” It was this practical-jokester who provided Standfest with his first artificial vomit and whoopee-cushion.
“I don’t believe in art that serves to express an idea of beauty or promote the pursuit of cultural refinement,” says the Wayne State University (undergrad) and graduate of The University of Iowa. “I’ll leave that to someone else
” He's not out to lampoon anything, per se (...National Lampoon, by the way, is another formative influence upon our artist/publisher...But, again, only the seminal pre-Animal House era, before it was sold, watered-down and co-opted into crazy college sex-romp culture). He's not out to make showy statements either - indeed, he considers Warhol (and Jeff Koons) to be one of the worst things to happen to modern art.
Funny/Not-Funny –was a, it turns out, quite a fatefully titled show that Standfest curated a few years ago. Standfest, as an artist, whose primary background is in printmaking/etching, tried reaching out to a number of other artists (in illustration and graphic-design) from around the country, who he saw as working with sensibilities more attuned to a subversive, or severely off-beat realm of humoristic expression.
As Funny/Not-Funny was coming together, he felt compelled to make a book. The catalog of artists’ works, descriptions and writings felt more like a Companion piece to Funny/Not-Funny, when it was all-said-and-done-and-printed. He decided to publish Funny/Not-Funny under a name he somewhat whimsically chose: Rotland Press – thinking he’d never have occasion to use it, or publish-anything, ever again.
But here we are now. Standfest finds himself to be a busy editor with, maybe, a bit of a cause, a much more integral cause: Uniting disparate artists in Detroit who could feasibly form a tribe, share a vision and, together, find a wider audiences. That’s the biggest draw of publishing, for Standfest – Unlike an exhibition or a gallery, a book shuffles around, its purchased, it circulates across state lines to difference audiences. It’s out there
building an audience.
“I like that,” Standfest says, “Working
and building an audience.”
Detail of the rear cover to "BLACK EYE 2" (2013), by Ben Jones, Manchester, UK.
The collected artists in Black Eye 2 could be just one chapter, one clutch, of this potentially bigger tribe that could come together. Under the name of...art? Don’t be absurd.
Next time, in Part 2, we'll see why Canadian Border Patrol officers very nearly assured the publications of Rotland to be banned on grounds of obscenity. Some people got no sense of "humor!"