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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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03/02/2005 Archived Entry: "Art book review: Underbelly"

Underbelly -- Additional Observations of the Beauty/Ugliness of Mostly Pillowy Girls
Weasel Number No. 1
The art of Dave Cooper
Published by: Fantagraphics
Visit Dave's Site:
Reviewed by Kathy LaFollett

Let's get one fact on the table, Dave Cooper is a talented, expressive, focused artist who has more brain synapses running than most. His technique and mastery of his medium are without question.

That being said, let's move onto the subjective part of this review.

Underbelly is offered as a simple thrown together collection of Coopers recent paintings. A montage of visual bites presenting the whole of his latest work. Sketches, paintings, close-up photos of said, and general burps of inspirational creations.

As a whole the book bears out the first line of this review, without delay or modesty.

The text offers the theory that we are taking a visual walk through satiated, thriving, aggressive, if not violent, sexuality, represented by morbidly obese (pillowy) girls. I'll go there as an artist, and agree that the art does just that... and more.

Throughout the book, my artistic memory is thrown directly into "Dante and Virgil in Hell" a masterpiece created by Adolphe-William Bouguereau, but without the classic training, beauty or nuance. Dante's Inferno rings in my ears, as Hieronymus Bosch's panel "Hell" scorches my memory. William Blake's "Last Judgment", and a number of other priceless pieces continue to be drawn to the forefront of my thoughts.

You get the picture.

There is no sexuality or sensuality in this book. There are bodies, bloated with excess, screaming for more. There are females of varying sizes, shapes, contortions, and exuding an air of complete exhaustion strewn throughout this book sometimes wearing only expressions of the empty echoes of fierce lost battles for control of their angst. Cellulite-embedded vistas of female dissipation of one form or another assail the eye while the huge mouths of the painted subject, like gaping wounds, insult the mind.

Teeth, gums, breasts, nipples, sweat, sagging human flesh, crawling squirming forms, set in stylized recognizable environments we all live in.

Mr. Cooper seems to be attracted to the values and hues of the color green. A subliminal green tint runs through the pages, suggesting infection and sickness. No male counterparts are present, although hints of "maleness" show up through subject positioning, cars, tall buildings, and suchlike.

Underbelly is the carnival freak show we all snuck into when we were ten years old. We covered our eyes in aversion, but peeked through our fingers in utter awe.

I'm sure Mr. Cooper will be delighted to know I am completely repelled and drawn to this book at the same time. A love/hate relationship was built after the first page.

It is suggested that this is a coffee table edition. I can't bear the idea of having this out in the middle of the living room. But then again, I wouldn't invite the Fat Lady to sit around on my couch either. No, this book will be safely ensconced behind a door, under a few other books. As with all freak shows it's not meant to be out in the sunlight, but rather hidden away, behind the curtains waiting for the viewer to voluntarily "walkin" and gander at the Underbelly.

(Fantagraphics has a little gallery of Images from Underbelly for you thrill-seeker J LHLS readers. Ed.)

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