Monday, 25 March 2013

Barry Windsor-Smith's OPUS

OPUS Vol I & II (Fantagraphics Books, 1999-2000)
By Barry Windsor-Smith
(from Following Cerebus #11, 2007)
...I can't think of any lifelong body of such unreservedly brilliant work that has exacted quite so obvious and terrible a psychic toll on its creator. All the sacrifice of blood and spirit and sweat and the frankly-admitted-to tears, the defence of self in a moment of weakness ("I can't go on. I am only human") that in turn becomes a lifelong indictment of self ("only human") and what-might-have-been's.

Like every other artist who bought a copy, I have a Get Out Of Jail Free card. I'm free to detach myself from the human toll documented on nearly every page and just make use of the inspiration of the rendering, the colour choices, the composition, the variations, the detail, the mixing and matching of media. It's a Feast and an entirely Moveable one. Page after page after page after page. Even when I try to focus on the narration the illustration are impossible to ignore. What was it Oscar Wilde said? "To cure the soul with the senses, and the senses with the soul." Nonsense advice and a recipe for a precipitous fall from grace. Still I can enjoy Picture of Dorian Gray for its own sake - The End - and never have to endure or revisit or contemplate the two years of hard labour that it directly led to.

And BWS toils on, framing and attempting to answer the questions he perceives as having been directly posed to him more than thirty years before, paying exorbitant tolls when exorbitant tolls are called for, persevering, gravitating to themes, reworking ideas that existed on a higher plateau in their BWS rough pencil stage than most of us - including Jack Kirby - could ever have hoped to aspire to on our best day... or week ... or month. The first Artemis and Apollo was quantum levels beyond our grasp and our limited abilities and each successive version only dwarfs that first one. What he considers to be "dashed off" colour sketches, most artists of my generation would be pleased to consider a finished cover painting.

And still he aspires. Of all the people who passed through the halls of Marvel Comics in the legendary 1960s, he above everyone else warrants that epithet which doubles as the Latin motto of the state of New York:

Excelsior. Ever Upward.

Barry Windsor-Smith's OPUS is a series of deluxe, hard-cover volumes presenting a fascinating selection of classic, rarely seen, and previously unpublished art by BWS. Integral to this rich retrospective of drawings, paintings, and graphic storytelling work from throughout Windsor-Smith's career are autobiographical texts, titled Time Rise, which explore the ideas and anecdotes behind the art and far beyond, offering intriguing insights into the remarkable experiences of one of comics' and graphic arts' most acclaimed creators.

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