| Art in Review; Jules Feiffer
By ROBERTA SMITH
Published: August 4, 2006
If You Really Loved Me, You'd Find Me: The Strips, 1960-2000
Adam Baumgold Gallery
74 East 79th Street, Manhattan
Through next Friday
As a cartoonist, Mr. Feiffer might be described as Daumier mixed with substantial doses of Calder, Giacometti, Walt Disney, Philip Roth and Lenny Bruce. His were certainly not the first cartoons for grown-ups, but they may have been the first to chart the erratic inner life of emerging counterculture urban American adulthood in all its childish splendor, mood swings, narcissism, self-hate and alienation.
It is startling to learn that the small but thorough and very funny 48-drawing sampling of his work at the Adam Baumgold Gallery is his first gallery show in New York. It focuses on his strips: mostly those done in ink for the Voice, but including a few in ink and watercolor that appeared in Playboy in the mid-80's and Fortune as recently as 2005.
One Feiffer specialty is the interior monologue spoken by all kinds of types: shopaholics, wary parents, desperate children, self-aggrandizing businessmen and, most notably, the angst-ridden urban male. Occasionally real people do the talking, notably sitting presidents and especially Richard Nixon during his Watergate flame-out. Nixon's machinations take up most of one wall here, and alternately seem dated (and almost innocent) and painfully pertinent. They culminate in ''Would You Buy a Used Country From This Man?,'' a 6-by-4-inch drawing in ink and soil-colored pastel done for a Voice cover. While small, it centers on an image of Nixon's rubbery face that is, relative to the strips, quite large, and displays his linear repertory to good effect.
Mr. Feiffer's genius for line encompasses the skills of the psychologist, linguist, fashion illustrator, social critic, political commentator, choreographer and dramaturge. His Minimalism, radical for its time, is ideal for showcasing this genius. Props and settings, other than the White House and an occasional bed, armchair or restaurant table, are rare. (One exception is the bit of Earth Art in ''I'm Going to Find a Chasm of My Own to Work With.'')
He long ago banished speech balloons -- he must have found them confining and too cute, anyway -- increasing the sense of the page as a vast and lonely place. In his dialogues he often reduces his protagonists to nothing but a few rapid, nearly symmetrical zigzags and curves, their jutting profiles in a face-off. Usually these belong to a man and a woman engaged in tight-lipped exchanges of accusations, as in ''Can I Go Now?''; sometimes the dialogue is compressed to nearly poetic alliterations, as in ''You Devour Me.''
Mr. Feiffer's line can be lax, shambling, frazzled, wiry, electric or, suddenly, taut as an arrow. It is a highly entertaining thing in itself and, if not exactly realistic, then supremely truthful in conveying human emotions as they rippled across the faces and through the minds and bodies of his characters.
In ''Bad Dog!'' from 1980, the object of a young child's accusation turns out not to be an offstage parent but a large, placid hound that doesn't appear until the last scene. The changes in the child's hands and chin convey the force of her mounting outrage and her final reprimand of the object of her projections. The images are collaged onto the paper in this work, probably culled from a series of attempts, none of which quite satisfied the artist.
Over all, it is great to be able to see the original drawings and to understand better the perfectionism that produced such perfection. ROBERTA SMITH