Sunday, May 9, 2021

Karl Wirsum, 1939-2021

 Robert Boyd

When I was a mere lad in college taking art history courses, I took a class called "Art Since the 40s". It was the early 80s and postwar art in the art history classes at the time referred mostly to American and some European art. And even that is broader than what was actually taught--there were all kinds of tendencies, styles, movements, and individual artists who didn't make the cut for some reason. And in my class, taught by the great Picabia scholar William Camfield, their were some movements that merited at most a slide or two before the main currents were rejoined. 

One of these movements was Chicago Imagism, which popped up one day in class with slides of art by Jim Nutt and Karl Wirsum. I sat up and took note. I ended up doing a paper on the Hairy Who, one of the Chicago Imagist sub-groups that included both Nutt and Wirsum. There wasn't much written about them at that time (now there are several excellent monographs and books on the period), so I scoured the Rice art library for mentions and reviews. In retrospect, I see how unambitious I was--all of those artists were still alive in the early 80s. I could have called information in Chicago and gotten their phone numbers. It would have been a much better paper if I had talked to the artists themselves. But I was a 20-year-old whippersnapper and that didn't even occur to me.

Karl Wirsum died on Thursday, May 6. I wanted to show a few great images by Wirsum as a tribute to this wonderful, eccentric artist.

Karl Wirsum, Baseball Girl, 1964

Karl Wirsum, Mighty Maniac (Round One), 1967

Karl Wirsum, page from The Portable Hairy Who, 1966

Karl Wirsum, two pages from The Hairy Who Sideshow, 1967

Karl Wirsum, Screamin Jay Hawkins from Hairy Who (cat-a-log), 1969

Karl Wirsum, Measle Mouse Quarantined from His Fans, 1980

poster for a Wirsum exhibit in 1967

These images are all from books that have been published in the last 10 years. I wish I had access to them when I wrote my paper for Dr. Camfield's class. Just for reference, the books are Hairy Who? 1966/1969, Chicago Imagists, and The Collected Hairy Who Publications 1966-1969

Long live Karl Wirsum!

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