In early 2012, Aline Kominsky-Crumb traded her red hair, nose ring and reputation as the cartoonist wife of controversial underground artist Robert Crumb to become a familiar archetype in Miami: a beach-blond bombshell.
As a social experiment "for art's sake," Kominsky-Crumb says she descended on a North Miami Beach beauty salon, Hair Magic, owned by her mother's beautician, Cookie Rosen, for a makeover. After her transformation, the artist looked identical to Rosen: a new wig, leopard-print jeggings, bejeweled high-heels, a heavily-padded pushup bra, a tight skirt.
"I thought all the characters who walked in Cookie's salon would make for a great reality TV show, so I decided to make myself a character as an artistic response. I was an outsider, and now I'm not," says the 65-year-old Kominsky-Crumb, who lives in southern France but visits her mother in Aventura several times a year. "I came up with this project to keep myself from going crazy here. I grew up in Long Island, but this is not actually that alien to me. I used to visit cousins on Alton Road [in Miami Beach], and I love the tropical art deco, and the clash of old Jews and Latinos, the rampant consumerism. It's an assault on your nervous system. The grotesqueness really appeals to me."
Kominsky-Crumb re-created her blond ambitions in a series of mostly self-portrait drawings, "Hair Magic and More" at an exhibit at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood. Six of the cartoons sit in the gallery (with others at New York's DCKT Contemporary, the gallery that represents her), alongside an eight-minute video filmed at the time of her transformation and featuring a soundtrack of scat-singing that seems reminiscent of a John Waters movie. With a French friend, Dominique Sapel, she says she went "femme fatale" on North Miami Beach, visiting a nearby tiki bar and pushing her "new" breasts into the face of a male customer. Once, while parading herself down the sidewalk near the salon, she says a police officer stopped his pursuit of a suspect to ask if she "needed a lift" in his patrol car.
"I mean, come on. I felt like a transvestite!" she recalls with a laugh. "Big breasts, blond hair, huge heels and the male gaze. It just makes your mouth hang open. What are you stopping me for? Go chase that guy."
In self-portraits that combine colored pencil, ink, glitter and glue, Kominsky-Crumb pinches her left breast while sporting a blond wig, a gaudy costume necklace and a V-neck red blouse. Her blond-wigged friend, Dominique, wears a floral pink bustier. In "Latte to Go," she draws a sun-visor-wearing blond woman named Susan as she exits a Starbucks. The woman, she says, confessed to Kominsky-Crumb that she's had "dozens of cosmetic jobs, a tummy tuck, Botox for her lips and face, and her husband just loves it."
This is hardly the first time Kominsky-Crumb or her famous husband have created self-portraits. In their comics, as in "Crumb," the 1994 Terry Zwigoff-directed documentary about Robert’s troubled life, the Crumbs are shown as dysfunctional expats who unapologetically chronicle all the lurid, hypersexual details of their romantic lives. Since they met in 1971, the pair have collaborated on an autobiographical comic series titled “Aline and Bob’s Dirty Laundry,” drawing caricatures that show Aline giving Robert piggyback rides, the two in pornographic scenes and mouthing off about American consumerism, often all at the same time. (In 1991, the Crumbs moved to France from California.)
Her husband, the 70-year-old creator of Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural and other underground cartoon characters during the 1960s and 1970s, says he was excited after Aline described her blond transformation in South Florida. He gave her persona a nickname ("I call her 'Ginger' "), and says her side project is a "typical, crazy Aline thing."
"She has this thing about women's beauty, and what they do to make themselves look attractive. I already think [Aline] looks great. Getting piggyback rides from her are like my favorite thing. Oh, yeah, she's in really good shape for a 65-year-old woman," Robert Crumb says with a laugh, speaking from his home in France. “South Florida embodies everything about America that’s bizarre and impulsive and putrid and nouveau riche to an intense degree. She goes down to gyms down there, and the women intimidate her. They work out so vigorously, and they’re like reptiles with reptilian skin, so tough.”
Kominsky-Crumb's show coincides with the opening of four other exhibits at the Art and Culture Center, including the seventh annual Abracadabra Exhibition and Fundraiser, a cluster of 100 mixed-media works; "Johnny Laderer: Fast Fade," a series on roadside fruit vendors and other Miami cultures; "Kristen Thiele: Smoke and Mirrors," with paintings inspired by old Hollywood films; and "Virginia Fifield: Them/Us," a showcase of photorealistic animal portraits on paper.
Fifield says her artwork begins with photographs she takes at Dania Beach's John U. Lloyd Beach State Park and Everglades National Park. She converts them into detailed charcoal drawings that each take a month to complete. In most of these drawings, the animals stare plaintively at the viewer.
Before creating "Repose," a drawing of a dead red-shouldered hawk laying supine with its eyes closed, the Hollywood artist found the bird in an alleyway while walking her dog. The South Florida Wildlife Center later explained to her that the hawk electrocuted itself on a telephone wire. In "US," she captures a ram on a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ranch in Miami Lakes, and in "The Bird in the Hand," she focuses on a baby cockaded woodpecker in the grasp of a Nature Conservancy member. In "Squirrel," the rodent gazes cautiously at the viewer.
"The squirrel, I believe, is saying, 'Look, are you going to give me a peanut or are you going to kill me?' " says Fifield, who also donated one of her drawings, a horse portrait, to the Abracadabra fundraiser. "It's not an environmental message. It's more subtle than that. I wanted to capture these magnificent beings that we share the world with, to show our spiritual connection that we have to the animals."
Aline Kominsky-Crumb: Hair Magic and More, and Virginia Fifield: Them/Us
When: Friday, Jan. 25, through March 14
Where: Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison St.
Contact: 954-921-3274 or ArtAndCultureCenter.orgCopyright © 2015, South Florida