Michael Cleverly sees new work as playful, campy | AspenTimes.com

Michael Cleverly sees new work as playful, campy

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
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WOODY CREEK Perhaps the most obvious reference point for Michael Cleverlys current series of paintings is an earlier series by the Woody Creek artist. Both sets of work the new Adventure Magazine series, which reproduced the covers of the titillating mens publications from the 50s and 60s; and the Skullilingus works from the early 00s, which featured skulls performing barely mentionable sexual acts centered around the theme of sexuality.Scratch just below the surface, however, and the new paintings have more in common with Cleverlys G-rated images of cowboys and cowgirls. Where the skull paintings were perverse and provocative, the Adventure Magazine covers share with Cleverlys stylized cow folk an air of nostalgia and sentimentality. With the skull paintings, Cleverly thought it was reasonable, appropriate even, for viewers to express shock and disgust. But with the new works, he believes that such a reaction is out of proportion.Some of the girls think its anti-feminist, just because the Satanist is about to rip the heart out of a naked girl, said Cleverly, who writes a monthly opinion column in The Aspen Times Weekly.At 60, Cleverly, a New England native who moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in the early 70s, seems to have developed a sensitivity regarding the viewing public. While Adventure Magazine was intended largely for sexual fantasy, with images of exceptional female specimens naked, his series features an equal number of male bodies.I strike a balance, said Cleverly, whose exhibit of the Adventure Magazine covers opens Tuesday, with a 5 p.m. reception at Larry Lefners Woody Creek Art Studio, next to the Woody Creek Tavern. (The event also will feature a book-signing by Cleverly and Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis for their new book, The Kitchen Readings: Untold Stories of Hunter S. Thompson.) Theres just as many guys in peril: Two poor guys being ripped to shreds by flying rodents, or the hapless sailors being dragged off to be sacrificed before the Tiki god. he said.The images might be lurid and violent. But the way they are presented with such headlines as Opium Death Ship Sex and Torture on the High Seas intact, they also are ludicrous. Add the obviously dated style, and Cleverly thinks the paintings are playful and campy, particularly in comparison with the images even more readily available now.Theyre supposed to be whimsical and innocent. Its nostalgic, the unintended humor, he said. Its from a more innocent time. You could never expect people to buy a magazine now because of these covers.For Cleverly, the inspiration was entirely nostalgic. A decade or so ago, he came across a friends original copy of Adventure. He had forgotten all about the publication, but seeing it caused a flashback to his childhood.All us prepubescent kids were familiar with it, he said. They were in the barber shop, and we would hope we had to wait longer for our haircuts. They were the original soft-core stuff. It was all about the T&A.Not only was he reminded of his original fascination, but the artist in him had a newfound appreciation of the craftsmanship in the paintings. Some of these illustrators were journeymen, competent. Others were really good, and deserve to live on like Norman Rockwell and N.C. Wyeth, said Cleverly. This is an homage. I want to shine a light on these terrific old illustrators. Its something thats gone from our collective consciousness, and it deserves to be remembered.Cleverly said the original artists didnt get much attention, either positive or negative. Back in the day was pre-feminist, so I dont think they got serious attention, he said. No one knew what the word misogynistic meant. It was pulp cheesecake, adventure stuff.Cleverly said he finally got around to recreating often with subtle technical embellishments after he got sick of his latest round of cowboys. He wanted something a little racier but not as extreme as the skull works, which had been turned into a 2002 calendar.Its not like the skeletons, he said. You could hang these in your den and not have to explain it to your house guests. Theres a sweetness to these. Its from before women were running the world.stewart@aspentimes.com

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