Thousands of comic aficionados know Robert Crumb as the grandfather of the groundbreaking underground “commix” movement in San Francisco and as a legendary 60s counterculture character. Crumb’s influence as an artist and an illustrator has spread far beyond the world of comics and graphic novels: many of his images are now icons of our visual culture. Perhaps surprisingly for an artist known for his subversive streak, Crumb recently turned his attention to illustrating one of the fundamental texts of Western civilization: the Book of Genesis. From Adam and Eve, to Noah’s Ark, to Sodom and Gomorrah, Crumb pictures these familiar narratives in his instantly recognizable style and reinterprets Genesis for contemporary times. Rife with stories of love, lust, betrayal, intrigue, and violence, the Book of Genesis comes newly alive under R. Crumb’s hand.
Crumb initially approached the Old Testament (based on the King James Bible) with the intention to lampoon tradition, yet he soon became deeply inspired by this "text so great and so strange that it lends itself readily to graphic depictions." He ambitiously undertook a complete, literal adaptation of the Book of Genesis: over the course of five years, Crumb made 207 individual, black-and-white drawings into which he incorporated every word from all fifty chapters. Each drawing contains six to eight comic panels. This exhibition includes all 207 drawings from Crumb’s epic project (which was published by W.W. Norton & Company in 2009) as well as a color cover, title page, introduction, and back cover. These beautifully drawn images, rich with detail, reflect Crumb’s profoundly careful focus on his subject.
Crumb’s comic career began in San Francisco in the 1960s, when he drew Zap #1 and Zap #2 and sold them on the street. He went on to create a plethora of zany, odd, and riotous figures, notably Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural. His drawings have influenced countless artists, illustrators, animators, and designers. Crumb’s comics often tell everyday stories of randy old men (sometimes modeled after himself), who chase exceptionally voluptuous women. He casts a light on the most basic human frailties: hubris, weakness, cruelty, paranoia, fear, and superficiality. Like a modern day Daumier, Crumb unabashedly depicts the dark side of humanity, yet always with a telling sense of humor and sharp wit.
The Bible Illuminated: R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis was organized by the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Generous support for this exhibition is provided by Brenda K. Potter.
The San Jose Museum of Art is pleased to be the only Northern California venue for this internationally acclaimed exhibition.