I’m reviewing For the Love of Peanuts: Contemporary Artists Reimagine the Iconic Characters of Charles M. Schulz, the new collection of heavily-branded art by the Peanuts Global Artist Collective, at an odd time. You see, earlier this week a work by another heavily-branded artist, Kaws, sold for $14 million… despite the fact that the work is 90%+ a tracing of a Simpsons album cover by a guy I know, Bill Morrison. Amount of that $14 mill that went to Bill? Zero dollars and no cents. So at the moment, I’m carrying more than a normal load of doubt about the legitimacy of this branch of the art scene, and this carries over even to this book, where the art is at least authorized.
I am also coming to it as someone who is far more vested in Peanuts than in the contemporary art scene, and I will tend to view the work in term of how Peanutsy it is.
The book leads off with an introduction by Schulz granddaughter (and conceptual artist) Lindsey A. Schulz and a foreword by Yvonne Force Villareal, who organized the Collective. After that there are sections for each of the seven artists of the collective, with text on the artist and their works by Elizabeth Anne Hartman.
- Artist Nina Chanel Abney, who contributes the cover, used a vector drawing style that manages to clearly convey “this is supposed to be a drawing of Snoopy” while stripping it of any of the emotional air of Snoopy. I suspect that these works may make some more sense within the context of Abney’s body of work than they do as some reflection of Peanuts.
- AVAF’s work is probably my favorite of the batch. Much of it involves taking very Schulzian outlines and filling them with stripes of color. This creates a great energy, looking very attractive on the page. I would love to see these rendered not completely flat, but with layers of translucent plastic strips (dare I suggest even used as the basis for a full 3-D figure?) Some of the others full Schulz ink figure drawings and have them interacting with a background ofbright colors, lovely stuff.
- FriendsWithYou focus on the cute in a specific fixed-width-line cute style, and they combine the strong cuteness of their own cloud character with the Peanuts character to make hypercutanized versions… things that are so cute they get away from the Peanutsyness of them (going even beyond the too-cutified level of the Baby Snoopy merchandise that was out there at one point), but creating things that work perfectly well as its own cute iconography.
- Tomokazu Matsuyama integrates accurate Peanuts characters into a range of very non-Peanuts-textured work, from abstracts to flower patterns to painterly pieces, creating interesting dichotomies. For some of them, I’m not sure they gain by using Peanuts characters instead of any other cartoon-style figure, but a few of them are worthy of staring at in any case.
- Graffiti artist Mr. A, however, produces work that I do not find worth staring at. Peanuts characters drawn in Mr. A’s own style interact with his own ugly figure that brands his work, leaving me feeling like it’s all “look, it’s the Peanuts characters here to celebrate my work.” I don’t see any particular value to Mr. A’s work.
- Rob Pruitt falls into much the same category for me. His contributions are largely around Snoopy interacting with Pruitt’s own panda character, who seems similar to Snoopy in some ways but off less effective visual grace. This is one where those who are already invested in Pruitt’s work may feel more impact than I do.
- The book ends on a higher point for me, with Kenny Scharf taking Schulzesqe character drawings, highlighting the lines in a way that makes them look like they were painted with a thick modeled paint that was reflecting ambient light, and adding vibrant and energetic colored backgrounds. There are some echoes of what Tom Everhardt has done with the Peanuts characters, although Scharf is definitely doing his own thing. To many of these he’s added his own character things, which I can best describe as modeled anthropomorphized flying sperm, and these are generally a distraction… but the one where he puts a modeled character face on Charlie Brown’s kite is actually kinda cool, giving it a sense of joy in being flown (and, for those in the know, a sense of tragedy, because we are aware of what happens to kites that Charlie Brown flies.)
So all in all, a mixed bag. The best parts of it bring me the joy of Peanuts, the worst make me despair about the modern world of art. Were I the person inviting artists to the Collective, I’d have chosen some different contributors… but were I the person, everyone one would be asking why they put that unhip dude in charge of these things.
I can’t help but to note some concern of the physical production of the book. When it arrived, the hard covers were very warped. That seems to have calmed down mostly, there’s a small degree of warping that I probably wouldn’t notice if it hadn’t been for its earlier condition. Perhaps it passed through some odd climate.
Art images from earlier press release photos by the Peanuts Global Artists Collective, and may not reflect how these images are displayed in the book.