Laughing at the pretensions and idiosyncrasies of the art world – whether doing so with fond and gentle humour or scathingly acidic wit – is hardly new ground to tread. What marks Anna Haifisch’s The Artist out as different in its approach, though, is that this satire feels more wearily observed than bitingly critical. Slacker comedy with an aesthetically focused twist.
Collecting the first season of Anna Haifisch’s VICE strips from late 2015-early 2016, Breakdown Press have published The Artist in a handsomely tactile hardcover edition. The book was also nominated for the Best One-Shot category in our recent 2016 Broken Frontier Awards.
The titular character is a bird-headed practitioner attempting to make his mark on the scene despite seemingly resenting everything about it. He’s a sadly pathetic figure but one who somehow still engenders our sympathy – if not our empathy – as he struggles to build a profile despite effectively continually self-sabotaging his own development.
We follow this rather lonely soul as he attends dreadfully affected private views, is rejected by an establishment he seems destined to exist only on the periphery of, and endures daily dealings with the ostentatious pomposity of his peers. In the midst of all of this, however, a spark of inspiration and a desire to create somehow remain intact.
Haifisch’s comedy works on a number of levels. Sometimes it relies on squirmingly confessional humour as we wince at the protagonist’s gauche interactions with his contemporaries, family and friends (often with alcohol involved somewhere along the way). On other occasions it plays with scenarios familiar to any art school graduate. A trip home to his parents elicits perhaps the funniest take on the “free work for exposure” chestnut that you’ll ever read, for example, while the destructive slapstick moments of his disastrous flirtation with “drone art” are brilliantly timed in comedic terms. There’s also the odd instance of meta humour, adding a welcome playfulness and knowing wink at the reader.
Each three-page strip starts with a thematic full-page scene-setter giving the book a noticeable reading rhythm while Haifisch’s distorted, anthropomorphic characters set against a familiar backdrop ensure that The Artist feels both rooted in our reality and yet slightly to one side of it as well; its absurdity simultaneously recognisable and yet also totally alien.
Doomed aspirations, fragile egos and listless ennui abound in this very funny catalogue of humiliation, degradation, pretentiousness and abject shame, all embraced in the name of art. Sometimes surreal and bizarre, and sometimes more down-to-earth in its commentary, The Artist embodies a form of satire that is all the more telling for placing jaded self-awareness over caustic parody.
For more on Anna Haifisch visit her site here and for Breakdown Press here. You can also follow Anna Haifisch on Twitter here and Breakdown Press here.You can order The Artist online here priced £12.99.
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