Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Anna Haifisch continues her chronicles of a young man who exists on the fringes of the intimidating, exclusive world of fine art in this second collection, The Circle Of Life. As with The Artist, these strips were originally produced for Vice magazine, appearing as ‘The Artist. Season Two’. In this volume Haifisch’s skinny, noodly, stringy-haired, bird-headed protagonist is occupying a more rarified plane than before, spending more time alone in his head and in abstracted, dreamlike situations. There is an increasing self-referential tone to the stories, with explicit jokey references to other media. The front cover parodies a scene from Disney’s The Lion King; Charles Schulz’s Peanuts makes several appearances, with the first strip in the book presenting the artist sprawled, depressed, on top of Snoopy’s doghouse, and another with him sitting in Lucy’s psychiatry booth; Vincent Van Gogh’s famous one-eared portrait is recreated, as is Marina Abramović’s ‘The Artist Is Present’ performance retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
All these and many other visual quotes drawn with Haifisch’s loopy line and orange, pink, yellow and mauve colour palette give things a detached feeling, with far fewer real-world situations than previously. Those episodes are the funniest parts of the book. In one strip the Artist has a stall at a small press bookarts convention. A prospective buyer balks at the $7 he’s charging for a mimeographed zine, forcing him to justify the price. “Making this zine involved a whole zoo,” he says, taking the buyer through every stage of the production process: buying ink from a grumpy squid, drawing with a feather from a crane, taking his drawings to the Ordinary Dogs Copy Shop and finally having the zine stapled by a friendly cobra. But will all this effort convince them to part with $7? In another, he shows the subscribers to his YouTube channel all the art supplies he picked up that day. Haifisch includes an actual link to YouTube where you can see what he does with his new materials in SNAKE TUTORIAL: ‘The Artist shows us ‘How to draw a friendly snake with a Sharpie. Difficulty level 3/5’.
The insider tone of this book makes it less accessible to a casual reader than the first volume, and anyone not familiar with the world of fine art will miss a lot of ironic texture from the situations and artists that Haifisch describes. The Circle of Life is another beautifully produced hardcover book from Breakdown Press, and if you enjoyed the first book you will definitely enjoy this more intense one too. If you haven’t read either one, start with The Artist.