Review by Woodrow Phoenix
The Artist is a collection of strips originally produced for Vice magazine, exploring the neurotic daily existence of a twenty-something, male-adjacent individual living in a contemporary North American urban centre which is mostly New York, but sometimes feels like Los Angeles. He’s trying to ‘make it’ in the art world. Anna Haifisch’s trippy colour palette of orange, pink, yellow and mauve illuminates a jerky, stringy world of stressful, unpredictable social situations where the personal, the commercial, the political and the financial are one overlapping tangle, demanding way more skill and finesse than most people can summon up to successfully navigate them all at once. Her protagonist, the eponymous ‘Artist’, is a skinny, noodly-limbed, stringy-haired and white figure with the head of a bird. He doesn’t seem to be clothed – you can frequently see his ribs when he stands sideways – but he has no visible genitalia, unlike some other characters in these strips.
In a succession of three-page vignettes we watch him alone in his empty apartment, lying on his mattress on the floor cradling his phone and laptop, trying to stave off depression or going out to galleries and parties, looking for a way in to shows and connections to jobs. It’s wry, deadpan and bleakly amusing as Haifisch presents a relentless succession of tests which her protagonist generally fails, although somehow he seems to still do okay anyway. The small details of styles, materials, techniques and shows are very well observed and if you know the kind of people who inhabit this world, you’ll recognise them instantly. Haifisch’s drawings are funny in their caricatured, oddly angled way and it’s not easy to tell if she’s laughing with us and the Artist or at all of us, until after many episodes of misadventure she gives us a hint about where her sympathies lie:
“Dear friend, you might have come across many artists in your life. Missing the subtle beauty of their existence and art. Artists tend to be invisible and disguised. Please be mindful of the following: The nervous cousin trapped in his skinny weasel body you loved to make fun of. Walgreens amphetamine-eyed employee living off Rolaids and Pepto-Bismol. A sad teenager rolled up in the corner of the art supply store. A bird with a ridiculous hat. Your shy neighbour. A little panicked prince behind the locker door you had the urge to slap. Just wait for them to eventually unfurl and look at their art. With nothing but love and mercy.”
If you want to see whether the artist manages to overcome his many obstacles and maybe forge a better path for himself, you can read what happens next in a second book, The Artist: The Circle Of Life.