Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Day of the Dead


Today is Día de los Muertos --Day of the Dead-- a good time indeed to reflect of those who’ve passed.


                                  The great Jose Guadalupe Posada

The Covid-19 pandemic, and long hiatus from what we like to call ‘normal’ life, meant many left the planet under-acknowledged—sort of lost in the shuffle (a pretty grime at that).

One of those was a really fine cartoonist, Norman Dog (known in some realms by the name Raymond Larrett).  Norman Dog died in January 2020—for me completely under the radar. I didn’t hear rumors of his passing for some months. (Probably my lack of Facebook participation didn’t help in this case).


I’d last sen Norman at the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum on June 15, 2019 where we both spoke at an event surrounding Jon Cooke’s book release of the Book of Weirdo. I always enjoyed seeing Norman Dog and felt he deserved much more critical and historical attention for his work than he received.


In any case, here is a much belated salute to a fine artist and truly fascinating person.

A drawing Norman Dog did for me at a Loonies get together many decades ago.

        Here are a couple of strips from his book Bad Habits.

And speaking of the Loonies--a casual monthly floating 'Salon for Funny Folk' --here are a couple of flyers Mr. Dog did for the event.

Norman Dog, in his civilian persona as Raymond Larrett, had a day job as a graphic designer for Bill Graham’s Winterland productions in San Francisco. I always presumed (since I don’t recall seeing any of his non-cartoon work) that he created rock n’roll t-shirt designs, posters and promotional materials. For many, many year he also maintained a regular weekly comic feature in the East Bay Express  and did illustration work for the paper as well.

Here’s a glimpse of some of that.



He started his own press --Puzzled Squirrel. And published a few books including this one:

Aside from his long tenure with the East Bay Express, Norman Dogs work appeared in Raw, Anarchy Comix, Robert Crumb's Weirdo, Spin Magazine, The Nation, Nickelodeon Magazine, Chicago Reader and numerous other publications.

A masterful cartoonist and illustrator.

Here’s my lone, strange highly degraded, photo of me, Roger May and Norman Dog at a Loonie’s meeting somewhere circa early 1980’s.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Box Show 2021

Meta Box

Every year for over a decade Molly and I have participated in the annual box show at Gallery Route One in Pt. Reyes Station, Marin county.

The idea is simple; everybody gets a plain pine box. You can do anything you want to the box—paint it, decorate it, deconstruct it, smash it burn it—just as long as the box is in the piece.

Some years our finished piece looks more like Molly’s work; some years it looks more like mine.

Molly paints in vibrant color. I stick to my two favorite colors—black and white.

Many pieces attain a happy medium—or bizarre collision-- of both of our varying aesthetics. 

This year (like all things this year) is different. When ‘box’ time came around, Molly was on overwhelm with a big ongoing art project. Which left me sorta on my own. 

She did, in fact, do a lot of work on it--cutting pasting collaging and applying medium gel—but the images are all mine. 

The images were taken from a hodge-podge of prints, photo copies and original art.    It did feel a little self-indulgent—a box about me making a box—a ‘Meta Box’.

                                                    Inked pencil art

We adhered the artwork to the front and collaged the scrap images to the sides with gel medium.

I also added India ink wash to the primary image.

Very simple compared to some of our more complex cooperative efforts but we like it.

The Box Show opened on July 24 and runs through September 11th.

                You can see the whole Box Show (and bid on art) by going to Gallery Route One:  2021 Box Show

Friday, August 20, 2021

Molly's Turn: Ben Vaganov

Benjamin Vaganov

U.S.S.R. #7 A La Russie, 1965

I grew up on Potereo Hill in San Francisco. We moved there in 1958, a time when there where many artist and craftsmen who found homes on Potereo HIll as it was close to where many worked as longshoremen or in other industrial types of work. The hill was rich with artist, poets, muscians and creative souls. It was my environment, and for many years I had no idea of how incredibly lucky I was to grow up here with these people in my life. 

Ben Vaganov was one of these people. He lived around the corner from my family. I have no idea how he came into our lives other than he was a staple for many years. He used to come by for a glass of tea or wine and would play Parcheesi with me. He was a wicked player, gleeful and feisty and if he wasn't winning he was ready to gently shift the board so the pieces, oops, where moved, by mistake, of course. He was always full of good cheer and when he was cheating he always made sure that I was aware of it. It was much fun to be with Ben.

Our Four Eggs by Ben

Over the years, Ben gave us four beautiful eggs he had painted in a very Russian style. I have had them all my life and chance upon them every once in a while to admire. We recently tore apart our office for painting and new flooring and I found these eggs once again. I showed them to Larry and told him my stories of Ben. Larry being Larry immediately went to the computer to do research and found some wonderful and fascianting information and articles about someone I only knew as a wonderful, feisty and creative old man.

It is intriguing to me that both Ben and Victor Arnatoff, artist of the same generation, came from Russia, migrated through China and ended up on Potereo Hill. There is no articles linking the two but they lived only two blocks from each other on De Haro Street. I speculate that they must have known each other, even if only through the yearly art shows at the Potereo Hill library. These yearly shows were highly anticipated by the hill artists, many of them renowned, always a wonderful show. 

I wish I had been more interested as a child to hear Ben's stories, I loved to play with him and appreciate his teasing and caring manner.  I am so glad Larry found this information.

             Here are some examples of his work and articles Larry found. I hope you enjoy them!

Benjamin Vaganov,  
Through the Carbide Light Spectrum
(I wonder if Ben used his own face for this painting...)

By The Lake,  1905

Once the Master, 1955

Flower Arrangement #2

Peacock on the Steps

My Flowers

Russian Landscape with Wind Mill


A Brief Overview of Ben’s Life:

Born: 1896 - Archangel, Russia
Died: 1981 - Salt Lake City, Utah
Exhibits: Calif. State Fair, 1931,
1949; Kingsley Art Club (Sacramento), 1933 Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939


Chula Vista Library, 1942 San Diego FA Society

--Ref: Artists in California, 1786-1940

Spencer Helfen Fine Arts, of Beverly Hills, has posted this information about Ben:

Artistic Focus – A self-taught Modernist, Benjamin Vaganov sometimes worked under thepseudonym “Venia.” His early work in California’s lumber and mining industries proved to be a significant influence on the artist’s life and paintings, whose texture often suggests an application of paint intended to convey Vaganov’s reverence for their subjects by creating the sensation of a natural substance.

Career Highlights 

Born in Tsarist Russia, Benjamin Vaganov left his homeland to escape the dangers of the Revolution, living for several years in China before coming to the United States in 1923.

He settled first in Oregon, where he found work in the lumber industry, and then moved to San Diego in 1928, where he established a studio in the Spanish Village in Balboa Park.

Vaganov completed a number of Works Progress Administration art projects, including a mural painted in the House of Pacific Relations in San Diego, and dioramas in the San Diego County Visual Education building.

Vaganov remained active in San Diego art circles until he moved to San Francisco in the 1950s, where he spent his remaining years.

(b. Archangel, Russia Oct 8 1896- ) (S.F. Painter)
Address in SF: 1624 20th Street (1956); 851 B De Haro Street
Vaganov died at his daughter's home in Salt Lake City on March 23, 1981.

San Francisco Examiner Pictorial Living article Feb. 22, 1959

        This is from the Chula Vista Star, 
        Chula Vista California   Sep. 18th, 1942

This Article from the Golden Gator, July 16th, 1965

            Letter written to the SF Examiner on June 21st, 1955, 
            Ben’s views on citizenship

I was a young woman living in Washington State when Ben died. I lost contact with him and regret not having spent more time with him.  Growing up in a very small family he was someone very special to us.  I know my mother also enjoyed his company as he did hers. It’s amazing how people touch our lives and stay with us throughout our years, with great affection and fun memories.