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Sunday, June 11, 2017


Retrospective (hard boiled), Kamagurka
Have you ever come upon a phrase in which you knew the meaning of each word, but meaning derived from their combined context made little sense? I came upon the phrase "absurd humor" the other day, which stumped me. Sometimes we call such phrases an oxymoron when the words contradict one another as in "speedy snails." However, since absurd and humor are not contradictory, in that most humor is at least somewhat absurd, we're not talking about an oxymoron here. I know very well what "absurd" means and I know what "humor" is but the two words together seemed either redundant, or having a deeper meaning than what I could derive. An example of absurd humor would be my computer: "It's slow, but it's not too fast." In researching the phrase, I found redundancy had nothing to do with it, in that even though the two words are almost synonyms. Instead, as I suspected, "absurd humor" has a deeper meaning...boy, does it ever.
Cubic Popeye, Kamagurka
Absurd humor (also known as surreal humor) is a form of humor predicated on deliberate violations of causal reasoning, which produces events and behaviors that are obviously illogical. Constructions of sur-real humor tends to involve bizarre juxta-positions, non-sequiturs, irrational or absurd situations, and expressions of nonsense. The humor arises from a subversion of expectations, thus amusement is founded on unpredictability, separate from a logical analysis of the situation. The humor derives in that the situation described is so ri-diculous or unlikely. The genre has roots in Surrealism in the arts. It also has it's roots deep in the art of the Flemish cartoonist, Kamagurka.

The art of the absurdly humorous.
Kamagurka was born Luc Zeebroek in 1956 in Nieuwpoort (northwestern) Belgium. He studied Art in Bruges and later at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent. However, he quit school before graduating. In 1972 Kamagurka made his debut as cartoonist in De Zeewacht. Three years later he became the regular cartoonist at the weekly magazine HUMO, where he introduced cartoons inspired by the absurd and shocking comics of Robert Crumb, Roland Topor and the controversial French magazine Hara Kiri. In those first years the magazine received dozens of letters from angry readers who didn't understand or enjoy his work, which they deemed "too vulgar". Thus Kamagurka evolved into a cult artist. Despite the magazine's other cartoonists, to this day, he remains the house cartoonist of Humo.

Kamagurka is obviously not much of a portrait artist. In fact,
virtually all his paintings bear the marks of an art school dropout.
Starting in 2002 Kamagurka began making weekly guest contributions to De Laatste Show. In 2005 he also created a theater production titled "Kamadeeldra" with Jules Deelder. During the Kamalmanak project he started to make short movies for the digital Dutch site NRC TV. While filming one of these short films he invented a new art movement called Accidentalism (accidentally made). He created portraits of unknown people on the street, as he saw them with his own eyes (above). Afterwards he asked people on camera which person the man or woman in the painting resembled. Strangely enough, each time there was someone who could prove the likeness by showing a photo.

A truly goofy Goofy,
Kamagurka is, to say the least, a very mediocre painter, although surrealism is such that it both enhances exceptional technical prowess (as with Dali) an disguises to some extent a lack of it (Kamagurka). This artist is proof that one need not be an expert draftsman to be an outstanding cartoon. Few car-toonist are famous for their artwork. The real prerequisite is an imagination in creating intriguing narratives and/or an exceptional sense of humor. Kamagurka has both. However it's quite difficult to translate those talents into a different language or different culture. That's especially so in dealing with absurd humor.

The Day After, Kamagurka
The absurd humor of The Day After (above) does translate well into any language as Kamagurka depicts a nude male suffering from having had "one too many" the night before. The unexpected humor derives from an indication that it was not from "one too many" drinks, but from "one too many" women the night before. The artist suggests that as being far worse The Day After.

Kamagurka sculpture
In addition to his cartoons (bottom) Kamagurka also indulges in ceramic sculpture with cartoonlike faces, which, with the addition of flowers, present a rather absurd vision of heads (or minds) sprouting fragrant floral bouquets. In his num-erous gallery and museum exhibition, Kamagurka dares to combine his absurd humor with religious works as seen in his "Stations of the Cross" show (below). Irreverent? Definitely. Absurdly humorous, maybe, depending on how seriously you take your faith. Some images border on the sacrilegious. Others cross that border.

Stations of the Cross, Kamagurka
Do you think? Kamagurka. His cartoons
are quite challenging to translate in that
every speech balloon has to be typed into
a translator then cut and pasted into the
cartoon while excising the original text.


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