Review of ‘Carnivora: The Dark Art of Automobiles’ from Barany Books

Themed art books can be a tough sell: where do they fit on the bookshelf? When more than one artist is represented, it gets hard to determine the best way to market such an animal: exploit the better known names? play up the variety? promise a new and unexpected treatment of a certain aspect of art? provide a unique insight into the ‘post-romodern’ life that we all inhabit?

Carnivora: The Dark Art of Automobileson the new imprint Barany Books, does a very fine job of covering all the bases. The layout and design are flawless, and decidedly clever; it will appeal to the aesthetics of the visually inclined, as well as to the gearheads out there (which, apparently, has a great deal of cross-pollination). The look of the book is impressive: the cover is eye-catching and has a list of all contributors printed on the back. The sheer scope of the tome- stated purpose of which is to explore our societal obsessive love and loathing with the modern chariot on a variety of fronts – is incredible, featuring not just masters of the recent past, such as H.R. Giger and Robert Williams, but also an amazing list of other established – as well as up and coming – artists between pieces of prose ruminating on the way cars have impacted everyday life.

Some of those ways, as the title implies, are not for the faint of heart…

Les Barany (the editor, and Giger’s agent for some time now) has done a fine job in bringing together over 100 different artists and writers (and their perspectives) and creating a coherent, cohesive whole. A wide swath of different styles and techniques are represented: a cursory flip through the tome reveals cartoon, literature, photo-montage, sculpture, mixed-media, acrylic and oil painting and digital imaging, to name just a few. While some pieces work better than others, there is more than enough material to satisfy even the most discerning palette, be it a preference for modern, edgy, surreal imagery, dark landscapes or bizarre machine/human juxtapositions. There is a smattering of eroticism, but only a few true nudes; the sexual elements (perhaps wisely) are left more to the imagination – in the guise of some very good written memoirs – rather than presented in purely graphic terms.

Exceptional written works abound, and will ultimately change from person to person (or, for some folk, moment to moment), but a few are worth pointing out. Notable remembrances are on display from William Levy (intense and poignant), William F. Nolan (historical and wide-ranging), Steven Cerio (concise and quirky; he also contributed an interesting illustration), Rick Manore (thought-provoking), Carlo McCormick (pensive and introspective) and Daphne Graham (grueling and sad). Harlan Ellison is also accounted for, with his excellent short classic Along the Scenic Route.

The imagery, though, is where this volume shines, and there is no disappointing; it delivers on the questions postulated in the first paragraph of this review, and then some. Standouts include, in random order: Gregory Brotherton, Marshall Arisman, Zdzislaw Beksinski, D. Hwang, H.R. Giger, Jason D’Aquino, Coop, Andre Lassen, Tanino Liberatore, Stanley Mouse, Robert Williams, J.K.Potter, Winston Smith, J.U. Abrahamson, Tomi Ungerer, Vincent Castiglia, Demetrios Vakras, Hugo Schuhmacher and Chet Zar. Remember, this is just the tip of a very large iceberg, but a helpful mini-biography section in the back places the contributors in good context, as well as offering the casual reader insight into their personalities, via the inclusion of their personal vehicles (or lack thereof!).

Overall, Carnivora has tremendous impact: whether the interest is cars, modern life, sexuality, death, consumerism, anecdotes about personal experiences or just awesome art, it’s hard to put down, and impossible to go wrong.

The book (available from Amazon.com) is an excellent companion piece to the traveling Carnivora exhibition – which premiered at Detroit’s C-Pop Gallery in January and ran through March, followed by a Los Angeles exhibit at L’Imagerie Gallery in May, and a scaled down showing in New York’s Fuse Gallery that began July 10th. Catch this one before it gets away…