Artists of the Year

In years like this, surviving is enough to merit critical recognition. In 2003 Brunetti will publish the next issue of Schizo as well as his wordless, 700-page graphic novel, The Frenchman's Lament. Survival is what being a real artist is all about, so here's to Ivan and to every artist with no agent, no patron, no grant, and no logical reason for pressing forward.

Daniel Raeburn is the Chicago-based writer and publisher of The Imp, an irregular series of booklets about comics.


Scott Wright

Ron Albertson

True artists value their art more than anything. They do not settle for convention. And they persist because they believe in their gift. My friend Ron Albertson is a living and breathing example of a true artist.

Since the day I met Ron back in 1992 when we were smoking pot in my car outside the Big Red Rock-O-Rama in Lincoln, Nebraska, he's drawn a lot of things as well as played in bands like 13 Nightmares and Mercy Rule, both of which totally rocked. Three years ago he moved from Lincoln to join the rest of us Nebraskans out in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, after Mercy Rule called it quits. He slept on our janky, back-breaking couch for weeks until our friend Rich moved out. Meanwhile, he had to come up with $1,050 bucks to pay Rich for his deposit and last month's rent. Ron had no trust fund to pull from. He couldn't fall back on Mom and Dad either; after all, he is 41 and father of a 17-year-old. And the thought of getting an "agent" or "courting galleries" didn't (and never will) jibe with his humble, self-made ethos.

So he got a crap job in SoHo screening T-shirts, which got the cash flow started. At night and on weekends, he trudged miles around the streets of New York and Brooklyn, tediously crafting line drawings of buildings, trees, street people, lampposts, whatever caught his eye. Using his eyes, hands, and pocket-sized sketchbook, he transferred a feeling through these drawings. Ordinary objects and people became something profound.

After he completed the drawings, he silk-screened them onto canvases in his bedroom/makeshift studio. Weekend after weekend he packed them up in a small box and sold them on street corners in Manhattan and Brooklyn for $30 apiece. In hot weather, he wore his cowboy hat. In rainy weather, the blue poncho. Over and over, he would lug that "little box of paintings that could" out the door. Finally, after a few laborious months of printing and selling, he had Rich completely paid off! Not to mention the fact that his paintings were scattered all over Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the U.S., and Europe. No agents. No galleries. Totally awesome.

Three years later, Ron continues to sell on the streets when he's not on tour with his current band (and my band) Liars, and he still sketches every club as he did when he was in the Nightmares and Mercy Rule. And he rocks harder than ever. Ron solves his problems through innovation. He doesn't sell out. He doesn't give up. And he always counts on his art. A true artist.

Pat Noecker plays bass in the Brooklyn-based band Liars.


John Darnielle

Ranter, critic, nurse, death-metal-lurgist, classics scholar, and indie troubadour, John Darnielle was blogging back when it was still called having a zine. He spent his '90s recording hundreds of little cassette-hissing, brainstem-to-boombox missives under the moniker Mountain Goats. On this year's studio-recorded 4AD debut, Tallahassee, he catches up with some recurring characters, known to longtime fans as Alpha Couple: down-and-out Californians now dealing with depression and disintegration by lighting out East. Not just East, but South. It's the backward collapse after the frontier push, as Darnielle song-cycles through an abject emotional landscape more familiar than anyone would want to admit.

When "bad luck comes in from Tampa," and the moon "stutters in the sky like film stuck in a projector," the lover admits, "I speak in smoke signals and you answer in code." It's post-"I hope you die" and pre-crisis hotline. It's haggard and husky and ain't we got booze. It's a thin line between humor and rue. Drunken kisses are "lighter than air," but tear-weary eyes double as "searchlights in the parking lots of hell."

In this Floribama of the mind, current events mix it up with historical allusion. "International Small Arms Traffic Blues" likens the Alphas' love to "the border between Greece and Albania/Trucks filled with weapons crossing every night." And when, in "Idylls of the King," Darnielle hears the "shrieking of innumerable gibbons," there's more than a wink toward the fall of Rome. By all accounts happily and collaboratively married, Darnielle still knows what a dead end would say if it could talk, and howl, and sing.

Laura Sinagra is an associate editor at the Village Voice.


Rubén Blades

In this depressing, belligerent, paranoid political year, I needed an artist who could stand for peace with passion and eloquence, a world citizen with visionary ambition and a relatively modest ego, who honored mercy and cherished lyricism and humor; a veteran humanitarian whose muse was whetted, not reincarnated, by the fallout from 9/11.

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