WunderKammer No. 1
Nicholas Di Genova, writer/artist
Koyama Press, 2009
Read about it at Koyama
Theoretically you can buy it at Nicholas Di Genova’s website but I can’t get it to load
Buy it from Atomic Books
Visit Nicholas Di Genova’s blog
In googling for images and purchase links for this compendium of animal drawings by Nicholas Di Genova (of whom I was previously aware as a fellow resident of Partyka‘s periphery), I came across a post on a New York City art blog that took a faint-praise approach to Di Genova’s art but was really impressed by this so-crazy-it-just-might-work innovation he’d had of printing his pieces in a cheap, floppy book. Imagine that! So god knows what the fine art world (I feel like that should be in scare caps — The Fine Art World) makes of this stuff, and this way of presenting it. To me it’s a comic book, and a stunner. Di Genova specializes in drawing braying, barking, growling, blank-pupiled animals of all shapes and sizes and species, including many that don’t actually exist, in a riot of accrued maximalist detail. Each of his dogs, bears, rams, wolves with ram horns, bears with bird heads, two-headed turtles, tyrannosaurus rexes with zebra coloration and manes, three-eyed gorilla/bat hybrids and so on appear to have been constructed by carefully gluing little rectangles and circles and lines together, the way chainmail is constructed one link at a time. Only here the construction doesn’t necessarily seem chained together, so you’re left half tempted to shake the book like a snowglobe to see if the constituent parts resettle in new shapes to create a new bestiary. Di Genova repeats this dizzying effect in macro via pages that consist of massive grids of animal heads, one breed/species after another, one head per borderless panel — dogs, birds, and frogs each get their own page here, but there are plenty of smaller grids featuring turtles, bears, bats, rodents, and god knows what else. I found my eye zipping back and forth from line to line in an S-shape a la Brian Chippendale, the better to take each incredibly detailed head in without missing a beat. The pages featuring the smaller grids often come across like some sort of alternate-universe Chris Ware suffering from Audubon-inspired monomania: A large portrait of an animal will be connected to a grid of tiny ones with a diagrammatic line, or encircled and radiating off smaller drawings like the spokes of a wheel. A relationship, even a narrative, is implied through these devices; the fun is figuring out what the hell they could be. And while we’re on the subject of the visual language of comics, Di Genova comes up with the best technique for depicting the non-verbal vocalizations of animals I’ve seen maybe ever: tiny word balloons completely colored black. Whether it’s a bark, a tweet, a ribbit, or…whatever sound turtles make, it works.
The book’s centerpiece, literally and metaphorically, is the spread where Di Genova’s project is at its most basic and blunt: 702 butterflies, each as unique as a snowflake, in a 27 x 26 butterfly grid bleeding right off the top and bottom of the centerfold spread. The effect is at once overwhelming and inviting: I was dazzled by the variety present in nature and intimidated, almost horrified, by the artificial reproduction of that natural variety. At the same time, I simultaneously resigned myself to never really being able to take in the whole of the image and diving right into the spread to soak up as much as I could…and I distrust pat “as above, so below” interpretations, but what the hey: There you have it.