It is with great regret that I have learned that Alan E. Cober passed away (01/22/98). Although I only had the chance to speak with him a few times about the display of his work on this page, I know that he will be sorely missed by those that had even that briefest of contact. We continue to display his work here in his memory.
|ALAN E. COBER
Alan E. Cober compels us to look, to pay attention to subjects we might want to ignore, to witness the unexpected. He calls himself a visual journalist. It's a title he has earned through the publication of hundreds of his drawings in national magazines and newspapers, such as Esquire, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic Monthly, Time, Newsweek, Life, Look, and The New York Times.
When I first saw Cober's work in popular periodicals in the 1970s, I was impressed by his pithy pen and ink drawings that critiqued social injustice, like the Times illustrations of school children in Boston who still were segregated despite laws to the contrary or the shriveled old man held as prey at a nursing home. Cober tackles tough subjects. His drawings go beyond mere illustration, a term considered by many artists to imply a subordinate role. Cober's unsentimental drawings are autonomous, capturing the essence of a given subject, overshadowing the text they accompany.
Although sometimes embellished with short inscriptions that either document the subject and date or quote the person he depicts, his drawings really need no text. They represent firsthand observations of the human condition. They arise from a tradition of political artists who used the graphic media - prints and drawings - to voice their abhorrence to oppres sion, inequities, and war, such as Honore Daumier and Francisco Goya in the nineteenth cen tury and Kathe Kollwitz, Georg Grosz and Ben Shahn in the twentieth century. Like these artists, Cober creates gripping visual images that provide evidence of the harsh realities of contemporary events, cast in a format that will reach a universal community and instigate change.
Cober's book, The Forgotten Society, published in 1975, shocked the public with its blunt portrayal of the plight of people incarcerated in retirement homes, mental institutions, and prisons. A small, recent publication, The Wake-up Call, addresses issues plaguing con temporary America: drug addiction, AIDS, toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes. Cober's subjects are not always bleak, however. His portraits strike a balance between reality and interpretation. They are unflinchingly true to the peculiar physical characteristics that distinguish each individual, but also skewed by distortions in an aggregate of strokes that express the emotive personality.
While his series on Franz Kafka captures the anxiety and alienation that permeate the Austrian author's novels and short stories, Cober's series on Martin Luther King, Jr. is a respectful ode to the courageous civil rights leader. Then he's humorous, bordering on surreal, with his own image, such as in Self-Portrait with Horseshoe-Crab Helmet. In recent years he has created incongruous mutants in bizarre com binations of mammals and marine animals with human figures. Sometimes they are funny. Sometimes they are disturbing. Like the creatures of Hieronymous Bosch, they represent an imaginary world that reminds us of our mortality. Yet Cober's world is less threatening because it is seen through a lens of vitality. It is life he embraces.
Nancy Weekly, Charles Cary Rumsey Curator
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