Skip Williamson | American Artist
Skip Williamson, one of the architects of the underground comix movement has been penning skeptic mirth for more than 40 years. The Chicago Tribune said, "Williamson has a wicked and wordly pen…and his skill as a social commentator is sharp." And Kenneth Baker (Art Critic for the San Francisco Examiner) described Williamson’s art as "Dead on as satire and warped cultural memoir." New City called him the "Dean of Chicago Cartoonists" And William Post Ross observed that Skip Williamson has "Talent not only as a cartoonist, but also as a social prophet of some newly evolved form."
In 1968, along with Robert Crumb and Jay Lynch, Williamson helped launch Bijou Funnies, one of the earliest and longest running underground comix titles. Some years later the Comix Journal said, "Skip Williamson is still the quintessential underground comix artist." and that "where (Robert) Crumb’s primary comix aim was introspective… Williamson took a broader look, skewering both left-wing trendiness and right-wing over-reaction at a time of much-publicized left-wing trendiness… Crumb’s approach may have been more…artistically "legitimate", but to those struggling to make sense of the socio-political chaos, Williamson was frequently the funnier." Writer Gina Piccalo commented "During the last 33 years, Williamson has rubbed elbows with the movers and shakers of America’s underground. As [an] editor of Help! Magazine, Gloria Steinem gave a 16-year-old Williamson his start when she published his work in 1961. Stand-up comedian turned political activist Dick Gregory used one of Williamson’s cartoons on the Tonight Show. Williamson’s Snappy Sammy Smoot character was brought to life by actor Carl Reiner on the show Laugh-In in the 1960s."
In 1971 Williamson provided illustrations for Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book. Skip Williamson also edited Conspiracy Capers, a comic book that raised money to help pay for the defense of the Chicago Seven defendants. And in his book, Chicago Graphic Design, Victor Margolin said that Chicago "had a graphic underground in the 1960s comparable to other cities such as Berkeley and New York. A notable figure in this movement was Skip Williamson whose free-lance work included covers for the Chicago Seed, an underground newspaper. "Williamson is undoubtedly best known for his own dissolute cartoon and comic strip menagerie - one that has been translated into over a dozen languages and has "been hung in art galleries from Berkeley to Paris. Natives from New Guinea have written fan letters by firelight. CBS Television covered his career, and never one to hesitate at the footlights of success, he always took the existential leap into the crowd." Williamson has been described as "a modern day visual Boswell." And his drawings and paintings have been auctioned at Sotheby’s, Christies and Heritage auction houses.
Skip Williamson’s work has been exhibited at the New York Cultural Center (NYC), the Maryland Institute of Design (Baltimore), the Chicago 4 Show (Chicago), the Phoenix Gallery (Berkeley CA), the American Contemporary Graphics Exhibition (a travelling exhibition), the Museum of Comic Art (Northhampton MA), the 23rd Century Gallery (Chicago), the Corcoran Gallery at the DuPont Center (Washington DC), the Lucca Festival (Lucca, Italy), the Tate Gallery of Modern Art (London), the La Luz de Jesus gallery (LA), Gallery Bink (Portland OR), the Vinson Gallery (Atlanta) and many others. His work has been shown throughout Europe in the Comix 2000 traveling exhibition sponsored by the French publisher L’Association.
In 2000 Williamson exhibited his paintings in a solo show at Atlanta’s Eyedrum gallery. Dr. Jerry Cullum (Senior editor of Art Papers) wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution "Williamson knows how to put together a picture, balancing color and skewed perspective as effectively as any realist painter would…He fits perfectly into a type of art championed by Juxtapoz magazine, in which a cartoon style is put to intelligent but outrageous uses. And his cynical view of humanity, worthy of such past satirists as Honore Daumier, is dead-on regarding the place where most people are."
"And yet, so much art reveals the places where people never even consider going. But that’s not Williamson’s concern. He reflectively steps on toes, and he rocks."
Skip Williamson’s art has become a matter of record and has been documented by Penguin Books (London), Brumm Publishing (Frankfurt/Main, Germany), E.P. Dutton and Company (NYC), Studio Vista Publishers (London), Boston Art & Book (Boston MA), the Graphis Press (Zurich, Switzerland), Arcanum Press (Amsterdam, Netherlands), School of African Studies – Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts), the Designer’s Gaukuin College (Tokyo, Japan), Northwestern University Press (Evanston IL), The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The St. Louis Post Dispatch, The Washington Post, The Milwaukee Bugle-American, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, The Detroit Free-Press, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and many others.
During the 1970s and 80s Skip Williamson artistically maneuvered the carnal flesh-pool of print media where he was art director at Gallery magazine, the founding art director at Hustler magazine and, for a decade, Art Director at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine. At Playboy he created the popular Playboy Funnies section and introduced millions of readers to his characters, the sordid Neon Vincent and the post-modern couple Nell ‘n’ Void.
As an illustrator Williamson’s art has been published by such diverse institutions as The National Lampoon and Encyclopedia Britannica - or Money magazine and The Industrial Worker. Williamson has published two anthologies of his work; The Scum Also Rises (Fantagraphics Books) and Halsted Street: Torment and Drama from the Hog Butcher (Kitchen Sink Press). Not content to let sleeping dogs lie, Skip Williamson continued to prod the plebian Rottweiler by self-publishing his own books; Naked Hostility (selections from his sketchbooks), Class War Comix (political strips and cartoons from the 60s), Pighead (all new comix), Gag Reflex (single-panel cartoons) and Smoot (featuring his most famous character, the compulsive and gullible Snappy Sammy Smoot). He also published a limited edition serigraph print, a collaboration with Zap Comix artist and renowned pornographer S. Clay Wilson. And he has continued to publish his comic strips in anthologies like Blab!, Zero Zero, and Legal Action Comics.
Williamson has taught and/or lectured at the Art Institute of Chicago, The University of Chicago, Harper College, Columbia College, the University of Illinois, Illinois Institute of Technology, the Atlanta College of Art and more. And he has received over 40 awards for his art and design including a Gold from the Art Director’s Club of New York, a Silver from the Society of Illustrators, six consecutive awards from Communication Arts magazine, five certificates of distinction from Art Direction magazine, Society of Publication Design Award of Merit, Society of Center Alumni Certificate of Merit, Award of Design Excellence from the Tokyo Designer’s Gaukin College. Digital publisher Liquidart selected twenty-five of his paintings to appear on their website. Liquidart also digitally publishes the art of Kenny Scharf, Man Ray, Salvador Dali, Grant Wood, illustrator Edward Gorey, animator Bill Plympton, and cartoonist John Callahan.
A documentary about Skip Williamson’s life and art is in production, and currently Williamson is editing and assembling an autobiography/anthology entitled My Bitter Agenda, and compiling XX, a collection of drawings, paintings, words, effigies and cogitations regarding the female. Skip Williamson continues producing comic art and as well as the kind of art hung in galleries, having expanded into 3-D assemblage and lurid mixed-media iconography.