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Spain: Rock, Roll, Rumbles, Rebels, & Revolution

First ever retrospective on Buffalo-born underground comix legend Spain Rodriguez at the Burchfield Penney Art Center

Manuel “Spain” Rodriguez (born in Buffalo, March 2, 1940) grew up on Humboldt Parkway on the city’s East Side, but found fame as an artist first in New York City, drawing for the seminal underground newspaper the East Village Other, in a scene where his peers included such legendary comic book artists as Kim Deitch, Trina Robbins, and Art Spiegelman. Later he migrated to San Francisco and the Zap Comix stable, which included R. Crumb and S. Clay Wilson, among others. From those beginnings, the career of Spain Rodriguez—pioneering illustrator, political activist, member of Buffalo’s outlaw motorcycle gang the Road Vultures—blossomed in a dozen different directions, influencing the generations of comic book artists who followed.

This Friday, September 14, the Burchfield Penney Art Center opens the first retrospective exhibit of Spain’s career with a reception (5:30-7:30pm). On Saturday, September 14, Spain will give an artist’s talk, and there will be a screening of the film Barbie Nation: An Unauthorized Tour by Spain’s wife, the journalist Susan Stern (2-4pm).

The exhibit continues through January 20, 2013.

Spain Rodriguez: Buffalo, March 3, 1963

In this poster-sized masterwork drawn in San Francisco in 1973 (pictured below), Spain Rodriguez—by then a denizen of the Mission District and full-fledged member of the Zap Comix collective—looks back on a memorable night from his youth 10 years earlier in downtown Buffalo: March 3, 1963, the day after his 23rd birthday.

Note the old Greyhound bus station in the top left corner, the “Jesus Saves” sign, and, right next door, that of the Signet Lounge. This is Pearl Street just below Tupper, in the present-day Theater District. (No need to cower in fear on this Curtain Up! night, Mr. & Mrs. Theatergoer, this mean-streets Buffalo is bygone!) Many of Spain’s favorite motifs and stylistic flourishes are crowded into this elaborately rendered battle scene of Road Vulture rumbling: the leather jackets sporting colors of Spain’s own design, street signs and storefronts, street lamps and cracks in the sidewalk (here with the lingering heaps of dirty snow at the curb Buffalo used to have before the climate changed), tail-finned cars cruising Pearl when it used to be a two-way street, more verbalized comic-book sound-effects than a season of Batman TV episodes, and of course the artist’s beloved motorcycles parked in the top right corner. You can read the legend for yourself, but you need to know that “Algernon Backwash” was the nom-de-plume Spain sometimes used for the literary side of his graphic creations.

This original drawing was exhibited at Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York City as part of the exhibition Zap: Masters of Psychedelic Art, 1965-1974, May 12-June 25, 2011, curated by Gary Panter (of Peewee’s Playhouse fame) and Chris Byrne.

Click on image to enlarge.

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