Underbelly: Additional Observations on the Beauty/Ugliness of Mostly Pillowy Gir: by Dave Cooper By Aphid

Jun 04, 2007

Some of you may be too young to remember, but once, long ago, the famous popstar/kabbalist Madonna put out a slick coffee table book she called Sex and it was comprised almost entirely of naked pictures of her lithe self and her lithe friends in various lusty entanglements. Well, you know how when you float a few saltine crackers in your bowl of chicken noodle soup, the crackers slowly become bloated and soggy? I think a quick way of describing Dave Cooper’s collection of paintings entitled Underbelly would be to say that it’s a soggy cracker version of Madonna’s Sex book. Whereas Madonna’s book fetishizes the undressed glory the Hollywood Body Ideal forged by an expensive team of personal trainers and dieticians, Cooper’s book almost exclusively captures the nakedness of the female body pummeled into flabbiness by a barrage of processed foods and a sedentary lifestyle. The book is positively waddling with lush illustrations of these feral cherubim pawing at each other’s doughy folds while exploring their orthodontic fixations on one another. Simply put, human skin is being stretched every which way here; stretched not only around fatty deposits, but around bulging eyes and gaping mouths; in many of the paintings, succulent lips are being splayed open to reveal over-sized choppers and lycanthropic snarls. It might have been all the beer I was drinking when I sat down and soaked in all the marshmallowy goodness of this book, but I was struck by the notion that Cooper had somehow managed to destroy the dualistic nature of beauty and ugliness. These lumpy little nymphs are simultaneously ugly and, strangely, beautiful. I don’t know if Underbelly represents the warped fantasies of a chubby-chaser dentist or the nightmares of a man fearful of being eaten like a human Twinkie by some giggling “Plumpers,” but it is a comical, odd world where Dr. Seuss collides with Peter Paul Rubens (and I don’t mean Pee-Wee Herman—or do I?). It is a girdle-less place where all is unrestrained and traditional standards of beauty are revoked and it is definitely a jiggling, surrealistic romp that I thoroughly enjoyed. –Aphid Peewit (Fantagraphics, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115)