Postwar pulp art south of the border was distinctly surreal. In Pulp Drunk: Mexican Pulp Art at Ricco/Maresca Gallery in Chelsea, the lurid art created for paperbacks in the 1960s and ’70s includes a cat man superhero surrounded by feral felines, a woman fleeing a cop while cradling a piglet, and a blonde vixen looking back in shock as a skeleton delivers her a letter.
The exhibition presents grid after grid of these vibrant, tempera-on-board works, united in their strangeness, a vivid use of color, and spaces at the top intended for sensational titles. While some are signed, others are anonymous, lost to the production process of turning out cheap books as quickly as the public could buy them. Each cover, whether it features damsels in psychedelic distress, rampaging robots, or murderous clowns, suggests some new lurid adventure. As the gallery notes in its release, the subjects “are not gallant martyrs but commoners who have found themselves confronting outlandish and startling predicaments as a result of poor decisions or risky behavior.”
But in Pulp Drunk, the individual illustrations are detached from their original narratives and arranged in one long, bizarre sequence that captures a moment in publishing and marketing in Mexico. It’s a dream version of everyday life where the absurd intrudes violently and scandalously: a gorilla storming a bedroom or a surprised maid happening upon a woman surrounded by equally startled green aliens. While American pulp fiction of this era was more focused on sex and crime, in Mexico the allure of these escape fantasies was often the invasion of oddities into the mundane.
Pulp Drunk: Mexican Pulp Art continues at Ricco/Maresca Gallery (529 West 20th Street, 3rd floor, Chelsea, Manhattan) through March 7.