Gordon Henderson aka Nib Geebels has been producing momentous hand drawn calendars since 1985... His first calendar a hastily put together holiday gift for a girlfriend at the time. The die was cast... While the annual Nib Geebels calendar has endured, that boy girl thing didn't do so great. 2017's Hansel and Gretel themed calendar features images currently on display at Bermudez Projects, in downtown Los Angeles. Here's at least part of the story of all that.
Outsideleft: Why Hansel & Gretel, why now?
Gordon Henderson: The idea to retell the story of Hansel & Gretel came out of a conversation I had with Julian Bermudez (the man behind Bermudez Projects). He suggested I illustrate a classic story; I chose Hansel & Gretel. Initially, I just focused on the theme of being lost in the woods (the unconscious) and eventually finding the way. To be clear, I was lost telling this story for much of the time I worked on the project, which was about two years. In the last few months before the exhibit, I looked a little deeper into the story and realized it is rich with symbolism and there are many valid interpretations.
In the end I focused on the idea that Hansel & Gretel is the story of two young people who don’t want to grow up. They leave home against their will, yield to temptation - The House of Sugar - and become enslaved by the Witch (who represents addiction), which they eventually burn, along with the House of Sugar. To me that idea is universal. Also, the story of Hansel & Gretel is pretty durable, if you keep the basic story line you can add or subtract at will, without ruining it.
OL: Can you say something about Bermudez Projects who are exhibiting your work?
GH: I think the website says it best, so here's the link to Bermudez Projects' history:
I have been working with Bermudez Projects since 2011. Hansel & Gretel is my third solo show there and I have also taken part in the ongoing biannual group show of artists interpreting Los Angeles, called SPACELAND. In my experience, Julian (Bermudez) works collaboratively with the artists in order to assist in developing an artist's work, exhibit themes and ideas, or overall artistic intention. He does not work on the actual art-making but rather presents ideas to inspire further creativity. This works fine for me, since I approach art-making as a conversation.
OL: Your show at the Bermudez Projects is beautiful to see, how long will it stick around for?
GH: Hansel & Gretel is currently on view at Bermudez Projects in Downtown Los Angeles through January 14, 2017. There are 22 framed ink, watercolor, and graphite illustrations ranging from small to mid-size in scale. In illustrating Hansel & Gretel I wanted it to look both contemporary and arcane, which is how I see the story. In depicting animals and the natural world I wanted the drawings to look like 19th century engravings, like the ones used in the original Brothers Grimm editions. I have a very old edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It’s decayed and the pages are falling out. I wanted that feeling for my own version. My models for Hansel and Gretel were dolls. I also referenced black & white photographs from the 1960s and '70s, the time of my own childhood.
In researching the project I read as many different versions of the story as I could find. My telling of the story is based mostly on the Brothers Grimm version. Of course I took liberties; I changed white stones and bread crumbs, symbols of innocence and simplicity, to cigarette butts, symbols of self-destruction. I also added animals and insects that, to the best of my knowledge, do not appear in any other versions, bats, anteaters, ants, a rabbit, a frog and an ostrich.
OL: 31 years of calendars... That's a lifetime?
GH: I declared myself an artist when I was a teenager. I worked for several years without sharing much publicly, or even with friends. I made the first calendar, just on a whim; one calendar, as a gift for my girlfriend. It didn’t really work out. There was no suitable way of displaying it. It was cumbersome. The relationship ended and the calendar was lost early in the year of 1986. Encouraged by this failure, I made another calendar for the year 1987, in an edition of 25. It’s grown since then (and now I’m friends with my former girlfriend, now that the calendar is functional and can be displayed properly). I think what happened was I needed a means of reaching the public and the calendar turned out to be that. It was initially unintentional.
Also, I started making calendars just as printing and photocopying were becoming user friendly, suddenly every neighborhood had a copy shop where a person like me could mass produce ugly ideas, to foist on an uninterested public. The first few calendars were all shrink-wrapped and packaged with sales gimmicks, like condoms, mayonnaise packets and other trifles. The mayonnaise packets usually broke when the calendars were shipped through the mail, adding to the allure. One year, 1990, the calendar came with dirt (packaged in tiny plastic bags, normally used by crack dealers to sell their product). Every calendar had a stamp that said, “Includes Dirt.” The following year (the 1991 Clean-living Calendar) came with hand-wipes and a new slogan, “Wash hands before opening.”
I keep making calendars because there’s a public that demands it. One thing that’s changed is that initially this kind of activity was mostly taken on by fringe types, sci-fi freaks, punks, politicos and weirdos, and now it’s very commonplace, which is fine with me. Now when you walk into a book store they often have a DIY or zine section, there’s a supportive culture for projects like this.
OL: Loved the trailer park. You made it look like a nice place to live...
GH: Thanks, The House of Sugar is really important to the story; Hansel and Gretel lose themselves in it and fall prey to the Witch. It’s got to look good (and alluring), so I labored over this, drawing gingerbread type houses, and they just didn’t feel right. I finally realized it had to be a trailer, I was really happy when I figured that out.
Growing up I knew kids who lived in a trailer park, it was next door to a horse racing track and all kinds of crazy things went on there. It was the kind of place where one might lose their innocence. That seemed perfect for the story of Hansel & Gretel.
Hansel and Gretel is at the Bermudez Projects until Jan 14th
117 W. 9TH STREET, SPACE 810
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA 90015
(BETWEEN BROADWAY AND MAIN STREET AT THE SOUTH END OF GALLERY ROW)
Parking is available at meters or paid lots in the surrounding area.
BY APPOINTMENT ONLY.
Order the 2017 Nib Geebles Hansel and Gretel Calendar. It's full of dates you might not otherwise have...
2017 Nib Geebles Hansel & Gretel Calendars are available from www.nibgeebles.com
Hamilton High was born on Doheny Ave in the gutter, is a poet, writer and observer of popular culture. Likes fashion and cares less for style. He's on the move, he's an alter ego and we hardly ever hear from him.