• Steven Heller

The Daily Heller: Who Will Give Fred Mogubgub Two Million Dollars?


"Why Doesn't Someone Give Mogubgub Ltd. Two Million Dollars to Make a Movie?" Midtown Manhattan,1965.

If in 1965 I had two million freshly minted, crisp green-backs, I would have had the honor of presenting this epochal artist with the dough to fund his film. But when Fred Mogubgub (1928–1989) was making revolutionary quick-cut, limited animation commercials and films (hard to find and all but forgotten today), I was a tyke with $10 in the bank. I was only 15 when I saw this painted sign for the first time and wondered "what is a Mogubgub?" I met him years after he created this billboard. He was then producing quirky opening and closing sequences for TV shows like this one for Tom Chapin's "Make A Wish" (watch to the end of the reel for Mogubgub's handiwork).


When we met in 1970, making his own brand of psychedelic-surrealist comics at The East Village Other, the name Mogubgub sounded to me like a melodic nonsense word or a rare insect rather than an avant garde artist. So what was he doing during the 1960s? Fred Mogubgub was a filmmaker, animator, painter and cartoonist who partnered with Pablo Ferro in two animation studios—Ferro Mogubgub Lew, then Ferro Mogubgub Schwartz— before starting his own studio. As noted on Cartoon Brew: Mogubgub "was an important part of New York’s indie animation scene in the 1960s and 1970s." His films are exemplary examples of pop art in motion. He was also creator of The Pop Show from the late 1960s, a quick-cut parade of pop icons, featuring "a pre-Playboy, pre-N. O. W. Gloria Steinem" slugging down odd-ball hi-balls.



Mogubgub's TV work was known for its staccato jump-cuts—an assemblage of cartoons and photographs that instantly flashed across the screen. He made work for Ford, Coca-Cola and Life Savers. He admitted that his subject matter derived from "American objects which stick out from the clichés you get drilled into you in school." He was given the slogan, "Have you ever heard anyone say 'no' to a Life Saver?" by the Beech-Nut people and made a pop commercial. A marketing survey reported that the public recalled this commercial with its raw graphic effects more often than conventional ads.


However, he wanted out of the commercial business. At the East Village Other, in a loft above the Fillmore East, he would arrive late on paste-up night usually stoned, proceed to a lamplit corner where he'd draw his stream-of-consciousness work. Like the cover below, he liked to print in two split fountain inks often using hard-to-read yellow; he'dfinish a few minutes before the art was sent off to Druss printers in Long Island. There were no proofs. Serendipity was the goal.


One night at a paste-up session, he invited the staff to help him throw all his expensive camera equipment into the Hudson River early the next morning. He said he was forever finished with making film (although in 1979 he worked on an incredible sequence in R.O. Blechman's epic "A Soldier's Tale"). I oversleep and never knew for certain whether he did it or not. I do know that he was working on a two-story high painting for which he had to cut a hole in the ceiling of his loft. Whether the painting (created in square sections) was ever completed, I do not know.


What I do know, is that he deserves a museum retrospective if his artwork did not meet the same reputed fate as did his cameras. Mogubgub died in 1989 at 61.





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