REVIEW: For something completely different: An Ayers/Rousseff exhibit in Old Chatham

Old Chatham, N.Y. — If you remember the Summer of Love, then you’ll recognize all manner of cool ‘60s references in Robert Ayers’ cartoons, 24 of which are now on exhibit at The Old Chatham Country Store Café Gallery in Old Chatham, New York. The drawings will be on display until May 31, and all of them are for sale (as are most of the cartoons on his website). Works by Stockbridge artist Vlada Rousseff are included in this exhibit, and they’re most definitely worth a look.

Although many of Ayers’ cartoons are set in the 1960s, you don’t have to be an aging hippie to enjoy the interesting lives of his canine creations, Hershey and Lulu. It almost goes without saying that these dogs are extraordinary. They travel to exotic places, predict Oscar winners, and deal with existential issues far beyond the grasp of ordinary dogs. We asked Ayers why he created such erudite animals:

“Shadows” by Vlada Rousseff. Mixed Media: Gouache, watercolor, pastel, and graphite. Several of Rousseff’s paintings are on exhibit at The Old Chatham Country Store Café Gallery in Old Chatham, New York, through May 31.

“Although I love being able to make them funny,” Ayers explained, “once I started doing them I discovered that they are as good a vehicle for complex ideas as other far more ‘serious’ art forms.” So Ayers’ characters entertain us by sticking their noses into all kinds of difficult social and political issues, and the result is often absurdly comical, especially when it involves the etiology of Donald Trump’s hair maladies.

Another reason Ayers’s cartoons are entertaining is that he borrows liberally (and most cleverly) from his favorite cultural icons, some ancient, some modern:

“There’s a bit of Snoopy in one frame and a bit of Tintin in another, and I can take visual ideas from old album sleeves alongside things stolen from art history. It’s very liberating!”

And how does he take to the pressure of having to draw something new every day?

“When I was drawing these every day they really began to take on a life of their own. Things began drawing themselves in certain ways that gave the characters and locations a sort of materiality. This meant that the content would actually reveal itself to me — there was that whole crazy sequence about Bernie Sanders living in the forest like Robin Hood, for example. I’m not sure that I could have invented that if I hadn’t been working on the drawings so regularly.”

Robert Ayers  is a British-born resident of Malden Bridge, New York. The Berkshire Edge has published hundreds of his Lulu ‘n’ Hershey cartoons.

Vlada Rousseff has designed clothing, handbags, and soft sculpture and is the owner of Vlada Boutique, a fixture for many years on Elm Street in Stockbridge. She works with gouache, watercolor, graphite, and pastel to create dreamlike scenes based on the human figure.