Peter Kuper Reviewed by the Daily Crosshatch

Diario de Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico

By Brian Heater
The Daily Crosshatch

A sketchbook is a secret thing, a collection of unfinished and often times abandoned ideas never intended for public consumption—at least not in their current state. It’s a private space for honing one’s craft and workshopping, separating good ideas from those best left unexplored

Over the years, these parameters have loosened, particularly in the comics community, where the sketchbooks of artists like Robert Crumb and Chris Ware have been collected and bound and put on store shelves next to their most meticulously crafted works. While subject to a good deal of cherry picking and editorial oversight, these collected sketchbooks still hold a similar appeal as their predecessors, offering a still relatively candid glimpse into their creators’ thought process.

The whole space is complicated a bit further with the introduction of the “sketchbook diary,” a book, which, while lacking some of the polish of a more deliberately produced title, often feels as though it were conceived of as being a marketable title from its inception.

It’s hard to say precisely what Peter Kuper’s motives were in the creation of Diario de Oaxaca, but given the amount of work clearly invested in nearly ever page, it seems rather likely that, fairly early on in the process, it became clear that, given the right publisher, the work would eventually be released for public consumption.

But while Kuper’s art often has a relatively finished feel to it (compared, at least, to more traditional sketchbooks), a sense of experimentation and adventure pulses through the journal’s pages, as the artist immerses himself and his work in the culture and art that surround him during his family’s Mexican exodus. Diario de Oaxaca is a constantly unfurling collage.

As an artist, Kuper is a stranger in a strange land, attempting to adapt his art to his surroundings, all the while sprinkling in photos of the city’s world famous protest wall art and other local phenomenon. Like a true notable outsider, sometimes he blends in seamlessly, and other times we’re witness to an aesthetic culture clash. Where Kuper truly succeeds, however, are in those moments when Oaxaca’s natural and manmade beautify serve as the building blocks for a piece that remains staunchly Kuperesque.

Even when Kuper’s experiments prove less successful, however, the book is a downright stunning—and thoroughly engaging—read. Proper sketchbook or no, Diario de Oaxaca is one of the strongest travelogues this medium has produced in recent memory.

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