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The Animazing Ralph Bakshi

Bakshi’s back in New York City for a night of wine, cheese and award-getting.

Ralph Bakshi

Bakshi’s back in town – or at least he was on March 20th.

Cartoon rebel Ralph Bakshi was the guest of honor at Soho’s Animazing Gallery for the opening of “The Works” – not the creations of his decades in animation, but the collage paintings he’s dedicated himself to since turning his back on his former medium.

Ellen Abramowitz, Bill Plympton, Ralph Bakshi and Heidi Leigh.

Burly, bearded and gravel-voiced, Bakshi maneuvered his way through well-wishers, friends, fans and media folk with a video crew hot on his heels. Each of the abstract collages on the walls behind was named for the thoroughfares running through Manhattan’s hipster downtown neighborhoods. The evening’s centerpiece: a Lifetime Achievement Award for Bakshi’s “outstanding creativity,” a gift of the Gallery together with New York’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. Before unveiling the award, Gallery owner Heidi Leigh marveled at the joy in Bakshi’s paintings, created in his “in middle of nowhere” New Mexico studio far away from the cartoon worlds of New York and Hollywood. Guest Bill Plympton praised the “brilliant cutting-edge films…that just blew my mind during the 1970s and early ‘80s dry years of Hanna-Barbera crap and bad Disney films” and the Museum’s Ellen Abramowitz quoted Quentin Tarantino as saying Bakshi re-invented animation, before praising Bakshi’s work as “unique, wonderful and real.”

Ralph Bakshi overlooking some interesting signage

Finally it was time to unveil the trophy: a Bakshi-influenced sculpture by Ivan Witenstein (an artist whom the New York Times described as “a head-on collision between Ralph Bakshi and Bernini, with Daumier, Ronald Reagan and Mark Twain jammed in”) of a squat and toony cigar-smoking guy, a young and innocent looking girl and a curvaceous and quite naked babe surrounding and showering affection on the Oscar-ish statue in their midst.

Ralph Bakshi

Thanking the Gallery and MOCCA, Bakshi looked back on his filmmaking career: “You’re the first people in the world who’ve given me an award who know who I am and what I’ve done...the old cliché that Hollywood beat me up, beat my films up doesn’t really matter...we didn’t make as much money as we wanted to or what DreamWorks makes, but you can’t be a victim if you do your own films. My movies are still playing. I’ve made a few bucks and I do whatever I want – I’ve made enough money for me to do my paintings.”

Joe Strike's picture

Joe Strike has written about animation for numerous publications. He is the author of Furry Nation: The True Story of America's Most Misunderstood Subculture.