What Are These Free Association Funnies?

“There’s some mysterious process at work here, which I don’t even want to understand.”  – Philip Guston

I have long been fascinated by the process of artmaking, with the history of the work laid nearly bare as one dances or grapples with the piece.  Those traces, marks and images that arise out the process of making excite me most, as if I am excavating something from within.  For many years I had worked between my oil paintings and sketchbook work, attempting to bring the two worlds together, especially the purely drawn mark into the paintings.  That struggle ultimately culminated in a body of continuing work that is a result of my love of painting, drawing, and the narrative arts. 

Free Association Funnies is a nod to the cartoon narrative arts that I have loved, collected, studied, and written about for decades.  There are narrative elements in these works, though they are often fragmentary pieces, standing apart from other narrative elements. Other times, they tie together by frayed threads.  Or sometimes they are simply non-narrative stand-alone elements.  I often do not know what the narrative elements fully mean, as I am working as intuitively as possible, responding to and from one image to the next, going back and forth, in and out, up and down within the picture.  When I’m in the groove, I’m thinking and doing at the same time.  In some cases, the narrative elements are fragments of important memories, dreams, or some inner conversation I’m having at that moment.  Working intuitively in this fashion results in lots and lots of failure, which I have grown to love and embrace.  The failure of one mark or image almost always results in the growth of something down the line, even if I have to slog through a lot of shit to get to it.  I always keep in mind that shit is also manure, which helps things grow. 

There is a good deal of visual language in the work that has remained consistent in my paintings and drawings for many years.  Images of seeds, sacs, pods, Japanese zushi travel shines, masks, figures, and linear textures seem to have always been with me; a part of my visual well.  The bird beak/mask figure arose after my father passed away in 2005.  That figure has remained the most consistent throughout the work, my guide and Jiminy Cricket.  I have long been fascinated by the idea of masking, ever since my days working as an illustrator in Houston in the 1980s.  The mask may be a formal element worn over a face, telling someone that you’re fine when you’re not, or words masking the true intent of meaning.  You’ll also see a good bit of reference to the arts in these pieces.  Philip Guston is always an influence, and it’s not uncommon to see his hooded figures appear, or sometimes just the shape of the hood.  George Herriman is another influence, so don’t be surprised if you see a Krazy Kat character show up in the work.  I have long been smitten by the words of artists and writers, especially when it comes to writings about process.  Guston, Kurt Vonnegut, and Raymond Carver have all found their way into my work, usually as written text that turns into a textural element in the piece.

Working on these Free Association Funnies has been like following a map that has no clear direction, but the ride continues to be oddly satisfying.

Rob Stolzer


Rob Stolzer is a Professor of Art who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Stolzer has been teaching drawing, painting, figure drawing, illustration, and graphic narration courses at UWSP since 1991. In addition, Stolzer collects, researches and writes about original comic art. He has written for Hogan’s Alley, 1506 Nix Nix, and various catalog essays, in addition to contributing to a number of books about comic art and artists. Stolzer also runs the following websites devoted to art, comic art and illustration:

Rob Stolzer’s General Art Website: http://www.robstolzer.com/

Ink-Slinger’s Blog: https://inkslingers.ink/

Gregor Duncan – Illustrated Life Website: https://gregorduncan.org/

Russell Johnson & Mister Oswald Website: https://misteroswald.com/