Art Clokey 1921 - 2010
I didn't realize Art Clokey, one of pop culture's true originals, had passed away on Friday until I read it in today's Times. Yes, he created Gumby and Pokey, but also -- and I'd forgotten this was him -- "Davey and Goliath," a claymation series that decanted gentle Lutheran moral lessons into young ears in the 1960s. (As a kid, I used to watch it while getting ready for Sunday school -- "Community Auditions" was always on when I got back -- and I still occasionally hear Goliath in the back of my brain telling me "I don't know, Davey -- God doesn't like that" when I'm committing a minor trespass.)
Clokey was, for all purposes, an outsider artist who somehow made it inside the door. The reason Eddie Murphy's profane SNL riff was always so funny was that "Gumby" was a series both serene and surreal, unhinged from commonplace notions of kiddie entertainment in a way that has influenced Pee-wee Herman and other alt-family purveyors but also informed with a quiet sense of purpose somewhere between Martin Luther and Zen. It's no coincidence that a 2008 documentary on Clokey is called "Gumby Dharma." It's also no coincidence that Clokey studied under avant-garde filmmaker and montage artiste Slavko Vorkapich while he was at USC. Yet the inspiration for Gumby came from a much more personal place: Clokey always said he modeled his most famous character after his father, Arthur Farrington, who died in a car accident when young Art was nine. He wasn't kidding, either:
Probably the best way to appreciate Clokey's wayward genius is to take a look at his 1953 claymation breakthrough (and USC graduate project), "Gumbasia":
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