There is a noticeable contrast between the musings of Anthony Ferguson, ’10, a soul-searching Christian, and those of infamous cartoonist Robert Crumb, whose explicit drawings sparked an active debate surrounding his appearance in Richmond last year. Yet Ferguson, a cartoonist and painter who considers his talent a divine gift, found inspiration in Crumb's artistic approach.

After being exposed to Crumb's work in the fall, Ferguson adopted a new approach in his relationship with his art. He says Crumb's influence “gave me the confidence to be vulnerable in my art… I took a direction to let out more difficulties” on the canvas.

This influence came through especially in "Spiritual Struggle Through Cosmic Fragmentation," Ferguson's body of work for his senior thesis. In his statement for Richmond's senior art exhibit, he says, "While I fully admit [R. Crumb's] work is rather grotesque and controversial, I cannot help but be enamored with his draftsmanship and sharp wit.”

He adds that in response to his exposure to Crumb's work, his own work “has taken a turn towards much darker, deeper, grotesque themes." In "Spiritual Struggle," Ferguson depicts his own spiritual development, with dominant themes of self-sacrifice and trust.

Majoring in art history in addition to studio art, Ferguson further explored Crumb's work through his art history senior thesis, in which he examined Crumb's use of satire. “I don’t defend his images, just his relevance,” he says.

Like many cartoonists including Crumb, Ferguson has been drawing since childhood — he started drawing animals at his grandmother's house, where watching television to pass time was not an option.

Before college, art teachers rarely encouraged his cartoons. “In the hierarchy of art, cartooning is very low,” Ferguson says. But at Richmond his work received a different reception, and Ferguson received an artist scholarship through the Richmond Scholars Program, which encouraged the Richmond native to pursue cartooning as an art form while exploring other media.

The option to take a range of studio art courses was one aspect of Richmond’s curriculum that appealed to Ferguson off the bat, solidifying the University as his first choice. “I needed more than one to two semesters to decide [on a focus]," he says. At other art schools, “I wouldn’t have been able to start with graphic design, end up with oil painting, and try drawing, video, and animation.”

In his final semester, he enrolled in a graphic novel and comics class taught by studio art instructor Andrew Kozlowski. He also took an art history course at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts. The two universities, along with Virginia State University and Virginia Union University, have a cross-registration agreement that allows undergraduate students to take courses at the other institutions when the course is not offered at the student’s home university.

Ferguson enjoyed the change in atmosphere and attitude, but the experience reinforced his love for Richmond with its smaller student body and easy access to professors. “There are so few of us that are serious about art,” he says, “So they can cater to us while letting us do our own thing.”