Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Shared Universe: The Art of Comic Books

Since I have now been curating exhibitions focused on comic book Superheroes for the last four years for the Aqua Art Fair in Miami Beach, Scope Art Fair in New York, Affordable Art Fair, also in NYC and last December at the Context Art Fair in Miami, I am looking forward to this exhibition.
All it takes is more than 130 works and some Wham! Bam! Kapow! For Strathmore to explore the world of comic books—interstellar, terrestrial, and beyond—in A Shared Universe: The Art of Comic Books, on view in the Mansion at Strathmore from Saturday, April 12 through Sunday, June 8, 2014. 

Ever since Superman kicked off the superhero comic genre in 1938, the medium has influenced fine and performing arts as well as pop culture. A Shared Universe charts the rise of comic book culture, the evolution of the art form and its influence on the visual art medium, and peers into the future. The show features a collection of original paintings, graphite and ink-based drawings, prints, comic book covers from the Library of Congress, web-based comics and works by undergraduate Sequential Art students who are shaping the genre in new and imaginative ways. 

A free Opening Reception will be held Thursday, April 24 from 7-9 p.m. For more information, call (301) 581-5100 or visit

Artists Inspired by Comic Book Culture
The first floor of the Mansion illustrates how comic books have influenced other visual artists who incorporate compositional attributes, stylization or heroic themes into their works. JD Deardourff creates abstracted comic book images by silk screening. Compositionally and in their coloring his works resemble comic books, though the pieces themselves lack words or narrative structure, leaving the viewer to prescribe their own story. Mark Newport knits colorful, multi-patterned superhero “uniforms,” complete with names, bios and narratives for the masked crusaders who would wear his clothing. In addition to his outfits, the exhibition features a film of Newport in the process of creating a piece. Inspired by COSPLAY and identity roles, DMV favorite Andrew Wodzianski projects a superhero persona onto everyday people in his Fanboy series of large oil paintings—a man wearing a Ninja Turtles mask or emblazoned with the signature Cobra logo from G.I. Joe—hinting that everyone has a hidden persona of some type.

Comic Book Culture: Past, Present, Future
The second floor of the Mansion is dedicated to ever-expanding comic book culture. Viewers are primed for their experience in the Reading Room, with more than 300 comic books to thumb through that provide a survey of different artistic and narrative styles. The reading Room is furnished by local retailer Beyond Comics, which is opening a pop-up shop in the exhibition beginning Thursday, April 24. The exhibition next features artists Bob McLeod and Joe Rubenstein, both famous inkers and members of comic’s old vanguard, having worked with the industry’s most recognized and celebrated publishers. On loan from Geppi’s Entertainment Museum in Baltimore, five works by the late Warren Kremer provide examples of a different rounded brush style of illustration that defined the appearance of characters from Richie Rich to Casper the Friendly Ghost—originals of Kremer’s character “Stumbo the Giant” will be on view in A Shared Universe.

Meanwhile, Kate Beaton and Phil and Kaja Foglio represent the evolving Web-based comic universe. Prints from Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant series and originals from the Foglio’s Girl Genius comic represent the changing, extended narrative that Web-based comics enjoy, as well as the trendy “steam punk” or “gaslamp fantasy” artistic style popular in this medium. Gene Luen Yang, author of the critically-acclaimed American Born Chinese graphic novel, represents this literary niche born from comic book art. Luen Yang’s was the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association’s Printz Award. Graphic artist and New Illustration Chair of California College of the Arts Owen Smith bridges the divide between illustration and narration with his cover images for The New Yorker, as well as Sports IllustratedTime, and Rolling Stone. Anthony Fisher, Dean of the School of Communication Arts and Chair of the Sequential Arts Program at Savannah College of Art and Design, melds comic strip and comic book art with an ink and colored pencil work that is humorous and ironic.

Smith and Fisher, both artists, administrators and educators, segue into a portion of A Shared Universe dedicated to the enterprising and imaginative young minds that will forge the future of comic books. Works by 26 students from Sequential Art degree programs will forecast where comic books might be heading, with the proliferation of Web-based comics, online marketplaces for comics, and independent presses allowing infinitely more freedom for these young artists. Four educational institutions are represented: California College of the Arts, Savannah College of Art and Design, the Center for Cartoon Studies, and The Kubert School.

Education Programming
Strathmore will enhance the visitor experience of A Shared Universe: The Art of Comic Books with public education programs. Strathmore brings together a panel of experts for Beyond Text and Line: A Discussion on the Art of Comic Books on Sunday, April 27, 2014 at 2 p.m. Moderated by Greg McElhatton, former Executive Director of the Small Press Expo (SPX,) a founding freelancer for Wizard, and a current reviewer on The discussion includes Emily Gillis of Wayward Studios; JD Deardourff, a local comic-inspired artist; Rafer Roberts of Plastic Farm Press; and Monica Gallagher of Admission is $5.

On Sunday, April 27, 2014 at 4 p.m., Strathmore presents Stripped, a feature film documentary illustrating the lives of the world’s best cartoonists. Admission to the screening is $10.

On Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 10:15 a.m., a Children’s Talk & Tour invites children to explore the exhibition and exercise their creativity through a hands-on arts activity led by professional comic illustrator Mark Mariano. At the 1 p.m. Art Talk & Tour, adults learn about the artwork in the exhibition from curator Harriet Lesser. Both events are free. Reservations are required for the Children’s Talk & Tour and can be made online or by calling (301) 581-5100.