Comics and Contemporary Art

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I’ve been thinking about the intersection between contemporary art and comics — I’m sure it’s been the case for a while, but being in such close proximity to artists like Lilly Carré and Edie Fake — both of whom have shows up in the city — and seeing them successfully straddle the line between high end contemporary art and awesome comics work has been changing the way I think about comics, and I suppose contemporary art too.

I just saw Fake’s show at Thomas Robertello Gallery and love-love-loved it. Fake made a series of drawings of colorful storefronts (real or imaginary) that have either since closed down or never existed. In each instance, one is presented with a doorway. It isn’t opened or accessible but it nevertheless welcomes, evoking interior spaces that challenge normative expectations. All the images that I had seen online lead me to assume that these storefronts were super clean, but I was surprised and even more excited by how gritty the surface of these works is. Small flecks of graphite pepper neon bright stripes of paint that themselves have body and thickness, standing in small ridges on top of the page. There is something so, almost pixelated and bit-graphic about these tiled exteriors, I had assumed that like a computer, or architectural drawing, they would be perfectly smooth and homogeneous surfaces. Instead they celebrate the human hand. Danny Orendorff wrote a great review of that here

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Meanwhile, Carré has been all over the place in the last several months. She’s been doing illustration work for The New Yorker, Slate and Time Out Chicago, like Fake has work up at The Hyde Park Art Center (in a Twelve Galleries Project show I co-curated with Zach Dodson and Dan Gleason) and was recently written up in The Chicago Tribune. She also has work up at Western Exhibitions, in a great exhibition that features artist books called Bound & StapledCareé has several books in the show, a couple of which are pop-ups and what might have been my favorite piece in the show — a dark blue piece of long paper that has several small folds, that divide the strip into individual square. Each square in Totem Pole (2011) contains a different, highly decorative face (like the one below). It can fold up into a book, or extend into a pole, reminding me of Tibetan Thangka paintings that roll up into innocuous scrolls. What I love about Totem Pole  is that it communicates the potential of a book to transform one’s space/mind, even while remaining literal as a totem pole.

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Recently I started talking to a friend and fellow comic maker, Sara Drake, about this supposed intersection between comics and contemporary art. I feel like we’ve had periodic conversations in the last couple of years that open up my own work, as I realize one can take more risks and liberties. She sent me a link to a new artist, for me — Aidan Koch — who is able to transform our expectations of narrative composition using almost wordless panel progressions (see below).

page3You can read more from Koch’s exquisite series here, but I’m going to sign off now with much excitement and enthusiasm. The way these artists are able to push and pull through categories of thought (i.e. how to read a story in pictures) and disciplines is really exciting to me. Not because I want comics to be accepted into the high-mind of commercial art, but because I enjoy the muddying of boundaries and bounds and hierarchies. When borders open up, there is an ability to shift modes of thought, to unearth assumptions and expose new possibilities.

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