Comic Release: Negotiating Identity for a New Generation

by Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe September 2, 2003

Once upon a time, Dynamic Coloring Duo Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman struggled against Action Painting Heroes Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning for control of the Art Universe.

Untitled 2002 oil on panel diptych 12 x 12 inches each panel

Meanwhile, average citizens doubted the Rule of Abstraction. What have you done with all of the Good Drawers? they asked. What became of Our Regional Heroes Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton? Where is Wonder Woman Georgia O”Keeffe and Caped Crusader Jacob Lawrence?

Never fear good citizens, curators Vicki A. Clark of Carnegie Mellon University and Barbara Bloemink of the National Design Museum of the Smithsonian Institution found many Drawing Superheroes emerging among up-and-coming artists.

The pair organized “Comic Release: Negotiating Identity for a New Generation” to be its own art adventure on nationwide tour. “Comic Release” shows the kind of in-your-face visual vocabulary possible when artists integrate into their work the pointed line drawings and graphic imagery of comic books, editorial cartoons, and “zines — those graphic magazines which have, up to this point, escaped critical notice but are now the denizens of underground culture.

Untitled 2002 oil on panel diptych 12 x 12 inches each panel

“Comic Release” opened at Carnegie Mellon and flew to the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans before landing in Texas. Because of limited space at the University of North Texas Art Gallery, gallery director Diana Block scheduled the exhibit to show in two parts. Part One of “Comic Release: Negotiating Identity for a New Generation” showed through Sept. 18. Part Two opened Sept. 24 and runs through Oct. 18. Clark said stops are also planned in Austin and on college campuses in Tucson, Arizona, and Bellingham, Washington.

David Opdyke battles the Corporate Trademark Defender in “Branding Blender #2”! In Opdyke’s 30-inch by 30-inch collage, decals of Donald Duck are cut and reassembled on plexiglass set in a wood frame. The cartoon character seems reduced to just colors and lines, yet it is undeniably Disney.

Reed Anderson and Daniel Davidson launch “Macho Shogun” DVD to topple cheesy B movies! The pair developed their own cartoon characters and built sets from cardboard and paint that share the film noir tone of late night, black-and-white monster movies. The monster robot whose inner workings become easier to see as the drama progresses suggests that the destructive path the robot takes may be a monster destruction of our own making.

Walter Robinson deep-freezes the Calloused Cynicist in “Bart Simpson”! Robinson created a three-dimensional view of this generation’s most popular cartoon character in plaster and gave him a shiny, dripping, sparkling red epoxy finish. Cast in 2001, the cynicism and irony that defined postmodernity may also have been frozen along with “Bart.”

Untitled 2002 oil on panel diptych 12 x 12 inches each panel

Meredith Allen focuses solar power and melts superheroes on sticks! Allen takes the graphic mascots of two differet generations — in “Adelaide Avenue (Pokemon)” and “Kalers Ponds (Snoopy)” — and fashions them into Popsicles, photographing them as they drip away in the hot sun.

A half-dozen Winnie-the-Pooh drawings by Free Artistic Expression Ultimate Megahero Karen Finley showed on opening night only of Part One. But there were many other fresh commentaries on sexuality and sexual identity throughout the exhibit. Angela Wyman delivered a perfect punch at female objectification in “Adds Volume” and “‘sDL (Long Toe),” both gouache on paper.

Like Mark Newport’s embroidery sampler series that embosses the covers of “Rawhide Kid” comic books, the exhibit is for mature audiences only. Ryan Humphrey’s “Ultra Geek (Episode 1)” assembled with Star Wars action figures and Al Souza’s “‘sparklers” of comic book hero puzzle pieces may look like the “tweeners ultimate play fantasy, but these and many other works in the show are not suitable for kids.

Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe lives in Argyle, Texas.

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