Friday, 26 February 2010

When fine art meets comics: Olivia Plender and Kerry James Marshall

Forget Lichtenstein, forget Warhol, these artists turned temporary comic artists are really worth a look at.

Kerry James Marshall is better known for his paintings and sculptures of black figures and black life, influenced by his time spent in Watts, Los Angeles around the Black Power and Civil Rights movement, however Marshall also created an intended for gallery display comic book entitled "Rythm Mastr". With each of the superheroes and their powers being based on an African mask and with an urban setting, the comic was a direct response by Marshall to what he saw as a significant lack of black figures (unless they were stereotypical or very minor bit players) in the comics. Some of the colour pages display the most energy as well as the mock up covers resembling blaxplotation cinema at its best. Strangely from what I've seen of google images, the inside pages aren't as visually stunning, almost like one tone manga with clumsily placed text in speech bubbles, but having never read the full thing, and realising its importance in comics history, it would be something I'd still love to own if they ever got around to releasing it in book form. For more information on the history of black images in comics you wouldn't go far wrong by buying this book.

I first heard of Olivia Plender's 'The Masterpiece' by reading about it in Paul Gravett's 'Cult Fiction' book. Olivia Plender is a British multimedia artist (now based in Berlin) who dabbles in installation art, performances, writing and drawing. 'The Masterpiece' again was for gallery display only and drawn beautifully in pencil with collaged and typewritten text. Its gritty yet somehow elegant shading really evokes the era she is writing about (that is the 1960's) and although some websites compare it to pulp fiction books (yes) and b-movie stills (not so much) it reminds me distinctly of 1960's black and white fashion photography, film posters, and in particular the film Blow Up. The plot revolves around an atypical tortured artist whose weekend away in the country gets mixed up in the weird world of the occult (one website refers to these elements of the plot of being a bit like a Hammer Horror movie, which is great). The element of satire aimed against the middle class escape to the country artistic milieu reminds me a lot of Posy Simmonds who was perfectly suited to printing her cartoons in The Guardian as she would often lampoon writers and grow-your-own organic enthusiasts. Again a book I'd love to see in print. But all is not lost, she does a graphic novel out about the history of the Modern Spiritualist Movement and its links to woman's suffer age,working class struggle, and the anti-slavery movement called A Stellar Key To Summerland (going for used at Amazon for £50!)

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