Stuart Davis (1894-1964) is one of my favorite artists and I am fortunate because the Museum of Art owns several works by him. Currently on view is the splendid Tournos, 1954.
Whether he was living in New York City, Paris, or coastal Massachusetts, Davis captured the spirit of a place by distilling its subjects into a series of synchronized forms and colors. He sought to transform personal, ephemeral sensations into a composition that had what he called “objective permanence.” So, for Davis, the sketch of a scene was the launching point for compositions that knitted together formal elements in an interesting way
The Museum of Art’s current exhibition, LitGraphic, includes imagery from Sue Coe’s gripping, disturbing illustrated story, The Pit, 1999. Thea Spittle, excellent Museum of Art intern from Hamilton College, wrote this essay about the drawings.
After attending the Royal College of Art in London, the internationally recognized artist and illustrator, Sue Coe (born in 1951) moved to the United States, where she found her passion for socio-political issues during the Vietnam War. She translates these concerns—which range from homelessness, to AIDS, to rape, and animal rights (Coe grew up near a slaughterhouse and hog harm)—into graphic images that confront the viewer with troubling strength and beauty.
The Pit: The Tragical Tale of the Rise and Fall of a Vivisector (1999) is a powerful example of these concerns. Coe sought inspiration from British artist William Hogarth’s allegorical series The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751), which equates animal abuse with human degradation. Through thirty mixed media drawings, Coe tells the story of Pat Watson, the protagonist, and his demise.
Pat begins by abusing helpless animals, then moves on to humans (a homeless woman and a mentally handicapped girl), parallel to Hogarth’s story. Pat’s dog, Pit, represents his better instincts by encouraging Pat to make the right choice, and not become bait to an economic scheme. By using a dog in this role, Coe humanizes Pit, acknowledging the human tendency to identify with dogs, due to their highly domesticated quality.
LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel remains on view in the Museum of Art through Sunday, April 29. The exhibition was organized and toured by the Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts and is sponsored by the Bank of Utica.
I read comic books and I’m not afraid to say it.
Like millions of others my age, I was addicted to the “Batman” TV show in the mid-‘60s, but since comic books were for kids, I soon abandoned them. It wasn’t until I was in college in 1980 that I took another interest in costumed heroes (I was an art student so it was ok). The Batman had gotten dark and brooding, Green Arrow was pursuing believable adventures, Jonah Hex was a ill-tempered antihero, and the X-Men were, well, they were the X-Men.
Go to any comic book shop and marvel at the racks of books, posters and other super-paraphernalia. Probably the last thing you will see in a comic book shop is someone under age 16. Comics have come a long way since the Man of Steel fought for truth, justice and the American way. The sophisticated story lines, “mature” dialog and intricate plots are geared purely for adults.
And why not? Reading, for a large percentage of the population, is to escape reality, so why not escapeit with tales of derring-do? “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” created by Baroness Emmuska Orczy in 1905 is considered great literature and features a title character who is a mild-mannered fop with a dual identity as a heroic champion of justice during the Reign of Terror following the start of the French Revolution. Take the same concept and put it in the Spanish colonial era of California and you’ve got Zorro, created by Johnston McCulley in 1919. Add illustrations and 20 years to that concept and you’ve got The Batman.
Not that illustrated tales of heroics started in 1939, mind you. Let’s jump back to the year 1070 and take a look at the Bayeux Tapestry. The Tapestry is a 230-foot illustrated account of the Norman conquest of England. In case you’re wondering, yes it is historically accurate, back in the 11th century horses actually were multi-colored, grand warships held about six soldiers, and people were much taller than horses and always stood perfectly side by side, even while fleeing broadswords and battle axes.
Throw a red cape and a unitard on William the Conquerer and you’ve got one whopper of a comic book. (By the way, did you know that Halley’s Comet is depicted in the Tapestry?)
Oh, what the heck, let’s go back even further and examine cave drawings. No doubt that 30,000 years ago, prehistoric geeks, after spending the day getting loincloth wedgies and being turned down for dates by cute pom-pom sporting “gruntleaders” gathered around caves marveling at the heroics of shaggy champions pummeling mastodons in the name of truth, justice and the Cro-Magnon way.
Which brings us to the exhibition, LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel, opening this weekend in the Museum of Art. Here, illustrated stories get their well-deserved recognition and the art takes its place among other visual masterpieces. Stop by and savor the genius of Sue Coe, Marc Hempel, Will Eisner, Robert Crumb, Frank Miller and a host of other important graphic novel artists.
Join us on Sunday, March 4 for the public opening of LitGraphic, which begins with the presentation “Manga in the Context of the Graphic Novel,” by Oneika Russell, followed by refreshments in the Root Sculpture Court.
LitGraphic was organized and is toured by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and generously sponsored in Utica by Bank of Utica.