Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Daniel Clowes/Museum of Contemporary Art

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Eightball 18 (cover), 1997

Eightball 18 (cover), 1997

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Comic-book illustration is a form that rewards intimacy; it is best unpacked, page by page, panel by panel, in the comforting embrace of a reader. While the Daniel Clowes survey “Modern Cartoonist” may obfuscate its understanding of this knowledge a bit, what with its lofted, haze-gray reproductions tucked flush to the ceiling, hovering, encircling eyes of Argus, and the monolithic murals of Chicago, resembling the flanks of a battleship, bookending the pleasingly nacreous exhibition space, this is still an exhibition best observed in its minutiae.

Original drawings from Clowes’ seminal comics—including “Ghost World,” “The Death-Ray” and “Art School Confidential,” all of which Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Anders Nilsen/Elmhurst Art Museum

Comics, Suburban No Comments »

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A perceived relevance to “big questions” distinguishes serious art from all the other entertaining, decorative or otherwise useful things that people make for each other, and that was exactly the title of the 658-page graphic novel by Anders Nilsen that was published last summer. It has been acclaimed for its fresh, honest take on the human condition, as well as some very good drawing, and now some larger, even wall-size, versions of his work are on display in the Elmhurst Art Museum.

Though some are quite large, these still seem to be small, personal, child-like views, and though some characters are identified as Adam and Eve, they seem to  have been placed into a small, suburban back yard cluttered with animal toys instead of upon a cosmic stage inhabited by mythic creatures. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Brain Frame Anniversary Party

Comics, Performance, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »

Krystal DiFronzo performing at BF5/Photo: Gillian Fry

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Amidst the flashy cultural clusterfudge of one-off events at Wicker Park Fest, a noteworthy, regularly scheduled local happening will be having its first=anniversary party. “Brain Frame,” a venue for comics artists to present multimedia readings of their work, will be gathering in the intimate confines of Happy Dog Gallery to, as they always do, spruce up the traditionally minimal context of a reading with, at the very least, props and PowerPoint. But you never know—there could be puppet or human extras, audio and/or video, anything that could move the experience away from beat-poet bleakness toward performance-art fabulosity; videos on the “Brain Frame” blog attest to the variety of approaches engaged by these events. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: A Comic’s Wisdom

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Ivan Brunetti’s comic strip in the March 7 issue of The New Yorker illustrates the frustrations of an art teacher who, from the students’ perspective, teaches too much. It ends badly: a student asks if computers can be used on the homework assignment, and the teacher, exiting the class, mutters to himself, “I’m wasting my life.” It’s not a funny comic, exactly, but this is The New Yorker, and while Brunetti does admit to using computers in his own work, they only aid in the production stages, not the creative. With computers, “there is no discovery, only micro-managing,” writes Brunetti in his new book, “Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice.” The how-to cartoon manual, structured like his fifteen-week course of the same title at Columbia College, is full of Brunetti’s brand of self-effacing, wry perspectives on life and art, and it’s also a complete starter’s guide to creating comics—not just the slapstick and pulp fantasies of the Sunday funnies, but the diaristic, bittersweet realisms of contemporary life, a genre populated by Charles Schulz, Chris Ware, and Brunetti, of course.

Like David Hockney, who makes one drawing a day on his iPad—one of which is featured on that same The New Yorker’s cover (ah, irony)—Brunetti expounds the importance of keeping a daily drawing practice. There is no substitution, and no excuse, for not working daily on one’s craft. “Unfortunately, you will probably have to draw 100 bad pages before you draw a good one; there are no shortcuts,” he writes in “Cartooning.” Persistence will lead to consistency, which will lead to an individual style. Developing this craft is one of Brunetti’s main lessons in his cartooning manual. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Chicago’s Current Comic Affairs

Andersonville, Comics, Evanston, Michigan Avenue No Comments »

Enrique Chagoya, "Return to Goya No. 9," 2010

By Julia V. Hendrickson

Comic and cartoon artists work quietly but profusely in Chicago, drawn, perhaps, to the functionality of its gridded streets, city blocks like frames on a page. Comic book and specialty bookstores like Quimby’s and Challengers flourish because there is an audience for experimental narratives and a vibrant community surrounding comic art. In reaction to such public interest, January brings a flurry of exhibitions related to comic and sequential narrative art.

For those interested in historical context, the Block Museum in Evanston offers a small but superb collection of prints in “The Satirical Edge,” with work from the 1950s to the present, all using graphic comic and cartoon imagery for socio-political commentary. The majority of this collection features a group of artists, the “Outlaw Printmakers,” who were part of a 2004 exhibition at Big Cat Gallery in New York. Most striking are Tom Huck’s series of small-town narratives depicted in large, hypnotically intricate woodcuts. A handful of R. Crumb comic books from the early 1970s are the only direct connection to comics, but the influence of comic art is evident in works like Richard Mock’s bug-eyed linocuts and Enrique Chagoya’s collaged accordion book.

Chagoya’s newer work is also prominently displayed, and includes an etching from his latest edition, a dancing, demon-chased Obama, a subtle revision of Goya’s “Los Caprichos.” The Block aptly compliments the “Satirical Edge” with a concurrent exhibition of prints by eighteenth-century caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Rowlandson. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Eric Garcia/Prospectus Gallery

Comics, Pilsen No Comments »

“Every warrior has a weapon and mine is art,” is Eric Garcia’s motto, used as a banner headline on his website. Garcia’s work reduces complex political issues to one-liners. The artist gives us an advertisement for Halloween costumes, “illegal aliens,” of which we can choose the English Puritan, French soldier, or Spanish conquistador. This is a clever and funny piece, but its purpose seems merely to deliver a message. Likewise, Uncle Sam serving us a steaming turd enclosed in wrapping paper represents the Iraq war. The punch lines are clear but the punch is missing.

The rebuilding of Iraq as a parody of “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” is one of Eric Garcia’s funnier political cartoons. You smile, and you get the point. In another piece, standing at the base of the Statue of Liberty, an undocumented family screams up at the words of Emma Lazarus’s poem, “You lie.” Their rage is rendered palpable in heavy, black ink.

This is a radically un-radical show, at times merely re-chewing cliché: Israel and the Palestinians are like Goliath and David; natural disasters are nature’s reaction to a human pest. Aimed at an audience that already shares its stance, the work here shows no interest in educating its viewers. US-funded mercenaries in Columbia could be explained rather than referenced, or, if Jeremiah Wright really breathes the fire of truth, Garcia could offer some hint of how. Likewise, are university textbooks really “the ultimate scam” because one can’t sell them back for the same price one paid for them? There’s more violence and rage in this piece than in Garcia’s commentaries on genocide, which reveals much about this “warrior” artist. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Midwestern BLAB!/A+D Gallery

Comics, South Loop No Comments »
Don Colley

Don Colley

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Midwesterners are known as “friendly, hardworking, honest, morally upright, pragmatic, resourceful, self reliant, and straightforward,” according to the catalog essay written  for “Midwestern BLAB!” an exhibition of five regional graphic artists who regularly illustrate BLAB! magazine. Allegedly, this current exhibit “boldly affirms the positive  view of Midwestern culture.” But yikes! This is the psychic landscape of alienated and lonely misfits often doing cruel, perverse and violent things to each other. Are those really our core cultural values? Maybe not, but at least it’s comic-book culture, and ever since Ivan Albright, Hellish Imagism has dominated our local art world. The artists  themselves are probably “friendly, hardworking, and honest,” however, especially “hardworking,” as all five artists in this exhibit demonstrate an exceptionally high level of craft. For example, Tom Huck’s rambunctious 4×8-foot woodcuts are masterpieces of that medium. And nobody sketches figures, or paints on black velvet better than Don Colley.  His figure drawings are so strong they don’t even need a story, and can be displayed in all their cluttered glory just as pages torn from his sketchbook. Midwestern life does have its dark and creepy side, but I do wonder whether it continues to deserve this much devotion and celebration. Is this really Midwestern culture, or just the lack of it? (Chris Miller)

Through July 22 at A+D Gallery, Columbia College. 619 S. Wabash.