Saturday, April 16, 2011

Walpurgis Afternoon: The Art of Jim Woodring and Marc Bell

Many Pan readers by now know that I have curated an art exhibit that is opening next Friday at Lawndale Art Center. It is a two person show, featuring work by Jim Woodring and Marc Bell, two artists who embody the idea that comics can be a vehicle for sophisticated, highly personal art.

Jim Woodring, Lazy Robinson, charcoal on paper

About a year ago, I was feeling a bit disappointed that Houston got so few interesting comics events. That was when I did my Pecha Kucha talk proposing that Houston host an art comics festival along the lines of Fumetto Comix Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland. At that time, it also occurred to me that if I wanted anything like this to happen, I would have to spearhead it. A festival is a lot more than I want to personally attempt, but an art exhibit--that is something I could do.

Marc Bell, Tripppah!, ink and watercolor on paper

So I proposed to Lawndale that we bring in two of my favorite cartoonists. I picked Bell and Woodring for a variety of reasons. First, they are wonderful (that was my baseline criterion). Second, I chose them because both are engaged in similar projects--world-building through their art. And finally, I chose them because they are both artists who aren't exclusively involved in comics. They do paintings. Woodring has done installations and is doing a performance for this show. This was somewhat important to me because I don't want to assume that attendees of art exhibits at Lawndale have a very serious knowledge or comprehension of comics. I wanted artists who, in their own way, could draw in such viewers--the ones sophisticated about visual art, but not necessarily about comics.

Jim Woodring, Weathercraft page 20, ink on paper

In one sense, this is a shot across the bow--a small-scale example of what a comics festival would look like for me. (Obviously this is a rather different concept of a comics festival than the more common "dealer's room" model.) But more important, it's a chance for people in Houston to see the work of two masters. I want Houston to be in dialogue with the world even as it builds its own traditions.

Marc Bell, King Youngue, ink and watercolor on paper

I hope readers of Pan will come out for the opening. It's Friday, April 22, from 6:30 to 8:30. In addition to the typical nice Lawndale opening festivities, Jim Woodring will have a performance there. Last year, Woodring had a giant dip pen fabricated. This pen is six feet long and weighs 30 lbs. At Lawndale, Jim will demonstrate the art of fine pen-and-ink drawing using this enormous artistic tool. It will be a spectacle worth experiencing. When I first saw a video of Jim drawing with it in Seattle, I was reminded of Yves Klein's famous performances in which he painted with fire or painted with the nude bodies of women. In Klein's case, he was trying to create a kind of immaterial art where the artist never touched the canvas. But what he also did was to turn the typically solitary act of painting into a public performance. This is what Woodring will also do. (There is also a tradition of using giant brushes in China.)

Of course, as usual with Lawndale, there are several openings that night. "Measured" features artists Hillerbrand+Magsamen, Daniel McFarlane and Anthony Thompson Shumate, all of whom are really good, so that should be an interesting show. I don't know what to expect from the Leigh Merrill and Carmen Flores exhibits, but I look forward to seeing them. Of course, if you miss opening night, the exhibit runs through June 4. I hope to see you all there.

And if you can't make the opening (and even if you can), be sure to come meet the artists and get books signed by Woodring and Bell on Saturday at Domy from 6 pm to 8 pm. It is perfect that Houston's coolest bookstore will host them. Details here.

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