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SAIC’s CartoonInk!

This week I was at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Sullivan Galleries for a talk by respected Korean artist Kimsooja. More on that later. While I was there, I spent some time in the exhibition CartoonInk!: Emerging Comics in Context, curated by SAIC faculty members Christa Donner, Surabhi Ghosh, and Jeremy Tinder. The show explores the uniqueness of this type of narrative form, and also touches on how cartoons and comics are expanding beyond traditional media and forms.

Carter Lodwick, CartoonInk! Gallery Guide.

Despite being a fan of narrative art, I’m not all that familiar with comic art or cartoonists, either established or contemporary, but this show was a welcome introduction to the medium. It’s clear the curators take comics seriously. They display original pages and panels to allow the viewer to get a sense of the artists process, while also including a selection of the finished comic books, so the viewer can sit down and delve into the story. Instead of laying out their motives for this collection of “idiosyncratic work” in a standard curatorial essay, the curators embraced the spirit of the show and used a comic narrative to state their objectives.

Allison Vellas, Signature.

Gina Wyndbrandt, Afternoon Walk.

The comics I’m most drawn to are those that give visual expression to thoughts and emotions. Comics can give our inner monologues an outer manifestation, often with fascinating results. What does a thought look like? What configuration of lines and shading best expresses an emotion? Even the most mundane of narratives can become a road map of human thought, allowing the viewer to take a journey through the artist’s mind and creative processes.

Simon Hunt, Blythe and Claxby.

Darrel Morris, Not in the Budget.

One thing I wasn’t expecting at all were comics that utilized embroidery. I think of comics as a flat, two-dimension medium, so the use of embroidery gives the images a texture and weight that is unexpected yet really visually striking. There is something so static about embroidery, and using it to present narratives that progress through time presents an interesting juxtaposition. The materials and effort required to make these pieces also raises questions about comics themselves, traditionally considered to be a populist, throw-away art form.

Deb Sokolow, de Kooning’s Bell System, version 2.

Deb Sokolow, Whatever happened to the Pentagon (Restaurant)?.
If I had to pick a favorite from the show, it would be the work of Chicago-based artist and SAIC alum Deb Sokolow. Her convoluted, paranoid narratives continue to fascinate me. Looking at her work always makes me feel like I’m uncovering some great secret.

CartoonInk! will be up through October 15.



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October 2011
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