Bruce Wayne is nowhere to be found.
In Joshua Peters’s painterly and colorful renditions of superheroes — at the Corridor Gallery in Clinton Hill through Feb. 10 — Batman is flashing a fierce grin and sports “bling”-like golden gadgetry galore on his belt. Even the caped crusader’s winged logo has morphed from the standard decal to a massive bat-shaped gold necklace.
If you’ve ever leafed through a comic book and wondered why so few people of color were represented within its pages, now’s the time to don your cape and fly to see “Up, Up and Away,” an exhibit by three comic book-inspired artists that explores the zone between comics and fine art, with one eye on the color line.
Peters, Kyle Baker and Jonn Alex Gonzales are each, in their own medium, looking past the prescribed notion of heroics and acknowledging those who are heroes on their own terms.
In Peters’s rainbow version of comic book heroes, the Human Torch wears Adidas, while Captain America is portrayed as a powerful-looking Asian man before a barbed-wire-topped wall, as if rescuing a child imprisoned during World War II. Spider Woman is made over as a haggard and overworked single mother whose face, says Peters, has “a strength that has nothing to do with bounding from building to building.”
“I wanted to take the archetype and put it on its ear,” Peters admits. “Black and Asian heroes are usually tokenized.”
Peters’s close involvement with the weightlifting world was clearly a resource when seeking models for what he calls his “Heroes” series, which was spawned by a vision of Wonder Woman fashioned in the likeness of Peters’s bodybuilder girlfriend, Jodi Cornish.
“I always thought Wonder Woman was too skinny,” says Peters, also a weightlifter. “How could she lift a car with arms like that?”
When Corridor founder Danny Simmons saw Peters’s muscled super heroine, he suggested that the artist continue to explore the theme. Fifteen months later, Peters had completed enough comic-inspired works to nearly fill the larger of the gallery’s two exhibition spaces.
The brainchild of Simmons, the man behind Def Jam records and the Brooklyn New Music Fest, “Up, Up and Away” is an example of the philanthropist’s commitment to showing work by under-represented artists and serving the local community’s educational and cultural needs.
On Jan. 27, Simmons will join the three comic-inspired artists, along with local musician Brian Tate and comic book expert Ray Weisfeld, in a panel discussion about the artwork.
“Hopefully we can connect with the community at large, people whose interest lies on the comic world ... kind of gray the boundary between comics and so-called ‘fine art,’” says Peters.
Gonzales blurs that boundary in his own way, in a huge untitled work that visually dominates the space, despite its finely tuned, muted colors. Gonzales’s multilayered canvases play with the tension between flat cartoon panels and three-dimensionality, while his narrative confuses waking and nightmare.
“Maybe it was part of the dream to realize I was dreaming,” reads one text panel. The dreamer describes a fabulous paradise seen from the windows of a train, out of reach. Eerie faceless figures are trapped in a dream-world subway car, a scene inspired by Neil Gaiman comics like “Sandman,”
Gonzales draws the viewer into a guessing game about the nature of perception, but in true surrealist fashion, he withholds the answers to the questions he raises, and the paradise hinted at remains invisible.
A painting student at Hunter College, Gonzales’s decision to pursue pop culture imagery as a theme was a switch from earlier, abstract works.
“I got a lot of s—t for it [from fellow students],” Gonzales admits, “but the faculty were supportive.” Gonzales’s choice turned out to be a fateful one — he describes the studio visit by Simmons, who discovered him, with amazement.
“I didn’t really know what was going on,” says Gonzales, when Simmons appeared unannounced and promptly offered him a place in the Corridor show, Gonzales’s first commercial gallery exhibit.
Tiny in contrast with Gonzales’s piece, Kyle Baker’s pencil drawings might be overlooked, but these masterful illustrations pack a powerful punch. Baker made the drawings for an acclaimed comic book series portraying the life of slave rebel Nat Turner, though some of the drawings that appear in the show have yet to be published.
Baker proves a consummate storyteller in “Nat Turner,” a dark work differing from the renowned cartoonist’s typical tales of family hijinks or fairy princesses. Based on the confessions of a convicted killer, Turner’s story is told without words. The brutality and injustice of slavery, and the inhuman treatment experienced by kidnapped Africans, is made harrowingly real in these images.
Nat Turner’s story “is surprisingly controversial,” says Baker, who says he wanted to create a historically accurate retelling. Baker paints Turner — whose 1831 rebellion left 55 whites dead and led to reprisal killings of hundreds of blacks — as a grimly religious man, a boyhood visionary who believed he was doing God’s will.
“Everyone agrees that it was effective,” says Baker of the bloody uprising Turner precipitated, which led the Virginia Legislature to consider abolishing slavery.
Not all readers will have the stomach to endure an honest account Turner’s deeds, but the first two historical comics sold well enough that Baker quickly decided to self-publish the series in book form.
Each of the three artists in “Up, Up, and Away” have presented work that re-imagines comics, both in societal and artistic terms. Whether dressing their subjects in the garb of traditional saviors or telling old stories in an unexpected way, they have succeeded in giving their subjects, and themselves, great power.
Up, Up, and Away: Interpreted Comics and Graphic Novels is on view at Corridor Gallery (334 Grand Ave. between Greene and Gates avenues in Clinton Hill) through Feb. 10. Gallery hours: Saturday noon to 6 pm and by appointment. The panel discussion is on Jan. 27 at 4 pm, free, seating is limited. Parties over six should call ahead. For information call (718)-230-5002 or visit www.rushphilanthropi....
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