Exhibition

Gruesome!

3 April – 23 May 1999

An exhibition curated by Warren Feeney in association with the Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Gruesome! explores the dynamics of high and low art through the impact of the comic book on the world of fine art. Artists include Dick Frizzell, Violet Faigan, Mark Braunias, Tom Kreisler, Paul Radford, Tony de Lautour, Nicola Jackson, James Robinson, Jimmy Cooper, Saskia Leek, Peter Robinson, Bill Hammond, Jason Greig and Gavin Chilcott.

Exploring the dynamics of high and low art through the impact of the comic book on the world of fine art. Gruesome! contends that the comic book has enriched high art through its capacity to belittle the pretensions of 'serious' art, providing welcome access to a popular audience. Furthermore, the contempt that comics have received from critics has worked in their favour, imbuing the genre with an aura of dissidence which has attracted the admiration and attention of a number of local artists.

An exhibition curated by Warren Feeney in association with the Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Gruesome! explores the dynamics of high and low art through the impact of the comic book on the world of fine art. The disdain and contempt with which critics and scholars of serious art have viewed the aesthetics of the comic from the 1950s until now is contrasted with the response of those artists who have utilized this popular format for a number of reasons in their own work. Although writers such as A.R.D. Fairburn and Wystan Curnow have repudiated comic aesthetics, the comic book has surfaced regularly as an influence upon post-war New Zealand art, establishing a tension between high and low styles that artists have often willingly embraced.

Gruesome! also recognises the respect and serious commentary that the comic book has increasingly received since the mid-1980s. American critics such as Scott McLeod have sought to establish a definition of comic book aesthetics. How are they different from other art forms like cinema and painting? Recognition of the particular aesthetics of the comic provides a new perspective and framework through which the work of a number of contemporary New Zealand artists can be examined.

The use of comic devices such as word balloons, closure and the frame, is explored within the work of a range of artists including Dick Frizzell, Violet Faigan, Mark Braunias, Tom Kreisler, Paul Radford, Tony de Lautour, Nicola Jackson, James Robinson, Jimmy Cooper, Saskia Leek and Peter Robinson.

Gruesome! contends that the comic book has enriched high art through its capacity to belittle the pretensions of 'serious' art, providing welcome access to a popular audience. Furthermore, the contempt that comics have received from critics has worked in their favour, imbuing the genre with an aura of dissidence which has attracted the admiration and attention of a number of local artists. It is this tension which has enlivened the work of Bill Hammond, Jason Greig and Gavin Chilcott, all of whom are represented in the exhibition.

In addition to these themes, Gruesome! also explores the aesthetic of sequential art from the perspective of the comic book fan. Comic artist and historian, Tim Bollinger, argues for the respect due to this popular genre and against the pretensions of 'real' art in an essay drawn, in comic form, for the exhibition catalogue. In an interview entitled 'Art is Easy: Comics are Hard' Auckland comic book artist Renee Jones speaks with artists Saskia Leek and Violet Faigan about the role comics have played in their art practice.

Warren Feeney

This exhibition was held at the Robert McDougall Contemporary Art Annex in the Arts Centre.

 

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