Cult Fiction: Art and Comics New Art Gallery Wallsall May 4 to July 1
The idea of an exhibition devoted to art and comics both appeals and inspires trepidation--it must be a difficult curatorial feat to pull off, and should it miss the mark, it might do so by quite some margin. 'Cult Fiction', a Hayward Gallery Touring Exhibition originated by artist Kim L Pace and co-curated by the Hayward's Emma Mahony, began its five-venue tour of England and Wales in Walsall late this spring, and certainly rises to the challenge.
The exhibition set itself an ambitious though sensible remit; while it does not limit itself simply to contemporary artists who have made works relating to comics, neither does it attempt to offer a survey of the comics industry. Indeed, with 16 contemporary artists and 12 leading comics artists and graphic novelists, there is enough variety to hold the attention and stimulate constructive dialogues without the individual voices being lost. That there is not a superhero in sight gives another indication as to the agenda of the exhibition: it veers towards the offbeat and quirky, such as Carol Swain's Drawings for Food Boy, 2004, a disconcerting comic book set in a bleak Welsh landscape that seems to revolve around a spiky-haired, tough-looking lad and his rapport with a piece of steak.
Equally obscure, though considerably more charming, are Stephane Blanquet's Drawings for La Veneneuse aux Deux Eperons, 2001, a highly stylised silhouette comic book without text that follows the nightmarish life of a lonely crone. Its inclusion draws attention to the fact that the exhibition is oddly biased towards Britain and the US, and as the French and Japanese have among the world's most influential comics industries, it is both surprising and disappointing that they are not better represented. Japan's sole representative is Yoshitomo Nara, whose presence is only via a collaboration with David Shrigley, albeit one that is sure to raise a smile on the viewer's face.
Naturally, humour is a prominent theme and often it is black, epitomised here by Marcel Dzama's untitled watercolours from 2004. In one, lumpy cream-coloured characters with glum faces have their heads skewered by the branches of an anthropomorphic tree while a girlish air hostess-Stasi officer stands nearby with an assortment of grotesque puppets. A similarly perverse humour can be found in the work of Killoffer, whose drawings for the comic book 676 apparitions of Killoffer feature multiple versions of the semi-naked artist fighting himself with knives, a pile of his own bodies lying in a blood bath beneath him. It's a striking and beautifully rendered black ink drawing that effortlessly leaves its narrative context for the gallery wall.
The morbid wit continues in several sculptural pieces boldly included in the exhibition, such as Liz Craft's The Pony, 2004, a sizeable aluminium model of a My Little Pony unicorn that is having its copious tail hair plaited by a kneeling skeleton wearing a top hat and surrounded by the sands of time, a pair of dice and tragicomic masks. The piece is a welcome addition to the show, as is Jon Pylypchuk's So then we will burn you when you are dead, 2006, a tree made from rectilinear wooden off-cuts with a fake fur cartoon cat sprawled at its sandy base, seemingly under attack from the three small and evil-looking characters standing by him who presumably issued the threat.
War is another theme underpinning the exhibition, with Kerry James Marshall's Rythm Mastr, 2006, offering a high-octane drama which brings together futuristic adventure, exotic imagination and Blaxploitation fervour, featuring a dubiously styled but undeniably well-groomed guerrilla team with firepower and foul mouths. …