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JUST PLAIN DUMM 

At Arts Collinwood, Laura and Gary ask: What is fine art?

Laura and Gary Dumm's Another Dumm Art Show? is a cartoonist's take on that age-old futile question: What Is Art? But in their version — vividly incarnated in Gary's brightly colored acrylic-on-canvas "Popeye vs. Van Gogh"— the question becomes: What Is Fine Art?

The Dumms — he working with line, she with color — are a comic-art duo best known for their work with American Splendor creator Harvey Pekar. But, as this exhibit shows, that's just a small part of their output.

Laura, whose color sense livens much of Gary's comic-book work, also explores color in her own recent paintings. Several pieces from 1985 — a stylized self-portrait, a painting of Andy Warhol that reflects his use of repeated images of famous people portraiture and a portrait of Alfred Hitchcock that incorporate stills from his films — seem to be here to show her artistic evolution. But most of her works are wildly colorful and geometrically detailed cat portraits. The repeated patterns within each painting resemble quilts in the way they build patterns out of patterns. For example, in one painting, a cat's jowls are rendered in peace signs and squiggly lines, his forehead in herringbone and his ears with a matrix of pink hearts — all set against a paisley backdrop. Her juxtaposition of color and pattern doesn't strive for illusion the way op art does, but it has a similar eye-popping quality.

Most of Gary's works here are from his comic-book art, beginning with the original line art and a movie-prop print of the first American Splendor comic. There's also a 2007 Life of the Dead comic that delights in ample zombie gore. But the most engaging of Gary's works are his graphic biographies. There are several life stories of musicians that ran in Music Makers Rag, including 2008's "Bishop Dready Manning," and "Drink Small the Blues Doctor" from 2007, for which he did both story and pictures. They're engaging, informative and oozing with respect for their subjects.

Gary and Laura's pictures could hardly be more visually different from each other: His have depth of perspective, and the organic quality of his lines helps to create the personalities of his characters and the mood of his scenes. Hers, on the other hand, are about as abstract as representational work can be. The cats are two-dimensional, and the pictures themselves are all about color and pattern. Nonetheless, each is accompanied by a photo of an actual cat with biographical information.

Those accompanying photos and cat bios point to what the Dumms' respective works have in common: They are about something larger than the image itself. In Gary's case, it's musicians and politics (a cartoon marks the death of the U.S. middle class with a gigantic memorial sculpture in China). In Laura's case, it's her concern for the well-being of cats. Each of those cat photos is of a stray she rescued and gave a home.

As for that nagging question about whether any of this is "fine" art, our advice is not to worry about it. Just enjoy the pictures.

mgill@clevescene.com

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