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Monsters, Meaning and Marriage: Laura and Gary Dumm Tackle Environmental Issues Through Art 

Lifelong residents of Cleveland, artists Laura and Gary Dumm have been married for more than 40 years. Gary, an illustrator, and Laura, a painter, also have been collaborating for many years. Their latest joint effort, a collection of new paintings, opens with a reception this Friday, Oct. 7, from 7 to 9 p.m. in BAYarts' Diane Boldman Education Gallery.

The exhibition, Here There Be Monsters, takes its title from ancient maps. During the Middle Ages, cartographers imprinted words of warning on unexplored areas of the map, like "Here there be monsters; dragons be here." The title also refers to the exhibition's juxtaposition of classic Hollywood monster movie characters with current environmental issues.

"Iconic movie monsters, who were often the by-products of corporate greed and human egotism manipulating nature to spawn our own annihilation, are used to present the consequences of pollution, climate change, genetic engineering, for-profit destruction of animal habitats and extinctions," the artists explain in a catalog for the event. "We are mutating into the monsters devouring our world."

The Dumms designed the show to be engaging for viewers of all ages. "Young children can relate to them not just because of the monsters, but because they know about the environment and they care about these issues," Laura says. "Adults are drawn to them because they remember the monsters from their childhood and are concerned about what kind of future their children will have on Mother Earth."

Together, Gary and Laura create work that captures the best of each one's individual talents, combining elements of Pop Art and Surrealism.

Both Gary and Laura have had active careers in commercial art —Gary illustrating comics and Laura working as a graphic designer. Although both have been active in the local art community, these gallery exhibitions are relatively new for the couple.

Gary has been drawing (mainly comics) for about half a century. His mother introduced him to comics to help him learn to read, and he still loves the juxtaposition of words and pictures. In 1976, Gary met legendary local comics writer Harvey Pekar, and the two collaborated for 30 years on projects like American Splendor. Dumm also created promotional material for the 2003 film of the same name.

Laura became a freelance graphic artist/illustrator in 1986, after working for various publications. She also works as a colorist on Gary's cartoon and comics projects. In 2009, Laura retired to paint full time and has had both shows with Gary and solo shows including 2013's Bubbapalooza at Breakneck Gallery in Lakewood.

Here There Be Monsters is a followup to their first exhibition of collaborative paintings, The Fame Shame Blame Game, which debuted in 2014 at Breakneck Gallery and later travelled to BAYarts. Similar in theme to Here There Be Monsters, the Fame Shame Blame Game explored socio-political subjects like the American Dream, greed, prescription drug use, corporate outsourcing and other topical subjects.

"It was wild seeing the people at the opening and closings talking about the paintings and actually discussing things other than the wine and cheese that we served," Laura says.

Their work continued outside the formal gallery setting with their first public art project. In 2013, the Dumms collaborated on a 60-foot "Love Letter to Cleveland" mural on the side of the Orange Blossom Press building in Ohio City, just steps from the West Side Market. Drawn by Gary and colored by Laura, the mural features virtually every Cleveland icon from the past several decades.

Clevelanders depicted in the Dumms' mural include Ghoulardi, Margaret Hamilton, Dick Goddard, Michael Symon, Jesse Owens, Harvey Pekar, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, John D. Rockefeller, Arsenio Hall and many more.

The mural also includes many local landmarks, including the West Side Market, Claes Oldenburg's "Free Stamp," the Guardians of Traffic statues, Playhouse Square and more.

Their collaborative creative process begins with discussion of each painting's content and meaning. Gary researches the topics and sketches each composition, then transfers the drawing onto the canvas. From here, Laura takes over, fleshing out Gary's line drawings with carefully rendered forms and color. By the time Laura finishes each painting, Gary has another canvas ready for her.

"It really works out wonderfully because we both have strong but very different talents to bring to the canvas table," Laura explains.

Here There Be Monsters remains on view at BAYarts through Oct. 25.

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