Local Artists Respond to FRONT Triennial With Rogue Exhibition of Cartoons, Comics and Graphic Novels

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click to enlarge Local Artists Respond to FRONT Triennial With Rogue Exhibition of Cartoons, Comics and Graphic Novels
Lochan, Laughing Rabbit, 2016

In the art world, the purpose of a biennial or triennial is to bring international focus on to contemporary artists from around the world. The most commonly known are the Whitney (New York City), the Venice (Venice, Italy), Miami (Miami, Florida) and Documenta (Kassel, Germany). When the announcement came that our fair city was going to host a triennial, a loud applause sprang forth from the Cleveland art community. Artists who had been working here their whole lives were excited at the prospect of being included in the spotlight. Alas, this was not the case and many creatives were left, once again, feeling marginalized by the cool kids club.

As is the Cleveland way, however, these artists are taking matters into their own hands and a growing number of rogue exhibitions are popping up that include, but are not limited to, powerhouse figurative artists Marty O’Connor, Stanka Kordic, John A. Sargent III and Judy Takacs, as well as strong armed textile artists Libby Chaney and Rebecca Cross. Slavic Village Development Corporation has even moved the date of their annual Rooms to Let, to coincide with the triennial, bringing focus on installation and conceptual art in homes that are set to be razed. And CAN debuts the CAN Triennial at 78th Street Studios this weekend (more on that later).

One exhibition that popped up in our feed is GRAPHIC - The Counter Culture of Cartoons, Comics & Graphic Novels in Northeast Ohio to be held at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, a show that will ostensibly dive deep into the underbelly of the city’s rich graphic novel and comic history.

“For over fifty years Gary (Dumm) and I have done our own thing,” states artist and co-curator of GRAPHIC, Laura Dumm, “so when we first heard about (the) FRONT International we got excited that, finally, Cleveland was going to show what wonderful artists we have here. We soon realized that was not actually the case. FRONT was bringing a bunch of outsiders here for a big art party. Once again the artists who work everyday in their studios are mainly being overlooked.”

And so, when the Dumms noticed all the independent art events were developing during FRONT, Laura posted a question to the Facebook Hive Mind, “Why doesn’t Cleveland show all the comic art that has been done in this city?” Her question was answered by the director of the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, Mindy Tousely. Laura was ecstatic, “Finally someone wants to embrace the fact that Cleveland isn’t just a contemporary art city, but the true rust belt, outsider, down-and-dirty, fabulous underground world we all know and love...the Cleveland that we really are.” Tousley concurs on the AAWR website, “We like the idea of juxtaposing our focusing on “low art” against the ‘high art’ from non-regional artists that FRONT is promoting, reinforcing our position as advocates for local artists and supporters of all forms of art regardless of their position in the hierarchy of the art world.”

Included with Gary Dumm and Laura Dumm in this impressive roster are Derf (Punk Rock & Trailer Parks, Trashed, and My Friend Dahmer), Angela Oster, Ashley Ribblett, Reed Crandall (Flash Gordon), John G (Sandwich Anarchy), Robert Crumb, Jake Kelly and Superman creators Siegel and Shuster. It seems like a helluva feat to gather all these artists under one roof, but as Laura affirms, “We got all the artists to participate by just asking. With the dead ones it was tougher, but we also have friends who collect original comic art and they were generous enough to loan us some rarely seen pieces of Siegel and Shuster art as well as others like Bela Zaboly, who drew the Popeye strip.” Panels from Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, illustrated by Gary Dumm and with a cameo by Robert Crumb will also be on display.

The accompanying program to GRAPHIC caught our attention, as well. The History of Street Art with Roger Gastman and Bob Peck is a two-part presentation on the regional to international graffiti and street art scene. Peck will bring to the forum his expertise on Cleveland graffiti from the 80’s to present while Gastman, who co-produced the Oscar-nominated Exit through the Gift Shop, will focus on the international context of the genre.

“There is a whole underground of artists who are seldom seen in galleries and that is what we want to share with Cleveland,” says Laura in conclusion, “This is a wonderful show to start with. It will be fun and interesting and inspire more people to look beyond the normal fine art and stretch their imaginations in respect to appreciating different kinds of art.”

GRAPHIC: The Counter Culture of Cartoons, Comics & Graphic Novels in Northeast Ohio opens July 19 and runs through September 8 at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, 1834 East 123rd Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44106. Gallery hours are Wednesday - Friday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Saturday 12 p.m. - 4 p.m. For more information, call 216.721.9020.
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