Galéria mladých – Nitrianska galéria, Župné námestie 3, Nitra


Comics and fine art? Many people could consider this combination at least suspicious...

Roman Bicek, Mário Furčák, Adrián Hnát, Andrej Kolenčík, Tomáš Makara, Martin Melicherčík, Boris Sirka, Viliam Slaminka, Erik Šille, Veronika Šramatyová, Petr Včelka

The place of the exhibition::

Galéria mladých, Nitrianska galéria, Župné nám. 3, 949 01 Nitra

The opening of the exhibition:29. 11. 2007

The duration of the exhibition: 30. 11. 2007 – 13. 01. 2008

The curator: Omar Mirza

Comics and fine art? Many people could consider this combination at least suspicious. Yes, comics are consumer goods that daily surround us in the form of advertisements, on the pages of newspapers and magazines, in books. But comics are related to fine art as well. Even more than one might guess at first sight.

When in the 1960s Roy Lichtenstein, a world-famous American pop art representative, took the images from cheap comic books and repainted them on large canvas, it was the first time when comics got from popular subculture into the spotlight of the so-called “high art”. The aesthetics of what was until then considered trash became a legitimate part of the art world, and thus also of the market, where Lichtenstein’s paintings are sold for thousands of dollars and collected by the most prestigious museums of modern art around the world. Comics and art, once labelled as “high”, merged together, started to influence, shape, confront, communicate, reflect, interpret, inspire but also crib off each other. Where are the borders of their mutual inspiration? Has a popular entertainment changed into popular art? A countless number of theoretical studies, treatises, scholarly contributions, essays, articles and theses have been written regarding these problems. Let’s have therefore rather a closer look at our exhibition.

The intention of the exhibition K.O.MIX is not to present comics as such. The exhibition rather shows in which ways young Slovak artists recast visual language, depictive elements, basic ideas and comics aesthetics into their own works. In young Slovak art, as well as anywhere else around the world, comics is one of the distinct sources of inspiration, mainly in the circles of the youngest generation. This phenomenon only scarcely occurs within the older generations. One of the possible reasons could be that comics (whether Donald Duck, Spider-Man or e.g. Slovak magazine Bublinky) has started to massively enter our market only after 1989.

The selection of the exhibited artists presents various approaches to comics. Representations of this theme are varied, ranging from obvious influences and implementation of comics characters and iconography, through the usage of its visual principles to a more subtle work with comics aesthetics.

Roman Bicek exhibits paintings of – in today’s ratio – untraditionally small sizes. He quotes in them comics and pop cultural aesthetics of the 1950s, he borrows their iconography and shifts it into new meanings and situations. We see here for example the green monster Hulk camping at a lake, an undressing model from old posters, so-called pin-up girl (pin-ups were very popular in the USA in the first half of the last century) or visual elements decorating allied fighter planes during World War II.

Mário Furčák in his series of photographs Brutalife War brings us into today’s reality. Staged scenes evoke press pictures of the war conflict in Iraq as daily presented to us by the omnipresent media. Thanks to them we are brought directly to the epicentre, we can watch live the killing and dying, but due to being overfed with these images, we have gradually created a big emotional distance from them. From the formal point of view, Mario uses principles of comics like sequencing or story fragmentation into individual images, intentional incompleteness of the story (which is left to the audience to figure out) or suppressed colouring in the shades of black, grey and white.

In the paintings of Adrián Hnát we can observe a mixture of reality, fiction, visions, thoughts and often bizarre fantasies (for example a pig with a walking stick and a hat). They are full of details (like Homer Simpson’s head), which refer to the world of animated cartoons and comics characters. Adrián uses a distinctive painting style, he combines various techniques, media and procedures. The depicted beings communicate here by a traditional comics form: balloons with text. In this case we read only other pictures instead of a text, which can leave us even more puzzled.

Andrej Kolenčík quotes in his graphics real comics, he borrows their characters and puts them into new contexts. He plays with the comics visual language of the first half of the 20th century, which was very important for this genre also due to its massively widespread production and the origination of many well-known superheroes. Andrej creates here with a bit of irony and humour his own heroes, although not mutated, but thoroughly recycled.

Tomáš Makara brings the third dimension into the traditionally two-dimensional medium. He has thus created so far in our country unseen, three-dimensional spatial comics. Another noticeable feature is the communication with the audience. More precisely, a slight assault on the audience, for they are attacked by a big hand sticking from the ceiling of the gallery throwing extremely dangerous comics balloons.

Martin Melicherčík works with simplification of the visual field, pictograms and graphic treatment of the image – principles also used in comics. His works are exceptional for the fact that they are enamels, which occur in contemporary Slovak art very rarely. Enamelled metal panels were in the past frequently used for advertising. Advertisements work with a simplified visuality as well, therefore we can say that Martin’s works employ a visual language that communicates in a mass cultural and very contemporary form.

The paintings of Boris Sirka are buried in a mysterious, grave atmosphere. From dark coloured shades of cold, tomb-like depths emerge gloomy and grotesque horror scenes. As if mystical characters jumped out of the pages of frightening comics stories. Formally he is using a simplified portrayal, visual flatness and homogenous colour fields.

Viliam Slaminka exhibits comics transferred to painting. They are separate paintings, composed like panels in comics into one scene – sequence. However, these scenes are taken out of context and thus act as pages torn out of a comic book. As in comics, also here we find a story, the phasing of a plot into individual shots composed of close-ups and wholes, and the presence of time and dynamic movement. A significant difference is in the medium, which is canvas instead of paper.

Erik Šille is known for drawing inspiration out of subcultural and popcultural influences like graffiti, street-art, comics and others. The mentioned motifs don’t stand out that much in his newest works presented at this exhibition. They recede to the background, they become fragments, the picture plane shifts into a more abstract level. Greater space is provided for a more distinctive painting expression. Despite this, Erik stays faithful to his typical characters evoking comics. Related to the visual tools of comics is moreover the employment of a text in the paintings that has no abstract or aesthetic, but rather primarily communicative function.

The only female representative at this exhibition is Veronika Šramatyová. In her fine watercolour paintings, she depicts stylish made-up beauties as if cut out of the pages of fashion magazines. They talk to us (or as the title suggests – ask us questions) by empty comics balloons. This fact might indicate emptiness and banality of similar depictions of femininity. The subtleness, tenderness and almost ephemeral look of Veronika’s paintings contrast with the majority of rough and masculine portrayals of comics superheroes – heroes that, despite their distinct virility and overly muscular bodies, wear tight elastic pantyhose.

Traditional comics approaches are brought into visually distinct graphic and painting expression by Petr Včelka. In his case we can talk about painting-like comics. These works stand in a certain opposition to the other exhibited artworks, in which the authors quote or borrow the aesthetics of comics. Petr on the contrary borrows the aesthetics of visual arts, and thus creates works that stand on the border between comics and painting. But is it actually possible to talk about any border at all? Doesn’t it all merge into one whole anyway?

The exhibition K.O.MIX is trying to mix and offer a colourful cocktail of different views and approaches to comics. Important is not just the interaction between the selected artworks and comics, but also between the works and you – the audience. It is up to you, whether you will search for solutions to various dilemmas and problems of art history, culture and popular culture or indulge in a typically comics-like atmosphere and relax and have fun in the company of the exhibited works.

In any case, I wish you not to lose your head or any limb…

Omar Mirza