In a 'Lowbrow' display
The aesthetics of the comic book and computer animation have invaded the fine arts world.
Examples of that melding of disparate fields are on display during "The Lowbrow Show," scheduled to run through Jan. 31 at Ashland's Davis & Cline Gallery, located at 525 A. St.
The show includes work by recent Southern Oregon University graduates Steve Hammond and Dave Marshall, along with SOU professor Miles Inada and California College of Arts student Ryuichi Ogino.
For his Bachelor of Fine Arts project, Hammond worked for a year to create a 5-minute computer animated film titled ZEO. Four stills from the film are on display at the gallery, depicting the robot boy ZEO, who befriends a floating sphere and foils the designs of the evil giant eyeball Gary.
Hammond said the younger generation of artists is more willing to draw from popular culture when creating art.
"From my perspective, 'low brow' is a lot more familiar," he said. "We grew up reading comic books and watching cartoons. We draw from our backgrounds."
Now an adjunct faculty member in SOU's Art Department with dreams of someday working for the major computer animation studio Pixar, Hammond said classes are full of students eager to learn digital imaging.
Computer animation draws students who want to learn a new technology promising virtually unlimited creative possibilities. Many also see it as a fresh, more enjoyable medium than more traditional art forms.
"Animation was just fun," Hammond said. "All the other stuff was so laden with seriousness. Art history took the fun out of art."
That's not to say that computer animation is easy, or that traditional art skills aren't needed to create quality work.
"The computer if anything makes it harder. In the lab, we called the computers the idiot boxes. You have to make it do everything," said Hammond, who often spent 10 hours per day working on his film.
A strong sense of basic design, color theory and composition is a must, along with drawing skills needed to create the initial storyboards, he said.
In the film stills, much of the background is dark, with a strong, dramatic spotlight cast on ZEO. The iris of the evil eyeball is a rich, multi-hued brown, while the white of the eye is tinged with sickly yellows and greens.
Hammond even created a sculpture of the eyeball to help him understand its proportions with other objects in the film and how it would look moving through space.
For his part, Marshall relied on traditional drawing and painting skills to create his striking ink and paint works on canvas of naked, corpulent people.
The paintings recall the aesthetics of comic books, but also reveal a mastery in drawing the human form.
Marshall's blue ink lines capture the sag of human flesh, the delicate forms of feet and hands and the intricacies of the face.
Many of the figures are suspended under the arms by straps that dig into the flesh.
"I fell in love with thin lines holding up mass," he said. "I haven't figured out what is holding up these figures. People ask, 'What's holding these up?' They create a story for themselves."
In the painting Ring-A-Ring, he reveals his grasp of the human form - both inside and out - with an inset drawing of a human heart rendered with clinical precision.
Marshall took an anatomy class to better understand the body. While anatomy classes were once a standard part of artistic training, most art majors today graduate without ever having set foot in a lab.
Some viewers have been taken aback by Marshall's graphic depictions of obese bodies, that while beautifully drawn, border on the grotesque because of the extremity of the forms. In a triptych titled Penance, a bald woman is impaled through the chest by a shaft.
Such extreme figures may be more common in the world of comic books, but there is also a long fine arts tradition of depicting graphic, even tortured, images of the human body, including early German paintings of a green-hued Christ writhing on the cross and Spanish artist Francisco de Goya's scenes of war.
Marshall said younger artists seem more willing to break down the boundaries between "fine" and "low" art forms, combining elements of both to express their visions.
"It's a shame we have to have these separations," he said. "I love both sides of the world. I love concept and entertainment artists, and I also love the abstract and fine art artists of our time. I wanted to try and combine that. I think both are respectable. I like both worlds. Why can't we have comic book art in a gallery?"