Comic Evolution: Exhibition Illustrates Cartooning’s Legacy

At the play; humours no.1 by Tony Sarg ©TfL from the London Transport Museum

Cartoons originated as simple line drawings and panels presented in newspapers and magazines. Today, many of the world’s most famous cartoonists have found success as animators, book illustrators, puppeteers, and product designers by creating more dynamic and elaborate forms of illustration. What is it about cartooning that makes this kind of evolution possible?

The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center (SJDC) at Parsons explores this phenomenon with Cartoon Polymaths, an exhibition of multimedia work by high-profile artists whose work is rooted in a cartoon sensibility. Cartoon Polymaths will be on view at the SJDC’s Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery from February 4’April 15, 2011. An opening reception in the gallery will be held on Thursday, February 3, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Presenting a mix of newspaper tearsheets, vintage comic books, puppets, posters, zines, wallpaper, toys, animated film clips, interactive media and more, Cartoon Polymaths showcases the broad ranges of several influential artists, including pioneering comic strip artist and animator Winsor McCay; illustrator and puppeteer Tony Sarg; iconic New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg; Spanish design legend Mariscal; musician, cartoonist, and designer Richard McGuire; and the 21st century art collective Paper Rad. Specially commissioned for the show is an original two-page, full-color comic by cartoonist Kevin Huizenga. Huizenga is the author of several comic-based works, including the short story collection Curses, the graphic novella The Wild Kingdom, and three comic book series, Supermonster, Or Else, and Ganges.

The diverse bodies of work from these accomplished artists suggest not only an abstracted approach to style, but an abstracted approach to form that allows them to translate their individual stylistic sensibilities across multiple media,, said Bill Kartalopoulos, the exhibition’s curator and Illustration program faculty member at Parsons. With a roster of artists who span the last century, Cartoon Polymaths demonstrates the polymorphous adaptability of intelligent cartooning. And adaptability will be crucial to artists coming of age in this century.,

In conjunction with the exhibition is a series of public programs, including cartoonist Robert Sikoryak’s Carousel, a multimedia cartoon performance; a conversation with Richard McGuire; and film screenings.

In demonstrating how the inimitable eye or hand of the cartoonist is able to migrate across multiple media and formats, the exhibition opens a window onto the unique visual-narrative worlds of these artists,, said Radhika Subramaniam, director and chief curator of the SJDC. The range of their work makes visible their inventive mobility across art and design disciplines.,

For more information on Cartoon Polymaths, visit the SJDC website.