Wonder Woman, Batman, and Pop Art: Five Contemporary Artists Use Superheroes as Subjects

When David Bowie probed Roy Lichtenstein about the impetus behind his ironic insertion of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck into the dialogue of painting, Lichtenstein managed to sum up the Pop Art zeitgeist in a single statement: “[Donald and Mickey] were so far from serious abstract expressionism that they embodied everything. They were done mechanically, but they represent something everybody loves.”

Since the 1960s when Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and Andy Warhol pluckily folded imagery pulled from morning comics, ubiquitous advertisements, and hard-hitting news into the art canon, the direct influence of popular culture on art making has anything but quelled. “My Hero II,” on view at Elisa Contemporary this summer, hones in on one particular area of Pop Art’s legacy: the superhero as subject.

This spirited show gathers five contemporary artists approaching the comic book hero—and the Pop idiom from whence it came—from different angles: laudatory, nostalgic, and tongue-in-cheek. Mitch McGee’s vibrant paintings, executed on layered pieces of birch wood, pay homage to Lichtenstein’s seminal “War and Romance” series by focusing on the dramatic expressions and glamorized facial features of the legendary likes of Wonder Woman and Batman. Oliver Peterson intermingles found superhero imagery with newspaper clippings, encyclopedia entries, and drug prescriptions in tinted, distressed collages that act like time capsules invoking an age before Hellboy hit HD screens. Hawaii-based husband and wife duo Peter and Madeline Powell contribute delightful photorealist paintings that are the result of carefully staged photographs of objects that hearken back to childhood. Their works, in this case featuring superhero lunchboxes, are the result of a methodical process often including airbrush and drafting supplies to achieve a high level of precision. Don Morris comments on the space between popular entertainment, craft, and fine art by deconstructing comic books and reconstituting them as intricate woven abstractions. Delving into the timeless motif of the superhero, and its idealistic associations, these artists continue the traditions begun by their Pop forbears, and through exacting processes, remind us that everyone needs a hero.

—Alexxa Gotthardt

My Hero II” is on view at Elisa Contemporary, at The Design Studio, Bridgehampton, NY, Aug. 4th–Sept. 8th, 2014.

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