Some oieces are selling for more than £7,000.
I will allow you to make your own minds up.
Last week I was followed on Twitter by the Imitate Modern Gallery who are situated at 27a Devonshire Street, London. I had a look at their site and saw that they are in the middle of a showing by artist Rich Simmons called 'Kryptonite'. I contacted them and paid a visit this week as they were getting ready for a party. They are a smallish space packed full of buzz and activity as I walked through the door. Walls of Marvel and DC Superhero inspired paintings surrounded me. Big and colourful seemed the catch words of the day. Many of the images I recognised as straight from the comics page.
Being the hard nosed comic fan I was all ready to plough straight into artist Rich Simmons for his casual acquisition of art by Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, Brian Bolland and the like. He appeared from the basement of the Imitate Modern pop art gallery with rings around his eyes and a tired look. His weary look soon changed to a welcome exuberance.
So I started softly. I asked him the obvious 'Why comics?' I have to admit to being a bit off guard when he described his love for our medium. Admittedly when asked for influences he went for the obvious - Alan Moore. But he broke this down in an interesting way. He explained that his favourite character is Doctor Manhattan. It's this character that heavily influences his style. Colour me intrigued I thought? Rich went on to explain with gusto that it's Manhattan who has the ability to break down things and recreate them as something new. This is what Rich proclaims to do. He takes elements of many pieces of art and modern culture and builds them up to pass on a message.
'I'm glad that I can do a show and pay respect to the comics that I read growing up.'
Quoting Batman and Iron Man as other favourites this artist went on to describe how he grew up reading Marvel comics and learned to draw by copying their style. He is inspired by the old silver age marvel comics and quoted Jack Kirby as a huge influence.
Rich stressed that as an atheist he can see the draw in the heroes from a quasi religious standpoint. He referenced a piece of his that is part Superman and part Jesus Christ. Heroes of the silver age were gods he told me, they passed tales of morality. Superman himself had a father 'in the clouds' and that was the starting point for that particular piece. He strikes an interesting point. Throwing ideas freely about in our conversation.
'This is a social commentary show'.
One of the points of the exhibition he told me was to hook the viewer in with iconic superhero images and to give then a twist. A perfect example of this is the image of Superman and Batman kissing reflected in the sunglasses of a woman looking on and crying. I jumped to the opinion that this woman was Lois Lane. Rich was quick to suggest that it may not be and that he leaves this to the viewer. Some people had suggested it may be Wonder Woman and some that it was just a female fan. He uses the cliche of the Pop Art Movement to smack some sense into the observer. Hooking the eye with bright iconic images before pushing morality on them.
'Gay men can still be superheroes.'
Rich was keen to show that his art has a moral meaning. Be it sexual freedom, feminism (one image has Wonder Woman ironically on the cover of Playboy) and materialism (we see a dramatically posed Captain America covered in YSL logos). The images are certainly striking. Many of them push an idea on the reader that does represent societal issues and this is something we discussed. In many ways comics have always been the frontline of diversity. One only has to look at The X-Men and their alienation, Peter Parker's teenage angst, the Black Panther and so on.
Does this exhibition work? I am going to say that it does as social commentary. It's in your face. It's bold and big. Of all the pieces it's the Wonder Woman that carries the most power for me. As a comic exhibition it lacks richness. The artist has gone for iconic rather than storytelling and as an old comic reader I spotted his 'influences' immediately in almost every canvas.
There's the rub.
The art in places is not original. Rich admits this freely and claims homage but I can't help but be reminded of Jack Kirby's family and their fight for his original art to be returned. Or artists who couldn't afford healthcare in later less productive years. The fact that Rich has shown an homage to the mighty Neal Adams is a worry. (He might be better off if Mr Adams never heard about this!) It's not only the Silver Age of Comics that Rich homages. I spotted a John Romita Jnr Spider-Man (albeit rendered into 3D) and a Dan Jurgens drawn Superman. All of the canvases cost my monthly wage each - incidentally.
Rich wasn't backwards in coming forwards in discussing this and told me that he hadn't had any real hardcore comics fans attend yet but hoped that they would visit. He's started work on a comic himself and enthusiastically discussed it with me. I found myself warming to this chap. He's exhibiting in the Bowery in Manhattan through to August and was visibly excited when I mentioned that Kirby grew up nearby and that the New York Comic Convention is taking place just after his showing.
I am still pretty conflicted by this sort of art. It does seem to be the built in the fallacy of the Pop Art Movement that snarkily normalises the free range acquisition of what it considers to be lower brow art. Since Lichtenstein cheated his way up the expensive art world ladder this sort of art has become every day. Eventually being mimicked and sold in every card shop and cheap seaside gallery. Being commonplace doesn't make it right. During my visit to the gallery I pointed at each canvas and loudly explained who the original artist was. Rich tells me he has problems remembering names.
Rich is however message driven. He has the vigour of youth. He leaves me with the message that it was his love of the medium that has been on his mind for many years and that combining it with his own personal art is a technique to get his principles across. Let's face it, who is gonna argue with Batman? If he wants to kiss Superman who is going to stop him?
I leave the gallery voicing the hope that maybe this show will get some people into comics? But I am worried by the nature of the works 'homage' coupled with a high art world prices.
His enthusiasm was contagious however and I was pleased to hear that he helps with a charity www.artisthecure.com (so give it a visit).
You can find Rich Simmons on Twitter @richsimmonsart or at his website www.richsimmonsart.com
The gallery is www.imitatemodern.com and also on Twitter @ImitateModern
After checking it out go buy a comic. We could do with the numbers. I have been shy of posting the art within the review. For a healthy balanced view why not visit their website and then try a local comic shop.
Thanks for reading.
You can find me on Twitter @Ezohyez or in the Comics Section here. I am also heard ranting about the Bronze Age of Comics in local ditches and bus shelters (or at www.neverironanything.blogspot.com)