Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Comic Art Indigène


Where: Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Laboratory of Anthropology
When: Like, now man. Well, almost. May 11th 2008- January 4th, 2009
Why: See the below Artist's Statement

Vanishing Race, 101

Comic book characters have traditionally been about a yearning for heroes to come to the rescue that never did in real life. Superman and Batman are good examples. Superman was born in the waning days of the Great Depression and some of his stories involved “stuff” like him being the ultimate social activist, fighting corrupt politicians and businessmen for the most part. Only later did he start fighting the arch-criminal types. Doesn’t this say something interesting about American culture?

If one were to sift even further, you could make the argument that comic book heroes are really an extension of the yearning for mythical characters to come to life. After messing around with art that is almost pure mythology for ten years, I’ve become something of an expert on trying to decipher what myths are all about too. Instead of doing the more traditional scholarly essays, my interpretations have been as an artist.

Our own indigenous Northwest Coast culture has a powerful mythological tradition too, rife with characters that are not only pugnacious, but are also filled with irony and humor. Our mythical character is Raven, whose main trait is to be simultaneously scrappy and funny. Instead of fighting corrupt politicians like Superman did, he brazenly took on a mendacious, greedy Chief who has lost his way from being the type of forthright and visionary leader that the people desperately needed. The corrupt Chief was the ultimate villain in that he was so greedy that he actually stole light from the world. Isn’t that a wonderful metaphor for a bad guy? Our hero, who was kind of a scoundrel himself, came to the rescue and stole the sun, replacing it back in the sky where it belonged. Raven was white before this, and his act turned him black as he is today, so he paid a price for his audacity, another almost sublime part of the mythology. Raven was a transformer, changing shape at will. Superman was a transformer too, changing his identity from a mundane everyday guy into someone that was, uh, well… super (as in wonderful, fantastic, marvelous and brilliant).

I’ve had a Tonto comic for years. Sometimes people (and especially artists) just have things lying around that seem to serve no real purpose except that is has some kind of resonance that makes sense. My theory is that we have an intuitive part of ourselves that knows things, and that artists sometimes “tune in” to what this is about. That’s what happened with my Tonto work. I’ll freely admit that the intellectual part of me had no idea what I was doing with Tonto, only that it happened without much conscious thought. In my own art, I transformed Tonto from something of a dimwitted sidekick to the proverbial main hero character. He transforms right before our eyes and starts kicking butt in the postcolonial world, setting disgusting and repugnant people like Edward Curtis straight, with one mighty punch. In this sense, the comic book aesthetic is perfect for what I want to do with my art, especially as Raven acts as a literal foundation for the art.

3 comments:

"Fiesty" FistoTclown said...

The blog your maintaining here is amazing as is your work. I just discovered your art yesterday via a copy of "Native Peoples" magazine where I saw the Nov/Dec 1996 issue in a local Dr.s office. I so love the repeated crow images and themes. From an outsiders perspective, the Crow seems appropriate for much of the commentary as he is considered a bit of a trickster from my understanding.

I recently (2 years now) moved from Chicago with my six year old daughter to make a go of single
parenting in Wisconsin northwest of Green Bay. As you know, there is a large native population here. There are many crows flying about here and my daughter and I have fed many and spent time walking and talking to them. We have considered them our friends.

I will not insult you by claiming that we have assimilated them into some co-opted native wannabe religious experience but I will say that many crow related incidents have happened that make me wonder about certain aspects of reality, if you will.

While walking last spring a hawk took an interest in closely circling my daughter and preparing for a dive at us, it was at once frightening and awe inspiring. Three crows came and in a very aggressive manner attacked the hawk and diverted him miles away as we watched. The single most aggressive crow of the three after attacking the hawk flew across the street and landed on a large sculpture of a cross that is part of a church close by and as he was perched he let out such a cacophony of cawing as he seemed to look down upon us. It was a pretty powerful moment for both of us.

Sorry for the rather long winded tale but I thought I would share a moment of our lives with you to explain our bond with the crow.

As I mentioned, I do love your crow imagery and the Tonto piece is so funny. Your sense of humour is sharp and appealing to me personally, perhaps we are somewhat kindred in that sense.

I won't take much more of your time but I wanted to let you know that I have connected with you art and photography and I look forward to seeing and reading more.

Shane

Larry McNeil said...

Hello Shane,

Thanks for your comments. I never laid any claim to black birds, and am just trying to figure this all out like everyone else.

That's cool to hear stories of how people interact with ravens. All I've learned is that there is an intelligence there that we haven't really learned how to properly quantify yet. Biologists will echo this same sentiment.

thanks,
Larry

Anonymous said...

Larry,
Just saw Comic Art Indigene at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture in Santa Fe which featured Tonto and Edward Curtis...BRAVO!!!
Could not help but to laugh right out loud...not only at the brilliant juxtaposition of sterotypes, but the rightness, audacity and energy of it was just plain too damn much!
Many Thanks,
Ernie