By Melissa Starker
The legal debate over graffiti or “aerosol art” may rage on, but its place as part of an influential movement was cemented 30 years ago, when galleries started embracing the work of Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat. This was about the same time that Fab 5 Freddy co-opted Warhol’s soup cans for the sides of a subway car and rappers started taking to recording studios.
The rise of hip-hop culture would similarly touch the worlds of dance, fashion, film and TV, as well as comic books, which had in turn influenced the earliest graffiti artists.
Rob Stull, a Boston-based curator and veteran Marvel Comics illustrator, explores this intrinsic connection through the “COMnGRAF” exhibition series, a meeting of tastes for art lovers, graffiti artists and comic fans. Now in its third edition, Stull’s series is making its first appearance in Columbus at the King Arts Complex.
The link is unmistakable in William “Nic One” Green’s photo of a spray-painted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and in line drawings by George “Grodz” Rodriguez that depict characters created by illustrator Vaughn Bode for the vintage humor magazine “National Lampoon.”
Artist and toy designer Sket One anthropomorphizes the output of an aerosol paint can in the “Dripple” series – it’s a friendly looking character with the satirical sass of underground comics. Dawud Anyabwile offers works that personify the show’s twin threads: portraits of the stereotype-fighting black superhero “Brotherman.”
From there, the show flirts with surrealism in the prints of Maxx Moses and with fashion illustration in the work of Toofly.
Stull also presents a handful of illustrations in the show, and he is one of several artists – along with Anyabwile, Dark Horse contributor Sanford Greene and Aspen Comics artist Micah Gunnell – to offer a sampling of published comic book work.
These include a “Sensational Spider-Man” cover with the superhero battling Gremlin-like “Technomancers,” as well as portraits of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The revolutionaries are surrounded by gorgeously stylized architecture similar to Superman’s fortress of solitude and bestowed with a similar air of iconic strength.