Captain Marvel, 2005 Oil on Linen 32 × 62 inches
Captain Marvel, 2005
Oil on Linen 32 × 62 inches

Captain Marvel, otherwise known as Shazam, is a superhero originally created in 1939 by the artist C.C. Beck and the writer Bill Parker, and this image was from his first appearance in Whiz Comics #2, published by Fawcett Comics in 1940. I first knew Shazam from the live action Saturday Morning serial from my ’70’s youth, and really enjoyed watching Billy Batson say the magic word "Shazam" that made him grow into a full blown immortal superhero man Captain Marvel—"in a never ending mission to right wrongs, to develop understanding, and to seek justice for all!" Part of the power of comics is the ability for a reader to identify and relate, to "suture into" the characters they are reading, just like alter egos in comics who put on a mask and become their better selves, or in Billy’s case, say a powerful word and become a man of power. Art is language, and language is power, and while painting, not that I believe in wish fulfillment completely, I like to sometimes create optimistic images to meditate upon so perhaps, as I’m solving the abstract puzzle pieces of form, light, color, and so on, perhaps simultaneously, if I’m thinking about my thoughts, I can also solve the problems of my day. For a cartoonist, or any artist, when you are drawing well, sometimes your "right brain turns on" and you lose a sense of your critical consciousness, your "left brain" and it is like a dream-like state where your unconscious can be given full reign. If dreams are in part about your mind solving problems of your day so you wake up with epiphanies, perhaps making art in this manner can do the same thing. Also, when you are drawing well, and your character is smiling, you might find you are smiling too, "masking" into the character as you draw, and alchemizing them, making them "come alive" as they are your two-dimensional puppet that you are animating by suturing in.

I love Roy Lichtenstein and Warhol, and other masters of Pop Art that made Duchampian maneuvers with their appropriations, especially when they appropriated comics and brought them into the realm of fine art. But with these masters, it was more about a critical, very conscious take on the forms they were looking at, and in some cases, aesthetically "improving"—when you see panels by the original comic artist that Lichtenstein was appropriating, you can see that its not a strict translation—he would change contour lines, Ben-day dots, sometimes the colors and backgrounds. But these geniuses weren’t "suturing in"—it wasn’t about for them "becoming the characters" as much as it was about using these images as tropes to critically talk about "high" vs. "low" culture, for the symbolism and metaphors—and yes, the narrative syntax that could still have metaphoric and allegorical reliability to fine art viewers. And in Warhol’s case, perhaps he really did want to become a Superman, an Elvis, a Jackie—but it wasn’t about him "masking into" the character with warmth and emotion, living through their avatar to make them come alive.

I’m friends, I’m proud to say, and have shown with the contemporary master Peter Saul, and love of course Philip Guston, who both (Peter I believe emerged slightly before Guston!), along with the Hairy Who and more used cartoon iconography in a more traditional manner—speaking through the iconic avatar and narrative scene they are rendering with not just allegorical intent, but actually "warming" the characters by perhaps "becoming them" for the moments they are painting and drawing, in a similar way as traditional cartoonists, but using their intelligence and great abilities to paint to create transcendent, moving images that are relatable via their aesthetic, resonate as to their allegorical outcome, and feel "alive" due to their great ability to manipulate paint and their meditations while painting.

With my "cartoon paintings" I’m striving to do both a "Modernist" and "Post Modernist" strategy—to make culturally relatable imagery self consciously, but also to be able to have a transformative experience in the act of painting while also working unselfconsciously—being in the "moment," being mindful, and allowing my instincts to riff upon the subject matter and what it conjures within me to make work that hopefully has a life of its own.

With C.C. Beck, he had a beautiful, deceptively simple manner of drawing that I find gorgeous, but also terrific in its ability to allow one to "suture in" as it is incredibly iconic. This, married to how it was printed on this original newsprint sheet (I found a page of this in the Picture Collection at the New York Public Library) that had become patinaed in time, and the colors were already slightly off-register. It’s intriguing to me to totally observe the paper and the printing when I’m painting, as it can be a key to making the work ultimately more optical and three dimensional, in a manner the traditional Pop artists might not—they were concerned about surface, and sometimes, sure, had texture and abstraction incorporated into a "push pull" image, but it wasn’t about optically puncturing into the picture plane. With my comic works, I want the letters to appear three dimensional, in a manner of the old 70’s animated logos of shows such as Shazam, but also use the off-register colors as key elements to make even the contour lines three dimensional, cutting through space. Picasso loved cartoons, and of course, much of his work took the same cartoon tactics as he lived through his avatars while painting. If I could take the same strategy when I’m working with appropriated imagery, bending it optically through the plastic vehicle of oil paint, perhaps my subconscious can emerge within the frame of the design of the original image. Like Picasso, who has silhouette of himself consciously and unconsciously appearing in imagery, I think the Billy’s hair here seems to form a slight silhouetted profile, of perhaps C.C. Beck but also maybe myself. The locks of hair appear almost like fingers, and as I was painting the optical black by many times over going into it with purple, red, and blue tones, I start to see dream like imagery in the optical space of that world, and the liminal like space of the cloud like form of his word balloon in whites and purples above. Hopefully the image itself could act as a talisman to project thoughts onto, breaking form into abstraction. While young Billy here might not be a Mount St. Victoire, he acts similarly as a character that I can relate to, become, remind me of my own youth and aspirations as my unconscious mind melds with my conscious mind in my own transformative act yearning for transcendence.