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Influence of comic books examined in new art exhibit in Nanaimo

‘Gutters are Elastic’ opens July 14 at Nanaimo Art Gallery
Sonny Assu, one of nine artists featured in the upcoming Nanaimo Art Gallery exhibit ‘Gutters are Elastic,’ intersects Spider-Man comic book pages with Kwakwakaʼwakw concepts of destroying wealth. (Mandy Moraes/News Bulletin)

An upcoming art exhibit will have viewers reflect on the unknown spaces between the known.

According to Nanaimo Art Gallery curator Jesse Birch, the multi-artist exhibit ‘Gutters are Elastic’ will not only examine the different relationships between domestic and gallery artworks, but will also look at how comics and graphic novels can be “amorphous and empowering things that don’t sit still.”

“Scott McCloud, an American cartoonist and comic theorist, talks about what defines comics is that they’re sequential art,” he said. “They tell stories by being in parts, and the gutter – the space between the comic panels – is where you, the reader, can insert your imagination.”

He continued to say that it’s up to artists to give the reader as much or as little space to fill in the unknown gutters.

“We’re trying to … give our viewers as much space as possible to bring their own perspectives into relation with these artworks. But these artworks also come from diverse points of view … bringing a lot of powerful ideas into their work that people can reflect on,” he said.

Sonny Assu, one of the nine exhibiting artists, said comic books were a part of his early childhood that helped him discover his love for art.

“I spent my summers growing up on commercial fishing boats, and I was always just grabbing comics when I could when coming into port,” he said.

Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, Assu said his work is inspired by the pop art-like style of those decades as a method of revisiting aspects of nostalgia without getting “thrown into that nostalgic trap.”

For ‘Gutters are Elastic,’ he said he intended for his work to reference comics in a more figurative than literal way.

“But it became literal on its own because I actually used comic books themselves,” he said.

His pieces speak to the ‘speculator boom’ of the mid-’80s and ’90s when the market became flooded with special appearances and multiple copies of the same issue to create a “faux collectibility,” and when consumers were told those issues would hold value and “be worth something in the future.”

“Which became fundamentally untrue,” Assu said. “So I wanted to pair them up with this concept of ‘the destruction of wealth’ – which is something that is known of within the Kwakwaka’wakw society – where we will destroy aspects of our culture and aspects of our wealth to prove how wealthy we actually are … I wanted to take that idea by destroying the comic books and creating something new.”

‘Gutters are Elastic,’ which opens on Friday, July 14, and runs until Sept. 24, will also showcase the work of Shary Boyle, Whess Harman, bailey macabre, Cole Pauls, Jillian Tamaki, Momoko Usami and Joshua W. Cotter, and Ronald Wimberly. The exhibit will include a comic-making station, reading zone, and newsstand for local DIY comics and artists’ editions.

On opening night, a reception will be held at the gallery at 7 p.m., followed by an after-party at 8 p.m. with DJ Nova Jade and indie-rock band Hush Pup.

A free and interactive draw-along event will also be held on Saturday, July 15, at Diana Krall Plaza from 2-4 p.m.

READ MORE: ‘Indigenizing Canada House feels pretty good!’ North Island-based artist’s work featured in London, England

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Mandy Moraes

About the Author: Mandy Moraes

I joined Black Press Media in 2020 as a multimedia reporter for the Parksville Qualicum Beach News, and transferred to the News Bulletin in 2022
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