Art Matters: Jenny Robb of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

VISUAL ART PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jenny Robb

Funny stuff: Jenny Robb, director of OSU's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Screengrab by Dave Kellett.

As curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (BICLM) at Ohio State University, Jenny Robb may have one of the coolest jobs in the country. With its current holdings of original cartoons, books, manuscripts, and comic strips in the millions, the BICLM is the largest cartoon art library in the world. Started in 1977, the library is primarily a research collection for American cartoon art, but with the addition of three exhibition galleries in 2013, the BICLM is now a destination for comic fans as well. 

After graduating with a master’s degree in museum studies from Syracuse, Robb eventually landed at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco in 2000. In 2005, she arrived in Columbus where she spent six years under the tutelage of the BICLM’s founding curator, Lucy Caswell, before assuming the role after Caswell’s retirement in 2011. Robb is an expert on political and historical cartoons, and a firm believer in using cartoons to teach history which can be seen in The Opper Project, a collaborative effort between the BICLM and the History Teaching Institute at OSU to provide lesson plans, cartoons, and other materials online for teachers.

Robb will be the keynote speaker on Friday, June 15 at A2 Inkubate, the pre-conference of the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF), where she will discuss the issues faced by institutions and artists in collecting and preserving their art both on paper and digitally. On Saturday, June 16, she’ll be hosting “Stories From the Museum” at A2CAF where attendees can hear stories about the BICLM and get an up-close look at items from the collection.

Robb was kind enough to answer some questions via e-mail for Pulp ahead of the festival. 

Good Tickle Brain's Mya Gosling interprets Shakespeare one stick figure at a time

Mya Gosling's stick-figure Shakespeare

What if Cliff's Notes had Cliff's Notes?

Mya Gosling's Good Tickle Brain is a web-based comics series that reduce Shakespeare's works to three panels. Named after a Falstaff line from Act 2, Scene 4 of Henry IV Part 1 -- "Peace, good pint-pot. Peace, good tickle-brain" -- Gosling's stick-figure interpretations of ol' Will's works have garnered acclaim across the web for their wit, particularly her "Which Shakespeare Play Should I See?" flowchart, which has allowed her to transition from being a library cataloger to a full-time comic artist.

Gosling has expanded her focus to include Keep Calm and Muslim On, written by her friend Andrea Annaba, and Sketchy Beta, the world's only rock-climbing comic strip, as well as three-panel interpretations of many other plays and movies. But the website's namesake Shakespeare strip is when I first discovered Gosling's work during last year's Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF). My kids fell in love with her The Complete Works of Shakespeare in Three Panels book, which inspired them to go on and dive deep into the Bard's full catalog of plays as well as the film and graphic novel versions.

Gosling will be at this year's A2CAF festival June 16 & 17 at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, and I emailed with her about all things three-panel Shakespeare.

Art & Artifacts: "Unrecorded: Reimagining Artist Identities in Africa" at UMMA

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Yinka Shonibare's dollhouse & Osei Bonsu's parlor piece

Left: Yinka Shonibare MBE, Untitled (Dollhouse), 2002, wood, fabric, paper, plastic, metal, resin, offset lithograph. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of Peter Norton Family Foundation, 2002/1.236 © Yinka Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, Peter Norton Family Foundation, 2018. Photography: Charlie Edwards.

Right: Osei Bonsu, Parlor piece, ca. 1950, wood. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of Margaret H. and Albert J. Coudron, 2001/2.33. Photography: Charlie Edwards.

The red walls grabbed my attention as soon as I entered the exhibition and the large text on one begins: “For most historical African objects in museum collections, the artist’s name is unrecorded.”

The artists’ names were rarely recorded, because, as the curators of UMMA's Unrecorded: Reimagining Artist Identities in Africa point out, the objects were considered "artifacts" rather than "artworks."

Organized by Allison Martino, the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow from 2016-2017 and Laura De Becker, Helmut and Candis Stern Associate Curator of African Art, the exhibition asks the viewer to question why these omissions are a common occurrence in museums. The 19th-century practice of “collecting significant objects to bring home” informed the Euro-American imagination through “the kinds of objects they acquired, as well as the information they chose to record.” 

A Heavenly Gaze: Allie McGhee's "Cosmic Images 2000" at Rotunda Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Allie McGhee's Cloud Nine

Cloud Nine, 2009.

Paintings and public sculptures by prominent contemporary artist Allie McGhee abound throughout Detroit. His elegantly gestural Night Rhythms (1991) can be seen at the Detroit Institute of Art. The Michigan-Cass Avenue stop on the People Mover features his work, and right now, a small but exquisite sliver of his decades-long body of work, Cosmic Images 2000, is on view at the Rotunda Gallery in Building 18 of University of Michigan's North Campus Research Center in Ann Arbor through August 31.

McGhee was born in Charleston, W.V., but soon moved to Detroit, where he attended Cass Technical High school. He completed his undergraduate work at Eastern Michigan University in 1965. His early paintings and sculptures were figurative and even as he has moved toward abstraction, his work has retained the gestural sweep of his unseen arm.

John Gutoskey’s “PULSE Nightclub: 49 Elegies" series honors those murdered in Orlando

VISUAL ART PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Selections from John Gutoskey's 49 Elegies series

Selections from John Gutoskey's PULSE Nightclub: 49 Elegies series. View them all here.

On June 12, 2016, 49 people died and 53 others wounded when a gunman opened fire at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was then the largest mass shooting by a single person in American history. 

John Gutoskey’s PULSE Nightclub: 49 Elegies is a series of monoprints that honor the lives lost at Pulse. The exhibit opens Ypsilanti's 22 North gallery on June 1, the first day of Ypsi Pride events.

Gutoskey has lived in Ann Arbor for many years, and he received his MFA from the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design and has lectured at the University of Michigan on different aspects of costume design. Now he runs his own printmaking studio in Ann Arbor, all the while exhibiting his work at galleries across southeast Michigan and beyond. Gutoskey’s subtle, mixed-media works are filled with color, arresting images, and a deeply introspective quality. I spoke with him about 49 Elegies, his work in general, and the importance of activism in art.

Patterns in the Process: “Sara Adlerstein: Ecologies, my true colors” at WSG Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Sara Adlerstein's paintings Seeds to Come and Milk Weeds, Weeds

Sara Adlerstein's paintings Seeds to Come and Milk Weeds, Weeds.

Vivid, biomorphic expressions take imaginative turns in Sara Adlerstein’s Ecologies, my true colors at downtown Ann Arbor’s WSG Gallery.

Adlerstein’s mixed-media Ecologies exhibit features biologically themed art crafted largely in dramatic three by four feet proportions. Her all-heart artworks are abstractions based on realism featuring nuanced, organic leitmotifs.

An applied aquatic ecologist and current faculty member at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, Adlerstein hasn’t pursued formal training in the arts. Rather, she says she’s has been painting for as long as she’s been a scientist. “Art and science belong together as naturally as air and water,” Adlerstein wrote in her artist's statement

Minimalesque: “Deborah Campbell and Lois Kane: Burgeoning” at Kerrytown Concert House

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Deborah Campell's Divergent and Topography; Lois Kane's Sathonii

Left and upper right: Deborah Campell's Divergent (fiber) and Topography (1) (fiber, crochet). Lower right: Lois Kane's Sathonii (ink drawing).

There’s minimalist art and there’s art on the edge of being minimal. This distinction may seem paradoxical, but it is one way of describing the Burgeoning exhibit at Kerrytown Concert House by local artists Deborah Campbell and Lois Kane.

Deborah Campbell's art is minimal -- and it's bountiful for it. Where a less talented artist might overpower her work with excess, Campbell strategically stitches her fiber art with just enough effort to convey her articulation. Every stitch counts.

Lois Kane's draftsmanship functions in a similar fashion as Campbell's stitching. Where Campbell’s touch is serene, Kane’s line is vigorous, or memorably spare, and is always on point. 

Altering the Landscape: "Written Into Rock" at Ann Arbor Art Center

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Impossible Geometries Grand Canyon by Millee Tibb

Impossible Geometries (Grand Canyon) by Millee Tibb.

Ann Arbor Art Center’s current exhibition, Written Into Rock, explores imagery associated with the Earth, geology, and human impact on the environment. Curated by Gina Iacobelli, the exhibition features the works of seven artists dispersed throughout the gallery instead of placing works by each artist together.

The exhibition announcement states that the show “is an exploration of the ways in which humans have altered the natural landscape,” and was in part initially inspired by writings of Donna Haraway and Heather Davis, who explore ideas relating to the Anthropocene era, a “new geologic area defined by human’s mark on the geologic record.”

U-M Gifts of Art spring exhibitions aim to revitalize and renew

VISUAL ART REVIEW

John Dempsey's acrylic painting at U-M's Gifts of Art spring exhibition

John Dempsey's paintings at Gifts of Art display surreal amalgams of environments.

Michigan Medicine’s Gifts of Art program regularly supports artists while working to “revitalize and enrich lives” of patients and visitors. The latest Gifts of Art series on display in various parts of University Hospital is available to view through June 10. The eight small exhibits in Gifts of Art's nine galleries feature the works of artists Tina West, Richard Light, John Dempsey, Mary Brodbeck, Aimee Lee, Re Kielar, f8collective, and WCC faculty, staff, and students.

UMMA's "Exercising the Eye" shows how Gertrude Kasle expanded the Midwest art scene in the 1950s

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Grace Hartigan, Fells Point Florist painting

Grace Hartigan, Fells Point Florist, 1982, oil on canvas. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Bequest of Gertrude Kasle, 2016/2.90. © The Grace Hartigan Estate.

The University of Michigan Museum of Art’s exhibition Exercising the Eye: The Gertrude Kasle Collection presents an array of works by influential artists of the 20th century. Many of these artists, as pointed out by the exhibition organizers, were, in part, brought to prominence in the Midwest by Gertrude Kasle’s (1917-2016) promotion of their works.