Saturday, October 22, 2016

Recap: Cartoon North II

Way back in May of this summer we had a fantastic month-long exhibition here in the Interior that featured cartoon and comic art at the Fairbanks Arts Associations Bear Gallery (the official landing page for the event with participating artist links + roster of activities is posted here).
More below the fold...

There was significant media coverage of the opening reception and, additionally, overwhelming turnout for not only opening night but also the extracurricular workshops which supplemented the show. Everything came together, and we pulled it off all on account of the volunteers who hung, hosted and helped by simply showing up.

Unfortunately the majority of my own images + video from the opening reception were tragically lost inbetween the recent computer crash and a gap between the latest hard-drive backups: fortunately there were some folks (mostly on account of The Significant Otter) who snagged a handful of precious moments.

Jose Mojica has a GREAT YouTube video recap of the entire exhibition, also check out Peter Webley's Theta 360 take on a workshop here, and The Art of Lucas Elliott also has a quick spin from his table at the opening here.
Hopefully you can somewhat get a sense of what the overall intent of the gallery layout was: basically an impression of walking right into the pages of a comic book or opening up the pages of the Sunday funnies section in the newspaper. It was the first time in the history of the gallery that all of the hanging room dividers were removed so as to facilitate a better logistical flow around the exhibitor tables on opening night, and provide visual breathing room on account of the sheer volume of work on display.

We proved again that not only can sequential art in all of its manifestations go toe to toe with any other form of art in the gallery scene as a legitimate form of artistic expression: its success isn't just measured in terms of popularity (although we had well over 600 folks come in through the front doors on opening night); or in monetary terms (thought gallery sales eclipsed everything aside from the annual fundraiser for the association); but it demonstrated beyond any doubt the breadth + depth of just how unique and potent the medium cartoon and comic art is.

I lost track over the ensuing months how many random people would still come up to and comment on what a powerful, eye-opening experience it was for them to attend the show. "I had no idea..." on how many artists were working in this particular filed, or how many different ways to do it, or how incredible it was to discover the various ways to tell a story using images + words there were (and still are). So not only were viewers able to appreciate each of the individual works on display for themselves, they walked away with a deeper appreciation of what's out there collectively.

That professional and personal validation encapsulated my entire motivation behind putting up such an exhibition, and extends into the classroom as an art teacher as well, not to mention behind my own drawing board at home in the studio.
We also proved another hope I had: there was more than enough material to draw from right here at home - we didn't have to solicit submissions from outside the Interior. This as opposed to the first Cartoon North show (2007) which in retrospect took on way too much, being statewide in scale, and historical to contemporary in scope. This exhibition was testament to the amazing amount of creative talent we have nurtured in our own neck of the woods.

I must confess to being taken somewhat aback at the turnout for the spin-off series of workshops. The first one I was caught by surprise at the volume of folks in the community who sacrificed a beautiful, sunny summer day to spend an afternoon indoors. I honestly expected maybe a few people but was greeted with the sight of over forty folks waiting in the gallery for the inaugural Saturday session.

Layla Lawlor and Alex Bates giving presentations

Again I would express my appreciation for the facilitators and friends who stepped up to lead many of the workshops - there was a sincere interest and appreciation from people all across the community, and support from fellow aficionados who had a chance to connect with others who shared their passion. It was also a great little reunion to boot, with many new friends and fans included in the festivities and celebration.

Minicomics workshop

Another aspect that I really enjoy is the egalitarian and inclusive nature of the artform, which is reflected in the broad spectrum of personalities and abilities who participated, regardless of gender, age, culture and experience. That diversity is such a crucial foundation of comics, and gigs like this are an opportunity for everyone to come together and share in the energy which is normally channeled as a solitary personal pursuit, whether reading or creating.

Greg Hill lecturing on Graphic Novels

One final point was made in the meta-observation that when artists have a show, it's the norm to make one appearance at the opening, and then disappear for the duration of the exhibition. This experiment proved how much potential there is to capitalize on the venue as a space to keep promoting the art and the artist(s). Hosting workshops and doing public demonstrations throughout the allotted time and space is an an under-utilized - and lucrative - opportunity to maintain the impetus generated by the show opening, maximize/capitalize on accessibility and interest, and expand the reach of the viewership beyond the usual network of First Friday attendees.

The gallery gift-shop nook featuring the work of participating artists

 Synergy is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and everybody who was a part of Cartoon North definitely made it not only possible, but a shared experience that really made a big impact on the community. Thank you all!

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