“Two weeks ago I came here to see Harvey Kurtzman,” my buddy Mike Hunchback told me upon entering the lobby, “and now I’m here to see you.”
This was more or less the theme of Wednesday evening, when the exhibition of work by the 2013 MoCCA Award of Excellence honorees opened in the glossy red second floor gallery at Manhattan’s Society of Illustrators. I had 16″ x 20″ 12-color inkjet prints made up on cold-press watercolor paper of six pages from Last Train to Old Town, Chapter One (for which I won one of those awards at this year’s MoCCA festival). Because Old Town is made by a mixed media process with no physical originals (my pencils are basically unintelligible to anyone other than and including me), and the books are by necessity smaller and printed with a less precise four-color process, getting these prints made felt like I was finally seeing my own work completed. (I hope to be able to print up the other 14 pages this way eventually, just to see and have them.)
My work was in pretty remarkable company. Gregory Benton’s luscious B+F was picked up for publication by AdHouse before this year’s MoCCA Festival had ended, and it’s easy to see why. Jane Mai’s unsettling Sunday in the Park with Boys is available from Toronto’s illustrious Koyama Press. My pal Andrea Tsurumi’s kinetic Andrew Jackson Throws a Punch was completed as part of her thesis for SVA’s prestigious illustration MFA program. Nick Offerman’s effective minimalist drawings carry Revenant, while Kim Ku’s Ghost Hotel is told across an entirely silkscreened accordion-fold book. And Simon Arizpe’s pop-up flexagon OhaBEAR is just a mind-boggling feat of paper engineering and sophisticated graphic design all deployed in the service of a single playful gag.
Despite the awkward space (it’s not fooling anybody into believing it isn’t a hallway), its aggressively non-neutral paint-job, and its soupy lack of ventilation, everyone’s work looks pretty damn spiffy. It will be there for the next few weeks, so if you missed the opening reception, you can still get up close and personal with Gregory’s soft colored pencil textures and Kim’s side-by-side pencil-to-silkscreen comparison and all the rest of everyone’s mesmerizing work.
The reception was held in the delightful, airy Hall of Fame Gallery the next floor up, to which one simply cannot get without being further humbled. The staircase is lined by classic illustrative portraits, simple and spot-on and brilliant, and capped with a breathtaking N.C. Wyeth. The gallery itself, which includes the Society’s bar and dining room, was hung salon-style with the work of their annual Student Scholarship winners, all of which was impressive, and some of which was just devastatingly spectacular. As friend and role-model Robbi warned me (too late):
— Robbi Behr (@BobbledyMom) May 23, 2013
Nonetheless, it made me wish that all gallery and museum spaces were so hospitable, and offered such a leisurely experience of the works they displayed. Some of the student pieces jumped out at me right away, but others asserted themselves more slowly and insidiously as I popped grapes and sipped my wine. Very little art is intended to hang on a wall that people stand before and stare at, and the multipurpose space served the illustrations therein well.
Radical ego deflation aside, it was an evening I won’t soon forget, mainly because so many of you came to keep me company and listen to me blabber pretentiously and buy me glasses of wine. Seriously, how good was the wine? And how great are my friends, comics and civilian alike? I can’t thank you all enough, but I hope inadequate gratitude will suffice. Thank you.
The exhibition will hang at Society of Illustrators through July 6th. It’s definitely worth checking out between now and then.
Also, who wants to go with me to Sketch Night? All of you, I assume.