Watercolor Series, 9 x 12 inches
Brock Gratz is a comic book artist, using his sequenced drawings to tell a tale of significant theme. Funerary Rites is a set of drawings which portrays a myth of the artist’s own creation. The visual story depicts the process of a stone colossus, coming to life through the activation of a contained soul. This is not a completely alien storyline to the world of art. There are numerous beautiful paintings of Ovid’s tale of Pygmalion, the sculptor whose statue comes to life. Gratz’s description has a menacing touch, however. This living stone is more of a moloch, ready to destroy its creator, than a source of creative triumph. This tale has some of the loneliness of Mary Shelley’s tragic Frankenstein, the gift of life creating an alienated monster, denied all belonging.
This work presents more than its tale. It is unique in context, due to its form. Returning to the entry point of this essay: “The artist is a comic book artist”; this is a rare statement in the contemporary art world. The comic book is a non-elitist form of art with mass appeal. Comic book drawings are not simply illustrations. They contain a narrative fully expressed, and are as clearly communicative as the written word. The comic strip or book relates more to the film strip than to a painting. A multitude of images bound into squares, a glut of images with slight shifts or full scene changes, revealing event through sequence.
What sort of relationship can a comic book artist build with a fine art program? The comic was a reference for the Pop Artists of the 1960’s and 70’s, and prestigious art exhibitions of the work of R. Crumb might be seen as precursors. This does not seem to be Gratz’s lineage due to his sincerity and mythic themes. Nor does his work speak to the artistic graphic novel, the likes of Chris Ware and Lynda Barry transforming the comic media into an alternative fine art enterprise. Instead, his manner of working seems to align with a different, perhaps older spirit, a sometimes forgotten use of image. Gratz’s understanding of art’s function seems in sympathy with that of William Blake. An outsider and a mystic who brought his own fantastic understanding to traditional tales, and worked in a lower-status medium of his day: print-making. Brock Gratz’s inclusion in a contemporary art program, and his insistence on remaining a comic book artist, reveals some of the intricacies and complications of his medium, by observing its function in the fine art context. His work also, parenthetically, serves to reveal inherent assumptions about art; how class, history, and context help to create the contemporary field.
- Michelle Weinstein