“OFF THE PAGE” CARICATURES AND “GRAPHIC GUTS” POLITICAL POSTERS
By Jud Yalkut
Two exhibitions, both just off East Fifth Street in Dayton, present very varied demonstrations of both the power of caricature and refined political declamation. Original acrylic paintings and digital illustrations by Dayton’s Randy Palmer are at the Fifth Street Gallery of Stivers School for the Arts through Dec. 17, and powerful political posters for peace and human rights by New York resident Luba Lukova are on view at the Missing Peace Art Space through Dec. 12.
“Off the Page” by Randy Palmer is a 23-year retrospective of illustrations for the Dayton Daily News. A lover of cartoons since his early years, Palmer received a degree in commercial art at Sinclair Community College and shortly thereafter assumed his long-term role at the paper, both with editorial and entertainment illustrations.
In his own way, the Al Hirschfield of the Midwest, Palmer has concentrated his art in the use of color, his freedom of sketching and his understanding of the power of exaggeration in capturing famous people like humorist David Sedaris, Billy Ray Cyrus in “Achy Breaky Hearts,” Bob Newhart, Joe Perry and Sean Penn. Palmer injects humor into even those subjects of a more controversial nature such as the angular screaming spike-haired punk with his grotesque tongue about to devour the frozen bar of “Taste of Chaos,” and the sternly demure housewife holding her loaded revolver in “Better Guns & Ammo.”
Political figures rear their coifed or motley heads such as Clinton, Gore, Bush and a self-demeaning Perot in “Slightly Off and Running,” the broadly exaggerated supportive left shoulder of Colin Powell in “The General,” and the long waving arm of Barack Obama in “Yes We Did.” Most coifed of all are the mountainous hair of Trump in “In Donald We Trust?” and the surrealistic crown of carrot spikes for hair in “Vegetarian Teens.”
Entertainment figures are encapsulated in the trio of characters from Michael Keaton’s “Batman” in “The Bar, the Cat and the Bird,” the ominous glaring mask of “Planet of the Apes,” the grinning four main characters of “Seinfeld,” and a straggly-haired and caped Peter Jackson with gnome-like feet in “Lord of the Oscars.”
One recurring character in Palmer’s work is Bruce Springsteen, seen in trench-coated profile with his travel-stickered guitar case in “On the Road,” in denim-shirted workman’s glory in “The Rising,” and pulling his guitar out of a top hat in the large “Magic.” Palmer’s exuberance in his zany characterizations shines in the toothy smile of Austin Powers within Op-Art borders in “Yeah, Baby,” while the piano-keyed smile of “Ray Charles” is mirrored by his dapper doppelganger “Jamie Fox.”
At the neighboring Missing Peace Art Space, the internationally recognized poster designer Luba Lukova shows her powerful and unflinching political posters with social injustices couched within an elegant advertising aesthetic. Her 2009 New York exhibition at La MaMa La Galleria in New York was called “Umbrellas, Social Justice & More” and included her notorious image of a skeletonized umbrella with ribs but no covering in the “Health Coverage” poster also exhibited at the inauguration of President Obama. Other work has been in solo shows at UNESCO and the Museum of Modern Art, and she has received an honorary degree of Fine Arts from Lesley University.
Her Peace poster on a rich blue field is a giant dove’s image paradoxically composed of fragmented missiles, soldiers, tanks and A-bomb explosions. She wrote in 2001, “It’s first and always the idea and the emotion and the meaning I put into it, and it matters little if the piece is called fine art or graphic design.”
As a refugee of a formerly totalitarian Bulgarian regime, she has commented that “good design always comes from places where there are social changes” and that it is extremely powerful in expressing ideas in places where literacy has to be improved, adding that “this is where design is necessary, not in societies that have everything.”
Lukova visited New York in 1991 and decided to stay, where she now also makes theater posters for off-Broadway shows. She keeps her color choices minimal and restrained and brings to play her fascination with the political power of Picasso and the German expressionists who had their own atrocities to protest.
A white dove is caged in an artificial foot in her “War and Peace,” a mousetrap ensnares the unspoken thought of the thinker in Privacy, a fish skeleton has a flag-decorated head in “Social Security,” an “Immigrant” is spliced into a tree trunk secured by rope, and a “media” washboard scrubs the open brain of a mindless head in “Brainwashing.” These unflinching images also occur in her book of posters called “Social Justice 2008,” and her current image for the Missing Peace show “Graphic Guts” characteristically has two arms grabbing a bull by the horns.
The Fifth Street Gallery at Stivers is located at 1313 E. Fifth St. and gallery hours are 8 a.m. – 3 p.m., Monday-Friday. (937) 542-7448 or HYPERLINK “http://www.stivers.org” www.stivers.org. The Missing Peace Art Space is located at 234 Dutoit St. off E. Fifth Street and the gallery is currently open 2 -7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. ( HYPERLINK “http://www.missingpeaceart.org” www.missingpeaceart.org.)
Reach DCP visual arts critic Jud Yalkut at email@example.com