The weekend of my husband’s birthday was great fun – it started out with a perfectly international party, (the birthday party of the United Nations), and then a trip to the gorgeous city of Luzern, with its spectacular riverfront, churches, Altstadt, and overall laid back, relaxed atmosphere. And the fact that it was warm, and the sun was finally shining only added to the charm of this small yet urban town. Outdoor cafe life has been perfected to a science, and the riverfront was packed with tables, chairs, and people absorbing the sun, while sipping their authentic cappuccinos, or, as in most cases, espressos (nope, no frappe latte frappuccino, papuccino, cacaccino here). And most impressive of all…they all spent entire hours like this, in conversation, enjoying life, no pressure, no stress. Wunderbar!
My specific interest in Luzern on this particular beautiful day was to visit the Fumetto International Comix Festival, a 5-day event taking place throughout the Altstadt of Luzern, and including such varied and even alternative exhibition spaces, like museums, hotels, government buildings, schools, university halls, conference spaces, and of course, galleries. It so reminded me of the good days of street festivals in Chicago, and Around the Coyote specifically, when walking around from space to space offered the opportunity of discovery.
So here too, I picked up a map at the central meeting space where I also met Mark Newgarden, the artist of The Little Nun, one of the sharpest, most provocative, poignant, and bittersweet comic strips I have seen in a long time, and started my trip through the spaces featuring exhibitions and projects. It was a tour of discovery not only of new artists with loads of interesting comments, perspectives, and of course aethetics, but also of the architecture of a very old and culturally rich city.
Central Treffpunkt with Mark Newgarden in the background
A close-up of a The Little Nun strip at the Picasso Museum
An installation shot of the exhibition at the Picasso Museum, on the first floor. One can see the gorgeous frescoes on the wall in the background.
In the Picasso Museum, every floor featured Comics artists, including Mark Newgarden on the ground floor, Rutu Modan and many other Israelis on the second, Ever Meulen and Blutch on the third. I was very familiar with Rutu Modan’s work, having read and been entirely enthralled by her book, Exit Wounds, about a girl setting on a journey to find her boyfriend in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a bus in Hadera, with his estranged son.
Rutu’s work captures daily life in a visual and literary fashion, entirely synthesizing her drawings with her narrating ability. Her drawings are subtle, and she plays with both empty and full space with striking results. An accompanying documentary of the Hadera attack and the missing man, a case that was publicized on Israeli TV and is the basis for Rutu’s book, was extremely interesting and presented Israeli reality as an investigation, ultimately leading to a tragic conclusion.
Throughout the festival the exhibitions were extremely well integrated into the architecture of these old buildings. The contrast was spectacular, and one really felt the continuation of history while pondering these contemporary pieces.
On the third floor was the work of the very famous Belgian illustrator, Ever Meulen, whose work might be familiar to many from the covers of The New Yorker, but he has had a long and exciting career.
Also of interest was the work of Blutch, whose disturbingly poetic narrative paintings attracted my attention and kept me analyzing the work for some time.
After the Picasso Museum, I went to Festsaal Maskenliebhaber, where I discovered the work of an artist I had never known before, but with whose work I immediately fell in love: Shary Boyle. The young Canadian’s fantastic settings, fairy-tale like characters, and precise technique reminiscent of Old Masters’ renderings evoke a past, romanticized art-form, but on closer inspection her subjects are more like nightmares than fairy-tales, and the characters reveal themselves as peripheral and marginalized, unaccepted and rejected by society. They are the wounded, the crippled, and the terrorized, those to whom we mostly turn a blind eye. I was most impressed with her sculptures as the contrast between the delicate porcelain rendering, with its intricate details, like lace, and hair, and the horror of the subject – girls with cut hands, bleeding profusely on white lace dresses, or deformed faces of adolescent girls with beautiful figures, and lovely 18th century attire. All morbid and masterful.
From Shary’s space, off to the next stop: the School of Art And Design – aka HSLU – Kunst & Design. This space was so fun! Lots of different stuff to see, from comics zines and self-published artists’ books, to huge installations of fantastical environments, to sculptures combined with text. Everything had the feeling of the exaggerated realms in hero stories: big, colorful, bold, and fun.
In one of the rooms of the School of Art and Design were several artists from the American publisher, PictureBox, featuring Frank Santoro, Lauren Weinstein, C.F., and Ogden Whitney. I was most impressed by Lauren Weinstein’s Godess of War. Wow, that story was quite something, and the drawings were powerful, reminiscent in certain instances of church frescoes from the Renaissance. I also enjoyed Frank Santoro’s installation – it was great looking at all the details and trying to figure out the connection between the symbols and drawings.
Lauren Weinstein’s Goddess of War
My last stop was at the Hotel Löwengraben, where I caught a wonderful group show featuring the work of Luca Schenardi, a local from Luzern, Alex Baladi from Geneva, and Daisuke Ichiba from Japan. Luca’s work was intriguing in its commentary on the world of consumption, and the complete absurdity and lack of recognition that we live in. And his arrangement of work, on a dark green background, was eye-grabbing.
So many new artists, and so much great art – not traditional painting or sculpture, but new and innovative forms and combinations that open up great possibilities and ensure the continued excitement, and contrary to mainstream consensus, the accessibility of contemporary work.
For another article on Comics, please read:
From the Newspaper to the Gallery: How Comics Entered the World of Fine Art