6a ARI & Gallery, North Hobart
Bridging the gap between the comic strip and the graphic novel, zines are one of the few mediums that still offer the creator complete artistic control. Clustering in gallery foyers and alternative bookstores, these photocopied rarities form a strong part of underground visual culture. Most urban centres have a well-established zine following and Hobart is no exception. One of the best known and most prolific zine creators in this southern metropolis is Simon James.
Influenced by Nintendo console games and similar in style to Chicago-based comic artist Jeffrey Brown and Gorillaz creator Jamie Hewlett, James’s work is detailed yet roughly hewn. The unique mark of the artist is clearly evident in his wiggly pen lines and hand-coloured panels. This lends an accessible edge to the work, an aspect inevitably lost in the overly slick blockbusters produced by large-scale publishing houses. Often documenting the awkward nature of adolescence––sexual longing and the struggle of being different in a small town––James tugs at the sticky underbelly of teenage angst with unpredictable force, creating a visual narrative that flicks between fiction and reality.
Bringing his characters to life in Girl Mountain, an exhibition at Hobart’s newest Artist Run Initiative 6a, James projects the world of tempestuous teenager Micah Maolomuire into a meticulously constructed installation weaving through the gallery and studio space. The product of 6a’s inaugural annual artist residency, Girl Mountain features carefully constructed dioramas lifted from the pages of James’s comics and populated by strange, distorted ‘action’ figures sprouting thorny limbs and bulbous heads. Like sporadic snapshots of a twisted nightmare, the dioramas piece together pivotal and banal moments from Maolomuire’s increasingly sinister life, spinning a twisted pantomime intertwined with the adolescent psyche.
The coupling of underground comics, sculpture and installation is not too common in a gallery. Some may say comics are not art. One only has to look beyond the weekend funnies to see this isn’t so. From the timeless simplicity of Bill Watterson’s revolutionary Calvin and Hobbes to Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus, comics have long since breached the confines of the conservative four-panel strip. Instigated by established artists Mish Meijers and Tricky Walsh, 6a provides the fertile ground needed for this kind of cross-genre experimentation.
Launched in August 2007 and located in a disused slaughterhouse, 6a encompasses a gallery and several studios. Filling the void left by the defunct ARI at Letitia Street Studios, 6a offers a hub for young and emerging artists looking to increase their knowledge of the arts industry in a peer-based environment. Alongside Meijers and Walsh, Jody Miller, Andrew Harper, Josie Hurst and Dianna Graf currently occupy 6a, bringing together a range of experience in Graphic Design, Film, Installation, Painting and Sculpture. As the new kid on the block, 6a is not looking to join the conformist clique on the sidelines. A willingness to embrace alternative mediums (like comics) makes this ARI a hot spot for new talent––an essential tool for collectors looking for signs of a pulse.
For an online video of Simon James and Michael Hawkins comics type in DIY Comics on You Tube, www.youtube.com