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Work of local illustrators featured in Greensboro College art exhibit

by Kashif Stone

Local artists are showcasing their work in the Greensboro College Department of Art’s exhibit entitled “You Can’t Be Serious: Making Fun for a Living.” The exhibit features many cartoons and humorous visual art pieces created by presenting artists Harry Blair, Rich Powell, Rich Lynes, and Jim Langer.

One of the four cartoonists is Harry Blair, best known for the Greensboro “G” logo (it’s on the side of all the garbage trucks in town!), Fun Fourth’s posters and T-shirt art each year, “Harry” cartoons in various publications and most recently, cartoons and illustrations for O. Henry magazine. A Greensboro resident since 1958, the Page High and UNC-Chapel Hill graduate spent most of his working years in the advertising business, drawing TV storyboards and advertisement compositions. Humorous illustrations and cartoons, however, have always been his favorite form of expression. His playground.

His cartoons on display at Greensboro College are a representative collection of roughly 100 pieces – black & white, color, large and small. “The four of us present different ways of bringing a smile to your face, and that’s very important these days,” said Blair. The signature piece, titled “Who’s on First”, is his unique depiction of the fictional St. Louis Wolves baseball team made famous in the Abbott and Costello comedy sketch of the same name.

Rich Powell began his art career designing characters and environments for computer games in the 1990s. After that, he began freelancing in illustration for Playboy, Oatmeal Cards and Crazy Shirts. His client list and styles have grown from there. “I do logos, layouts, cartoons, cards, ads….you name it,” said Powell. “But my favorite work is illustrations for MAD and Highlights for Children.” Powell has many influences and pick up more every year. He read a lot of Robert Crumb, Bernard Kliban and Don Martin among others growing up.

Powell is showcasing many pieces in the exhibit, most of them new. “I was looking for a balance between gag illustration and art,” said Powell. “I think perhaps my most successful image in this vein is ‘The Art Lover’ in which a small ink-washed man pauses in front of a huge, colorful expressionistic painting and tries to capture the image in his iPhone.” The piece is directly influenced by “The Connoisseur” by Norman Rockwell, which shows a man standing in front of a Jackson Pollock-esque painting, contemplating the whole thing. What Powell is saying with this piece is that people don’t do that often anymore. “Just pause and take a photo with my phone and I can think about it later,” said Powell. “I purposely made the artwork at a grander scale to emphasize what I feel is the importance of art that’s being lost.”

Jim Langer, the chairman of Greensboro College’s Department of Art, began doing cartoons for school papers as young as 10-years old, when he drew President Nixon at his desk under the Great Seal with the eagle doing a birdie-doo on his head. He worked as an illustrator/cartoonist for a short-lived fanzine in high school, called Phantasm, but it led to discussions and researching concept art with a subsidiary/ contracting producer for Disney’s attempt at a Dungeons & Dragons movie. That fell apart, as many films do. Langer has always drawn caricatures, mostly for friends and acquaintances, occasionally for good money at large parties (the Weaver group, for instance) back before he landed a full-time teaching position at Greensboro College. His earliest influences included Leonardo’s grotesques, Rembrandt’s etchings and ink work, Goya’s monsters, Daumier’s wonderful and expressive work (especially of Don Quixote, whom he portrayed on stage and did a whole show of drawing around), Toulouse Lautrec, and the Germans George Grosz’s and Max Beckmann’s views of decadent Nazis and sycophants.

The piece that shows the darkest influences from this list is the large acrylic painting, Circus Minimus, in which Langer skewers the host of current Republican candidates for president. “Comments from viewers have mentioned Toulouse- Lautrec hints in it””that was not my initial intent, but I can see it, too,” said Langer.

“It wouldn’t fit in my car, so I stayed here at Greensboro College all day one Sunday, and until 2 am and 2:30 am a couple nights, drove home and slept for two hours, and drove back to teach the next morning.”

Langer’s smaller sketches making fun of Clinton and Sanders and others are all done in charcoal, which he chose because the other guys are so good with ink he wanted to be messy on purpose. The Palin piece (Palin Comparison) is a repurposing of a set prop painted for Annie Get Your Gun. “It has several subversive and tricky angles to it,” said Langer. “That’s the most cheeky thing in my part of the show.”

Rich Lynes is not a local cartoonist but also will have work featured in the exhibit. Lynes worked many years for Disney Animation and several merchandizing ventures through Disney. He has also worked for Warner Brothers cartoons.

Langer anticipates that attendees will find the exhibit comical. “My hope is people will laugh at it all,” said Langer. “These guys are funny and entertaining and terrific craftsmen.” !

WANNA go?

The exhibit will run through Saturday, Nov. 14 and is located in the Anne Rudd Gaylon and Irene Cullis Galleries on campus. Regular gallery hours are 9 am – 5 pm weekdays and 9 am – noon Saturdays. Admission is free to the public.

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