News about the premier academic journal devoted to all aspects of cartooning and comics -- the International Journal of Comic Art (ISSN 1531-6793) published and edited by John Lent.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Exhibitions of the 47th Angoulème International Comics Festival: Catherine Meurisse, chemin de traverse

Located along the Charente river between the Vaisseau Moëbius and the Musée de la bande dessinée, the Musée du Papier has previously hosted exhibitions that showcase the work of artists associated with the development programmes of the Angoulème International Comics Festival. These earlier exhibitions were typically staged in a single room reserved for temporary shows, offering enough space to cover the relatively smaller body of work accumulated bu young up-and-coming artists graduating from the Concours Jeunes Talent (Young Talents) like Pauline Aubry and Miroslav Sekulic-Struja.

For 2020, the festival organizers opted to scale up in size and scope with an exhibition consecrating Catherine Meurisse, an artist who participated in the festival's Concours de la bande dessinée scolaire (comics by/for schoolchildren) in 1993 - and ultimately winning in 1997 - and whose impressive career to-date hardly classifies her as an "up-and-coming" artist. This exhibition plays more like a coming-out celebration and its scheduling couldn't have been more timely for Meurisse: on 15 January 2020,  she was elected as the first comics auteure into France's prestigious Académie des beaux-arts; and heading into Angoulème itself, she was nominated as one of the three finalists for the festival's Grand Prix award. This comprehensive exhibition aimed to situate and elevate Meurisse's work to wider audiences by excavating her formative years while also illuminating the new horizons that she is preparing to explore.

The exit to the Catherine Meurisse exhibition at the Musée du papier. This stairwell served as the entrance to the previous festival exhibitions held at this location.

Aptly titled "Catherine Meurisse: Crossroads", the exhibition divides Meurisse's career-to-date across two separate but connected rooms, with a clear physical, discursive and emotional split to distinguish them as individuated but contiguous spaces.

The exhibition's splash panel. English translation: "Catherine Meurisse: Crossroads"

The first room covers Meurisse's earliest years right up to her ten-year stint at Charlie Hebdo, where she became the first female cartoonist to serve on the satirical journal's editorial board on a permanent basis. A tight labyrinthine route through five chronological, thematic and color-coded sections introduces visitors to Meurisse's first forays into the world of drawing, illustrations, comics and editorial cartooning, all filtered through the lens of her unique engagement with French art and literature.

"First steps" presents original drawings showing the development of Meurisse's visual style from childhood and adolescence drawings up to her first "mature" work published in 2005.
Catherine Meurisse's primary school notebook from 1985.
Le Corbeau et le renard, Meurisse's submission to the concours de la BD scolaire at the 1993 Angoulème International Comics Festival. The caption notes that the influence of Marcel Gotlib is already evident in her work.
These original pages by Quentin Blake (left) and Tomi Ungerer (right) helped situate Meurisse's aesthetic development against the backdrop of her inspirations. Pages by Sempé, Marcel Gotlib and Claire Brétecher were also displayed to help visitors connect with Meurisse's graphic references.
The second section"L'art maître du jeu" displayed a range of pages that built on Meurisse's graphic style to showcase her clever use and appropriation of 19th century French art and literature into her comics.

An aquarelle photocopy of a page from Moderne Olympia, where Meurisse uses the subject of Manet's famous painting as a character.

Two aquarelle photocopied pages from Le Pont des Arts, highlighting once again Meurisse's appropriation of literary references while also pointing out her comics acumen through speech balloon placement and page layout approach.
The third yellow-coded section, "Prolonging childhood", introduced Meurisse's illustrative talents in the service of words written by other authors for children's books and comics.
A 2002 sketchbook of Meurisse's "funny animal" character studies.
Meurisse channels Tomi Ungerer and Saul Steinberg in this illustration of "Open Door Enforcers" for Emmanuel Trédez' L'enforceur de portes ouvertes et cinquante autres métiers improbables.

Cover illustration drafts for Franky et Raoul, spécimens de la jungle!, Meurisse's only children's project to date in which she both wrote and drew the comics.
Les années Charlie section occupied the central position in the first exhibition room. Meurisse had her first strip published in the weekly Charlie Hebdo when she was 21. She later joined the editorial board four years later in 2005 for a stint that would last until 2015.

Meurisse was welcomed with open arms by the Charlie Hebdo crew, who encouraged her to explore her sense of humour and her curiosity with total freedom. She quickly established her own identity among the collective, and her cover illustrations were instantly recognizable.
During her stint at Charlie Hebdo, Meurisse's assimilated the styles of Claire Bretécher, Cabu, Reiser and Sempé (among others) to produce her own brand of political satire that affirmed her own personality with the liveliness and economy of her illustrations.
Meurisse also delved into comics journalism with reports about social and political issues, often featuring caricatures of French political figures that were not spared her biting ferocity and criticism.

Meurisse stayed true to her arts and literature heritage by taking over the culture page at Charlie Hebdo. This double-page spread recounted her 2013 meeting with Quentin Blake, the English artist whom she greatly admired.

The final section of the first room, Laughing at the established order, carried over the Charlie Hebdo spirit of social satire  by highlighting how Meurisse tackles patriarchal conformity with her usual caustic sense of humor.
A selection of pages showing the different ways that Meurisse uses her comics to thoughtfully and comically engage with female sexuality and the place and role of women in modern society.

These pages originally appeared in Charlie Hebdo, then were collected into the 2016 album Scenes de la vie hormonale.
The first exhibition room closes on the inevitable reference to the 7 January 2015 masssacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices that Catherine Meurisse narrowly avoided. This event and its aftermath marked a break in Meurisse's professional and personal life, leading her to quit the magazine following her contribution to issue 1178 (the "survivor's issue") to take a necessary pause to regroup. This break is scenographically referenced by the exhibition itself by the division into two rooms, marking a literal turning point or "crossroads" as implied by the title. If the first room covered her early years, then the second room would address her current situation and the new directions that it augers.

The passageway that connects the two rooms of the exhibition. The wall that the boy is leaning on is the back wall of the "Les années Charlie" segment.
The second exhibition room was much less cramped than the first room, offering visitors a more open space to experience Meurisse's artistic reinvention. The main section of this second room, titled "Talking with the world" and color-coded with a shade of forest green, focuses on Meurisse's re-engagement with herself, her art, and by extension, her world. This theme is foregrounded by the visual centerpiece of the second room, which is the first sight that greets visitors upon entering the second room from the passageway.

The large die-cut installation that was the visual centerpiece of the second exhibition, foregrounding Meurisse's re-engagement with the world and how she expresses this through her comics.
Meurisse's recent comics have taken on significantly increased layers of introspection, and her work shows traces of the emotional labour that was necessary to process the post-Charlie Hebdo experience. The exhibition presents original pages taken from La Légèreté (2016) and Les Grands espaces (2018) to spotlight the new ways that Meurisse visually sees the world, as well as how she sees herself in narrative relation to this world. Both of these books place Meurisse front and center as the main character who engages with her world and her memories with the same incisiveness as before but now with added layers of openness, curiosity and appreciation. Her self-representation in these books is drawn with a throwaway sketch quality, and is typically situated in a natural environment that is now rendered using different graphical techniques (such as pastel or graphite pencil).  

Studies in pastel that would lead Meurisse to the cover of La Légèreté (2016).
Original pages and details that suggest Meurisse's new visual style extends her previous approach with new graphic layers of environmental representation.
An original page from Les Grands espaces (2018) that juxtaposes the loose rendering of the characters against the hyper-realistic attention to the detail of the environment.
Close-up of an original page from Les Grands espaces (2018) drawn in graphite pencil.
The final section of the second exhibition room, and thus the final section of the exhibition itself,  presents visitors with a display of Meurisse's artistic process that not only highlights her technical labour but also their associated transformative aspects which helped her come to terms with the tragedies of the recent past. Showcasing a mixture of storyboards, sketches, video interviews and studies, this final section cumulatively uses this material to conclude that Meurisse herself embodies a crossroads, in terms of technique and approach: one between the sharp quick wit of editorial cartooning and the patient and laborious construction needed for comics.

The entrance to "The Drawing Factory", the final section of the exhibition.
The second half of "The Drawing Factory" section which closes with a video interview with Catherine Meurisse recorded on 15 November 2019
A page showing Meurisse's new explorations with watercolors in Delacroix (2019), her recent revisitation of her first mature work Causerie sur Delacroix (2005).
A storyboard from Moderne Olympia (2014) that demonstrates how Meurisse breaks down a page by first arranging the dialogue into individual panels, before adding the graphic elements. 
Catherine Meurisse, chemin de traverse launched at the Angoulème International Comics Festival on 30 January 2020, and continued to be on display at the Musée du papier until 1 March 2020. The quality of this exhibition is superb and Meurisse's profile is prominent enough that there can be hope that this show can travel elsewhere in the Francophone comics and arts worlds. An excellent introduction to the work of an artist who seems to be just getting started, this exhibition succeeded in providing an intelligent framework to persuade a neophyte reader like me to explore her work further.

-Nick Nguyen

All photos taken by Nick Nguyen

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Exhibition in Photos: Dominique Corbasson: Paris-Londres-New York

Dominique Corbasson: Paris-Londres-New York. Huberty & Breyne Gallery. Brussels. March 13-April 18, 2020.

Over the next month, the Huberty & Breyne Gallery is hosting a selling exhibition that doubles as a retrospective of the work of French painter and illustrator Dominique Corbasson, who passed away too soon on 21 February 2018.  Though Corbasson illustrated children's books and even produced her own comic, her international recognition was earned by her uniquely stylized and idealized cityscapes that were often illustrated on paper using pencils or acrylics.

The poster image for the Corbasson retrospective.

The basic exhibition information that immediately greets visitors upon entering the gallery.

The selection of cityscapes for this exhibition were organized across three separate but contiguous rooms within the gallery, with each room displaying the drawings and paintings associated with an assigned city. 

Upon entry into the gallery, the exhibition kicks off immediately with the New York pieces.
On display to the immediate right of the gallery entrance is this New York Quadtych: (starting top left, clockwise) Noon, Morning, Afternoon, Evening.

The New York pieces at the entryway of the gallery
432 Park Avenue
Guggenheim I, III, IV

NYC (left) and Fog in New York, displayed
The largest space located in the center of the gallery was reserved for a nice selection of Corbasson's drawings and paintings on Paris, which arguably represent her most recognizable work. As a native Parisian, Corbasson was familiar enough with these iconic locations that they were typically drawn from the perspective that she saw while riding around the city on her bicycle.

The back wall of the Paris room
From top left, clockwise: Esplanade du Louvre; Tenon-Gambetta, Le Carousel, and La Maison Rose.
Rue des Perhamps (left) and Pont des Arts sur le Louvre

The front and right walls of the Paris room

Place des Vosges (left) and La coulée vert

The arrangement of Paris drawings and paintings on the right wall of the Paris room.

The arrangement of Paris drawings and paintings on the front wall of the Paris room.

The left and front walls of the Paris room.
The arrangement of Paris drawings and paintings on the left wall of the Paris room.
Moving forward from the Paris room opens out towards the back of the gallery where the London pieces are arranged and displayed.

Sunny Winter (left) and Savile Row
The passage to the London room as seen from the frontier of the Paris Room.
The front and right walls of the London Room.

These six pieces are acrylic paintings on a wood base.

These six pieces are acrylic paintings on a wood base.

The British Museum

The final London piece: Charing Cross
The gift shop area (which is located between the New York space and the Paris room) offered signed and numbered seriegraphs and exhibition catalogs for sale. Huberty & Breyne Gallery published their own exhibition catalog, limited to 400 copies, which reproduces all of the pieces on display.

The gift shop area at Huberty & Breyne Gallery.
The exhibition catalog (left) and a complete collection of all of Corbasson's Paris work, originally published in 2016.
The exhibition does a nice job of presenting Corbasson's cityscapes in a fashion that accentuates their individual qualities when they are presented in a cumulative collected fashion. Her expressive use of color coupled with the weight of her crayon lines and brushstrokes really help each piece stand out against the wide open and white walls of the gallery. With spring around the corner, Corbasson's colorful evocations of these idealized cities provide a pleasant distraction from the realities of the city with an effortless simplicity that compliments her legacy. 

The press communique for the show, as well as all of the works on display for Paris-Londres-New York are available for closer inspection at the website of the Huberty & Breyne Gallery.

-Nick Nguyen

All photos taken by Nick Nguyen