Damon Johnson: Left for Dead
"Left for Dead" is an art show by Damon Johnson at the Bent Gallery, at 263 Bowery. The shadow of Jack Kirby looms over these drawings and paintings -- Kirby, who grew up several blocks from this gallery (on Suffolk Street) and who created indelible Marvel Comics super-beings. Kirby was a Jew (né Jacob Kurtzberg) who drew a race of Aryan, high-cheekboned warriors.
Damon's lettering is unlike the all-capital letters of comic books; his influence clearly is graffiti. Subtly, Damon links comic books to the street, though this genre is traditionally produced in warren-like collective studios (the one at Marvel famously known as "The Bullpen). I've never heard of a plein air cartooning tradition.*
I rarely feel that I understand art -- contemporary or old -- but "Left for Dead" makes absolute sense to me. It pays homage to superhero comics, but moves beyond them, into the realm of "cartoon metaphysics." The sense of exploding power, of one's limbs growing stronger and stronger, of becoming super, is experienced by every adolescent boy and girl. Comic books are obsessed with growth.
But maturity can also be terrifying. One wishes to remain 11 forever -- never to have hairy testicles.
Damon comes close to rendering famous superheroes, but veers aside at the last minute. In "Monster, Lunatic, Madman," he draws a character much like the Red Skull (Captain America's nemesis) but with a Yankee insignia carved into his forehead! The only character directly "quoted" is The Thing, from The Fantastic Four.
"Was Johnson worried about copyright violation?" I asked the gallerist. "No," he replied. Suddenly I remembered the ComicCon a few weeks before, where two middle-aged women were cheerfully selling portraits of Spiderman on canvas for $5000.
"Damon," now that I think of it, is a comic book name. Jack Kirby created a character called the Demon, who starred in a comic from 1972 to 1974.
[Two weeks after seeing "Left for Dead" -- in early December -- I returned to the Bent Gallery, but it was empty, with a big "For Rent" sign on the front window. The gallery had been erased, like a graffito at the base of a bridge.]
*Wait, I suddenly remember R. Crumb drawing outdoors in the movie Crumb -- but those were sketches, not cartoons.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.