DAKOTA AND JONAH MCFADZEAN, The Dentist Brothers
Art Gallery of Regina
February 1 to March 7, 2012
By Margaret Bessai
Comics in the gallery can be problematic — they’re essentially an art form meant to be handled and read. Contemporary work often references comics, but it’s executed in traditional media such as work by pop artist Roy Lichtenstein or the Chicago Imagists, the Hairy Who. Past exhibitions such as the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Steranko: Graphic Narrative have presented original artwork by industry comic artists, often larger than print-size, uncoloured and without lettering — it’s visually thrilling, but limits reading. Surveys of contemporary culture such as Krazy at the Vancouver Art Gallery and Comic Craze at the Walter Phillips Gallery created temporary libraries, in addition to visual display.
Dakota & Jonah McFadzean: The Dentist Brothers is an installation of new work in comics by the McFadzeans, curated by Jack Anderson. “The Dentist Brothers” is an identity that Jonah and Dakota created to distinguish their work in partnership from independent practice. Together they’ve created large-scale drawings, published the Pasqua Penny Saver one-sheets, and hawked editions of their small-press work out of a baby carriage in homage to Robert Crumb and the early days of the San Francisco counter-culture comix scene. This exhibition presents selections from their independent and collaborative production, in a variety of formats, a comprehensive look at a creative relationship.
“ In the past Jonah and Dakota have collaborated by drawing on the same page,” Anderson explains. “Their geographic separation during the preparation of this exhibition inspired a new system, like a blues call-and-response song or a surrealist game. Jonah drew, scanned and sent. Dakota received, and responded on a new page. They’re installed across an entire gallery wall and each page functions as a panel. Narratives are created through reading along many different paths.”
Narrative in comics is different from narrative in literature or cinema. Comic artist Seth compares the rhythm, condensed language and stacked imagery to poetry. “Think of the cartoon language as a series of characters being purposefully arranged to make words,” he’s said.
Exploring the formal aspects of comic panels and pages inspires Dakota’s work. He plays with panel layouts, word balloons, spreads, line quality, drawing style, page turns, even inviting readers to rotate or fold pages. Currently studying for his MFA at the Centre for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, Dakota has focused on drawing for the printed page, not the gallery wall, producing what’s known as “mini-comics”. They’re related to artist books, produced in limited editions, often incorporating screen-printed covers, sewn embellishments, and fold-outs. His drawings are created with traditional tools, India ink, brush and nib on a smooth Bristol paper stock, and his themes tackle memory, childhood, time, people, isolation, fear, landscapes, animals, science, death. “I strive to make something that rings true,” he says.
Jonah has a BFA in drawing from the University of Regina, and is also inspired by the language of comics. “Time is stretched and skewed by the panels on a page…I think about the edge of a paper as the frame of a panel, so that everything I draw is just another panel of a comic.” He has worked in both multi-panel and single panel pages, usually working on Stonehenge paper with graphite, watercolour, and ink. He’s created a bestiary of chimaera in smaller drawings, Frankenstein constructions that embody personal fears and transposed social events, part of a “shared mythology” developed in collaboration with Dakota.
The Dentist Brothers combines several strategies of presentation, large drawings, original pages, and a reading area, with an experiment in narrative presentation — an entire wall hung in a salon-style hopscotch.