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Wayne Thiebaud likes it, so you should too

“Chris Wisnia mixes a crime cluttered comic world with the unfathomable high-financed art world where Van Gogh, Lucien Freud, Velasquez, Monet, Bacon, Hopper and dozens of other noteables, play, joust, shoot and torture each other in graphic clarity that shocks, entertains and surpises us with an original comic epic. – Wayne Thiebaud”

I was fortunate to take two classes from Wayne Thiebaud when I got my degree in art from U.C. Davis. He taught how great works of art create a story within them. Who is this person in the portrait? Where is this place and what is happening there? If we slow down and let the images absorb us, they create so much in their stillness, inside our heads. It causes us to see the world differently, through the eyes of that artist.
After we’ve looked at a Van Gogh painting, we begin to see those swirls when we look in the sky. When we reach for fruit on a table, Cezanne’s compositions and colors superimpose themselves on our reality. But our own perspective also changes the art’s meaning; we infuse and constantly redefine it with our own experience.

Inserting famous art into a comic book format juxtaposes the well-known, static images – usually viewed in galleries, in isolation, frozen – into new contexts in which to view them, embedding fresh stories into the images, as well as re-interpreting them to serve new roles in telling these new stories. As John Berger showed in his “Ways of Seeing,” if a Rothko is ten feet tall on a museum wall, you will read it differently than if it is two inches tall on your bathroom mirror next to a can of deodorant. Or as Hitchcock points out, if you film an old man smiling, followed by an image of a cute toddler, it “reads” differently than the smile followed by a woman in the bath. The selection and ordering causes the traditional art to become fresh and contain new meanings, constantly reinvented by new lenses through which to experience them.

Brush with Peril is a two part (roughly 225 pages per part), espionage-style graphic novel in which the characters and settings are famous museum masterworks turned into masked spies and villains. High brow art meets low brow pop culture – a round peg forced into the square hole of Mexican standoffs, fist fights, and car chases. The juxtapositions create a dialogue about the meanings and status of art, and our perceptions of it as a culture.

I am now serializing “Brush with Peril” at my Patreon site, available to anyone willing to become a patron at the $1 level.

The story? [Spoiler?]

In book one, Special Agent Ian Anger of the Global Agency of Protection learns that someone is killing American Realist Sculptors. He travels to France, seeking a vacationing artist whom he suspects may be in danger. Traveling by train, Anger is surrounded by Daumier’s passengers and beset by villainous Van Gogh thugs whom he defeats in an edgy and tense strategy game of “Name the Bean.” Following clues to Morisot’s parks, he learns that a team of deadly Rousseau footballers committed the murder. The heated battle ashore of the Monet lily pads leads him to a flurry of Degas karate-kicking ballerinas trying to help the footballers escape from a Toulouse-Lautrec theatre. We learn that a politician is trying to hire these artists, and when they refuse, he snuffs them out in a rage. Plans thwarted, this politician stoops to asking one last artist for this deadly commission: a former child prodigy realist sculptor, Shiele, who has since progressed to more abstract, academic theories, but who agrees to create something extraordinary on his own terms.

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