Alex Ross: Political Muckraker

This Alex Ross painted Obama shirt is pretty great and an interesting addition to Ross' non-superhero, political work because this one's not cynical or satirical but a genuine expression of excitement and support. At the same time, there's something a little funny and over-the-top about Obama as a superhero that it's still Ross having some fun with his craft and the idolization of Obama, so, it shares a little bit of the knowing fun as these other two political images.

This image has gotten a second life as a T-shirt you can find at a lot of comic book stores, but in its original presentation, as the cover of the Village Voice's "Queer Issue", it's political mockery takes on a context beyond just being a funny and cruel image of our President and Vice President; "graphic art as political protest" and all that good stuff. What totally sells the image is that it's so well-rendered and like, conventionally beautiful. It isn't a tossed-off offensive image, Ross put some time and labor into this and that's why it's good. One gets the sense that someone as technically talented as Ross really enjoys having an ability to render such absurd images as this so perfectly.

This image is the least effective but the most clear in its message and again, kind of invokes turn of the century era political cartooning in that it's just a immediate and telling image. Ross has some fun with the posing and Bush's face, finding a weird balance between our President's likeness and stature and throwing in some small percentage of Bela Lugosi physicality in there too.

I think Ross' work is at its most effective when it's a little absurd and out-there, like the political images above. When he's painting something a little silly or just strange, it adds a tension between his hyper photo-realism and the raw, strangeness of the image. This painting of Krypto the Super Dog is from the new issue of Superman that comes out this week and it's one of the better Ross images in a long time.

His work doing the covers of the "Batman RIP" story arc have been annoying because the story is about breaking-down and fucking with the image of Batman and Ross is still painting him as glorious and muscular and bounding through the air. One gets the sense that DC just wanted to spruce up Morrison's weird story with something more aesthetically pleasing, especially since it's not the Batman suit he's wearing in the arc or even in Batman for a while now. Like Ross just sent over some years or decade-old paintings of Batman and DC stuck them on the covers.

Marvels has always been preferable to Kingdom Come not only because it's a better read but because it makes no sense to paint these beautifully wrought images of the aged, on-their-way out heroes, while it makes perfect sense to paint heroes in that style for Marvels because it's from the perspective of a "regular" person, who would indeed, see these heroes as statuesque. There's also this sense of Ross being something of a total hired gun, which is a little unappealing. From those nonsensical "Batman RIP" covers to making Marvels in 1994 and then going over to DC and doing a very similar book the next year, his work and passion seem a little suspect. So, it's additionally cool when some humor and fun slip into his art, like in those political paintings or in the less conventional paintings, like Krypto or this next image of Plastic Man.

See, what you get in this Plastic Man image is a kind of mix of Ross-ian photo-realism and some sense of imagination or energy. Most of Ross' stuff clearly looks like it was painted from photos and poses; it's flat and has no energy, even if it's painted as realistically as possible. On this Plastic Man image, Ross had to use a little bit of imagination or something because there's no dudes out there with long ass rubbery arms.

This is preferable to an image like this one of Shazam, which is self-serious and looks way too much like David Puddy from Seinfeld...

"high five...


david e. ford, jr said...

that image of Bush vamping on lady liberty has some great nuance because as you say, it recalls classical political muckraking style of the turn of the 20th century and in particular the sorts of cartoons that would portray immigrants or jews or whatever as a threat to the salubrity of the nation, or at least metaphorical chastity of that french-american statue.

Anonymous said...

They had a print of the Bush - Lady Liberty piece up on the wall at the vampire bar in tonight's episode of True Blood.

I wouldn't have caught it at all if not for having read this post last week.