"Heroes & Villains Part I

City Natives Fine Art and Tattoo Gallery

Through May 31

In its first month of opening, City Natives Fine Art and Tattoo Gallery, operated by BRIDGE Collective, is in that precarious territory of having to prove itself in order to make good on its space. That space, the former Jeff Martin Gallery, isn’t necessarily off the beaten path — Fountain Square is becoming hipper by the weekend, while some would say it has already arrived — but a gallery must sell art, or something, in order to stay in business, not-for-profit or otherwise.

The tattoo end of things, not yet in operation, may also show some promise in this regard. Meanwhile, the gallery’s first installment, Heroes & Villains Part I, includes the work of Justin Cooper, Mike Graves, Matt Lawrence and Aaron Reynolds (a.k.a. Nexito, tattoo artist), who have deployed paint, drawing and collage as a collective nod towards comic book characters and dramas — these providing a departure point for creative expression.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a confessed comic book ignoramus. I don’t know most of the characters in today’s comic realms, but show me Veronica or Jughead and I’m with the program. The only character I knew right away was the Incredible Hulk, revered both by my kid brother and a boy I once babysat. The green hero (anti-hero?) is still engaging kids — and adults — with his massive strangeness; but then, isn’t extremism what makes comics so enthralling to begin with?

Shannon Wilson, spokesperson for the Collective, with artist-member Mike Graves also on hand, offered up the notion that making art in collaboration, particularly art inspired by comics, is progressive — and that’s the goal of the gallery, where they hope to exhibit art that mainstream galleries “wouldn’t necessarily think to show.” This first offering should fit the bill.

This art goes beyond the fetishistic drawings of young people enthralled by their favorite good and evil characters duking (or nuking) it out. Paintings such as “Snuggly Soft” offer the comic book character as an icon, much like Jeff Koons’ larger-than-life stainless steel cartoon sculptures. The smooth collaborations of Justin Copper and Mike Graves are also uniquely inspired. Coopers’ trademark polish and the brilliant crackle of gold leaf is loosened up by Graves’ layering of found Japanese text and other collage effects.

Indianapolis, like any growing city, thrives when its artists challenge audiences beyond the conventional or the static. What’s new here isn’t the notion of appropriating comic book characters — this has been done since the emergence of Pop Art. Rather, it’s the notion of creating a space that helps to connect artists and challenge them creatively. As Graves put it, “You really have to let go of your ego.”

Heroes & Villains Part I is on view at City Natives Fine Art & Tattoo Gallery, 874 Virginia Ave., through May 31. Gallery hours by appointment; call 317-362-8104 or e-mail CityNativesFineArtGallery@gmail.com. Gallery will be open May 19 from 12 to 11 p.m.



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