This exhibition explores the theme of the superhero in large colorful figurative paintings observed from life. My family and I pose in costume, creating densely layered portraits and genre scenes using studio props. Drawing from Figurative Expressionism and Magic Realism, I tried to create a visual narrative inspired from the ranks of "heroic "painting and high culture. There is a creative mix using Renaissance and Mannerist altarpiece compositions, Egyptian Fayun portraits, Roman frescos, Judaica and early 20th Century Expressionism. But, my real love is comics.
My goal was to revisit the medium as a serious venue for autobiographical reflection, inherent expressivity and storytelling techniques. By creating high art representations using popular images of the superhero, I am free to explore the medium to pose authentic questions about the self, identity and the possibility of transcendence in the modern world. Can people really evolve and change? What is real and what is the assumed identity? What is the role of the hero in contemporary life? In working, I fully equated the power and prestige of comics with that of traditional European oil painting.
The exhibitions signature series Jo-El/Jore-EL presents self-portraits in a Superman Halloween suit (Image on right). The image of Superman is examined as iconography and commentary, related historically to the advent of comics as a mass medium in the 20th Century and as the beginning of the modern individual. The painting, House of El, 2013 presents a double portrait of the artist, one in "civilian" clothes; the other in action gear, examining the roots of the Superman character within a multi-cultural context of Jewish, Christian and Pagan visual sources.
The exhibition culminates in a 16 foot mural modeled on 1950's Cinemascope movie screens. The large narrative work entitled, Superman in Exile, 2013 depicts a somewhat pensive superhero confronting the ovens of the Holocaust with the aid of magician and escape artist, Harry Houdini. Can Superman and Houdini transcend death? Superman and other superheroes are examined in light of Jewish artists and authors during the Great Depression on the eve of the Shoah. Jerry Siegel , Joe Schuster, Walter Benjamin and Chaim Soutine all meet on the battlefield of narrative painting; a slug-fest of epic proportions!
Information on exhibit:
Superheroes, Autobiography & Religion
The Art of Joel Silverstein
March 23-May 16, 2014
Hadas Gallery, Rohr Center
Pratt Institute; 541 Myrtle Ave, Brooklyn, NY, 11205
Open by Appointment