The strains of guitar, upright bass, saw, and folksy vocals wriggled their way through the crowd last Friday as over fifty local cartoonists, along with scores of friends and patrons, packed the Altered Esthetics gallery in Northeast Minneapolis for the opening of “Lutefisk Sushi.” The show features the work of over fifty local cartoonists on both gallery walls and in a box of black-and-white “mini comics” written by each artist for the occasion.
Lutefisk Sushi is on display through May 31 at Altered Esthetics, 1224 Quincy St. N.E., Minneapolis. For hours and information, see alteredesthetics.org.
The word “cartoonist” tends not to be associated with fine art, instead evoking Saturday-morning buffoonery, and not much else. The word “illustrators” might be more respectable, but in this case it would be completely off the mark: the creations on display Friday night romped through a range of visual and narrative styles and subject matter, brimming with creativity and skill.
Artists drew on a range of influences from Japanese Manga to the sharp, woodblock-like figures of Art Speigleman, best known for his Maus series on the Holocaust. Perhaps surprisingly, many artists as not decided to remain within the humorous tradition of comics, rather than treating that tradition as baggage to escape in pursuit of artistic legitimacy. In their final products, the artists used their medium for a variety of purposes, ranging from a humorous but heavy-handed satire of US foreign policy appropriating Walt Disney’s early film Steamboat Willie to philosophical meditations on old age.
Jamie Schumacher, the gallery director, agreed that cartoonists are unconventional art gallery fare, but argued that it is entirely legitimate to feature their work. The pieces featured in the show bear her out. The writing (and illustrating), one might say, is on the wall.
The annual – and unusual – show, now in its third year, is the brainchild of the local “cell” of the International Cartoonists’ Conspiracy, a national organization of cartoonists. The Conspirators drew inspiration for the name from the all-Minnesotan group of artist featured (thus, “Lutefisk”) and the bite-sized nature of the mini-comics written for the box set (“Sushi”).
James Sanna (email@example.com) is an intern at the Daily Planet. In the interest of disclosure, it should be noted that he has a friend among the artists featured.