New York Times

October 3, 2008

Art in Review

 

CHARLES BURNS

Adam Baumgold Gallery

74 East 79th Street, Manhattan

Through Oct. 11

One of today’s pre-eminent comic-book artists, Charles Burns takes his readers on funny and scary journeys down all kinds of mind-bending rabbit holes. This absorbing exhibition of drawings dating from 1983 to the present is his first solo exhibition in New York.

Mr. Burns’s high-contrast, cleanly contoured, black-and-white ink drawings resemble mid-20th-century linoleum-cut prints. They have terrific graphic punch. He also has gripping storytelling instincts. Every frame makes you eager to know what will happen next. As in all good comic-book art, you are caught between wanting to slow down and savor the visual experience and the urge to race ahead to find out how the unpredictably strange narrative will unfold.

See, for example, pages from “El Borbah,” whose chapters follow the noirish adventures of a hard-boiled detective who appears in the guise of a fat, retired professional wrestler in lucha libre mask and grappler’s singlet.

The present exhibition focuses on single, full-page images made as covers for Mr. Burns’s famous serialized graphic novel “Black Hole.” Many of these have an eerie, archetypal resonance. The beautiful, naked young woman with a tail crouching in the forest as she eats a sandwich; the view from underground of a frightened young man peering into a vaginally shaped hole; the part-human, part-frog “Fetal Creature” lying helplessly on its back in the grass. These and others could be illustrations for a modern Grimms’ fairy tales.

KEN JOHNSON