Heroes and Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross

This is the formal announcement of the exhibition Heroes and Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross.  Curated by yours truly, the exhibition will include over 100 artworks by Alex Ross, in addition to works by Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, and others.   Heroes and Villains celebrates the strong influences of Rockwell, Warhol, Andrew Loomis, JC Leyendecker, and Ross’ mother Lynette (a successful commercial illustrator in her own right), and outlines Ross’ career of redefining comic books and graphic novels to a new generation through paintings, sketches, and sculptures of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and other comic book superheroes.  This exhibition, which comprises 5,500 square feet of gallery space, will be the first museum exhibition of Ross’ work.  Ross has graciously offered to prepare an original artwork for The Warhol to promote this premier, which will be available to the public in poster form exclusively at The Warhol Store.  Alex Ross will be present at the opening of Heroes and Villains on October 1, and will be on hand for a pre-opening autograph signing.

Alex Ross, Tango with Evil - The Joker and Harley Quinn, 2003. Collection of the Artist. All Characters ™ and © DC Comics.

Alex Ross, Tango with Evil – The Joker and Harley Quinn, 2003. Collection of the Artist. All Characters ™ and © DC Comics.

Alex Ross is considered one of the great comic book artists of all time, certainly the greatest of the last 15 years.  His reinterpretation of classic comic book characters into artworks with the use of pencil, gouache, and his God-given talent has changed the way comic books are painted.  From as young as 3 years old, Ross was drawing commercials from memory.  By the age of 13 he was creating and drawing original comic books.  At 23 years old, he was hired by Marvel Comics for the comic book event, Marvels.  His hugely successful comic book series, Kingdom Come (1996), marks the change between the Dark Age of comic books, in which pessimism and gritty stories ruled, into the Modern Age of optimism and strong superheroes.

This exhibition will include many drawings created by Alex between the ages of 4 and 14, as well as construction paper sculptures of the Justice League he created as a child.  A highlight in the exhibit is a pair of crayon and pencil drawings of Charlie Brown characters Alex costumed as the Justice League and the Legion of Doom.  I will include a progression of Captain Marvel (aka Shazam!) drawings and paintings done when he was 4, 15, and 31 years old, as well as a similar progression of Plastic Man works created throughout his life.

Paintings and sketches from his early career (e.g., Marvels and Kingdom Come) are included, as well as works from more recent projects, such as JusticeFlash Gordon, and Green Hornet.

Showcasing the heavy influence of American illustration and Pop Art on Alex Ross, I will include works by Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, and other illustrators from the early 20th Century.  Many of Lynette Ross’ artworks will be exhibited as well.  On display will be Myths prints created by Warhol, featuring many of the subjects of Alex Ross paintings – Superman, Uncle Sam, and the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz.  Since Warhol was a huge comic book fan, we will also have a selection of comic books and related paraphernalia collected by Warhol throughout his life.  In addition, Warhol’s uncompleted film Batman/Dracula (1964), which has not been exhibited since 1964, will be included in the exhibition.

Heroes and Villains film series will be presented during the run of the exhibition. Escape from New YorkThe Toxic AvengerNight of the Creeps, and Revenge of the Nerds will be screened in 35mm in the Warhol Theater at the Museum.  Special guest hosts will be present for the features.  For Escape from New York on November 4, Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie) and Tom Atkins (Rehme) will be present to introduce the film and provide a post-film Q&A.  Lloyd Kaufman, the director of The Toxic Avenger, will be here on October 21 to present his masterpiece.  On November 18, the coolest man in Pittsburgh, Tom Atkins (Detective Cameron), will return with Fred Dekker, director of Night of the Creeps, to present Mr. Dekker‘s film.  Finally, on December 2, Curtis Armstrong, best known for his scene-stealing role as Booger, will be present for a screening of Revenge of the Nerds.  Limited seating is available and tickets will be available on warhol.org.

I am very grateful to Alex and his business manager, Sal, for withstanding my barrage of emails and phone calls. If it wasn‘t for their cooperation, inspiration, and enthusiasm, this exhibition would not be possible.

During my childhood and through college, I was a huge comic book fan.  However, once I began working at the Warhol Museum over 14 years ago, I moved on to marriage, children, and bills.  During the Vader Project exhibition I brought to the Warhol a few years ago, through the organization of Dov Kelemer and Sarah Marks, I carted some Darth Vader heads to our local comic book/toy convention, Steel City Con, and bought a stack of comic books, some of which featured Alex Ross’ artwork.  My wife became ill shortly after, and Alex Ross comic books were my reading material during her treatments.  Thankfully, my wife is 100% better and you have this exhibition.

For more information on Alex Ross, visit his official website: www.alexrossart.com.

Heroes and Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross opens to the public on October 2, 2011, with an opening celebration the evening of October 1.

Stay tuned to warhol.org for information on all the upcoming associated events, including the aforementioned film series and opening party!

Jesse Kowalski

Director of Exhibitions