Bedford Gallery's look at superhero influence
By Lou Fancher
Leave it to artists to envision Superman with gray hair, Wonder Woman outfitted in textured red leather and painted-metal rivets, or Batman's head atop a Chinese warrior's terra-cotta body. Superheroes are universally loved and fodder for artistic exploration.
Collected works will be on display beginning Jan. 17, at the opening of Bedford Gallery's "My Hero: Contemporary Art and Superhero Action," and demonstrate the permanent influence of international, national and local artists' work on superhero art and pop culture.
Real-life avatars and superheroes will strut a runway in wearable art during the two-hour event.
"It's a one-time opening event to inspire our community to come out to the gallery," says curator Carrie Lederer, about the pop-up fashion show.
The idealism that introduced classic superhero films -- "Adventures of Captain Marvel" in 1941, "Batman" in 1943, and more -- was swept into new artistic possibilities by 20th century pop artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Mel Ramos and others.
Ramos, an Oakland artist, gave up abstract expressionism in the 1960s and turned to painting comic book heroes. His Superman paintings hang in San Francisco's DeYoung Museum and several works are included in the Bedford show.
"We're captivated by miraculous, superhuman strength, startling bravery, the enthralling adventures, and even their weaknesses," says Lederer.
Researching for the show, she was intrigued by artists' explorations in a variety of media into superheroes' imagined aging, fakery, need for rest and even pizza delivery. Photographer Dulce Pinzon shows a man riding a bicycle through the city to deliver pizzas while wearing a Superman suit.
"Dulce's photographs are paying tribute to immigrants who work in hard conditions with low wages that are often sent home to support their families. With this work, she's stating that even though the Pizza Superman and her other characters don't have supernatural powers, their bravery and determination makes them everyday superheroes," says Lederer.
Walnut Creek-based fashion designer Candice Cuoco also looks beyond a superhero's basic cape and costume. The "Project Runway" finalist from season 14 describes the Wonder Woman outfit she's still constructing one week prior to the opening as "layered."
The four-piece creation includes a red corset, traditional hot-pants, leggings and a choker.
"It's modernized, a mix of fantasy and reality, but each element is a wearable piece," Cuoco says. "It's a statement: women with strength. I love to represent the stronger side of women, even though we're also very soft in nature.
"I admire women that prevail. Wonder Woman ties in with all of the everyday women who are strong, even relentless."
Lederer says visitors are "welcome to wear their enthusiasm" by dressing up as their personal avatar or favorite superhero. Perhaps they'll find inspiration for return visits or future fashion in the "ultimate man" renditions of Michigan-based artist Mark Newport that are included in the exhibit.
His hand-knit, life-size acrylic "Batman 3" and two "Friends of Sweaterman" creations weave vulnerability into costumes that Mark Newport says turn the superhero inside-out to explore our understanding or assumptions about masculinity.