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Comic Art Market Still Healthy After A Year Of Covid – Forbes

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The market for original comic art continues to draw the interest of fans, collectors and speculators despite the nearly year-long draught of conventions, gallery shows and in-person auctions. Just last month, “The Blue Lotus,” an original painting by Belgian artist Hergé of his beloved boy detective character Tintin, sold at auction for nearly $4 million, and top tier artists in Europe and North America are seeing strong demand for their work.

To get a current read on the market, I spoke to Chicago-based art agent Sal Abbinanti who represents two of the industry’s top talents, Alex Ross and Bill Sienkiewicz. Both straddle the line between fine art and pop culture illustration. Ross is best known for his glossy photorealistic paintings of iconic heroes from DC and Marvel, and has lately branched out into other licensed images like David Bowie and the Beatles. He’s been a top name in comics since he rocked the comics world with the fully painted series Marvels in the early 1990s. Sienkiewicz is comics’ avant-garde expressionist. His energetic mixed-media work changed the look of comics in the 1980s with New Mutants and Elektra: Assassin. Both remain extremely popular with fans and collectors.

Abbinanti says today’s comics art market first took shape in the early days of the Internet, when the niche hobby of collecting the hand-drawn original pages of comic books, which were generally seen as disposable production art in the process of creating the printed comics, started reaching a wider audience. “Europeans had a much stronger appreciation for the original art than we did,” he explained, “so once they had access to American pieces via eBay and online auctions, the prices started going up.”

Ross and Abbinanti saw an opportunity to up-level the prestige and perception of comic art, making it more palatable to mainstream art collectors and non-comics fans alike by reducing the barriers to entry, including haggling with insular and disinterested dealers.

“At conventions, art dealers were selling pages out of Tupperware containers, on card tables, with prices written on the back in pencil,” Abbinanti recalls. To send a different message, he designed a slick brand for Ross’s work, including a custom logo, an imposing, white-carpeted booth designed to simulate a gallery environment on the floor of comic conventions, and staff dressed in sharp suits, in contrast to the usual convention attire of t-shirts and cargo shorts.

The booth maximized Ross’s exposure to both the ordinary fan market and to the deep-pocketed collector, including the Hollywood celebrities who roam the show floor of San Diego Comic-Con and respond to the upmarket appeal and ambiance. Noting the strong sales of high-end lithograph reproductions through collectibles outlets like the WB and Disney stores, Abbinanti encouraged Ross to branch out in terms of subject matter, applying his commercial-friendly style to pop culture icons from the worlds of film and music in addition to superheroes.

When Sienkiewicz became a client, his work required a different approach and a separately-designed booth to fit his own brand and aesthetic. “Alex is like Elvis [a superstar with broad mainstream appeal],” explains Abbinanti. “Bill is like Bob Dylan [an idiosyncratic talent with devoted fans and elite prestige]. You don’t want to group them together for all kinds of reasons.”

Artist Bill Sienkiewicz discusses his work and career at a panel at San Diego Comic Fest, March, 2020, in conversation with Rob Salkowitz.

As key comic and pop culture works by artists like Hergé, Robert Crumb and Frank Frazetta started realizing seven figures at auction, other classes of buyers started paying attention to the field and more money has been pouring in, pumping up prices. “There are different kinds of buyers,” says Abbinanti. “Some buy for investment. They take the piece and put it in a vault, because it’s a safer bet than the stock market. [Blue chip comic art pieces] are like Basquiats or Picassos now. They don’t lose value.”

Other kinds of buyers love the characters and are at a point in life when they have disposable income. Some just love the look of the work and buy on the spot.

Abbinanti says the absence of conventions and gallery shows during the past year due to the Covid-19 pandemic has cut into those impulse buys that take place in face-to-face settings, but is offset by the savings in costs and hassles. Even though Abbinanti has been more selective about the conventions where he exhibits with his artists, he usually did several large shows in Europe, which compound problems of customs and regulatory costs with travel and exhibition expenses.

“We’ve done well,” he says. “We didn’t make as much, but we didn’t spend as much, and we have good relationships, which is 99% of this business.”

The enforced time off the road has given Abbinanti, who is himself an artist, a chance to complete a personal project that has been more than ten years in the making. His original graphic novel Hostage is based on his experiences travelling in Brazil in his early 20s, where he witnessed the intense and violent conditions faced by street kids in the favellas of Rio de Jenario. Abbinanti’s art style is dense and elaborate, reminiscent of the mixed-media expressionism of his client Sienkiewicz.

Leveraging his own network of professionals and collectors, Abbinanti is self-publishing the work through a Kickstarter campaign that has already funded over 150% with several weeks to go. He says that channel is better for non-mainstream work that comic stores might be reluctant to put on the shelves.

As for the outlook for the future, Abbinanti sees no letup in the rising prices, with more money coming in from around the world. “Frankly, a lot of people with a lot of money sometimes have to put it into private investments like art, that hold their value but aren’t out in the open,” he says. “This last year, we’ve missed some of our European and Asian buyers, but they’ll be back.”

And so will their money.

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Peterborough artists Brian Nichols and John Marris facilitate community art making during the pandemic – kawarthaNOW.com

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Peterborough artists Brian Nichols and John Marris have been facilitating community art making during the pandemic, including for people facing marginalization and alienation. Pictured is artwork at One City Peterborough’s open studio, located at 541 Water Street in Peterborough, which is open on a drop-in basis to community members between 2:30 and 4 p.m. every Monday afternoon. (Photo: Sarah McNeilly / kawarthaNOW.com)

“I am here as an artist,” Brian Nichols emphatically states through his mask, while stopping mid-pace, on both feet, as if to punctuate his statement. “I’m here as a volunteer.”

With a nod, the artist, volunteer, and psychotherapist springs back into action, energetically fluttering about the studio once more.

It’s the first day the drop-in open studio at One City Peterborough has reopened since the most recent provincial-wide lockdown, and the energy in the room is palpable.

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The new studio space at One City Peterborough, which first opened in October 2020, is buzzing with excited artistic experimentation. Located at 541 Water Street in Peterborough, the studio is open on a drop-in basis to community members between 2:30 and 4 p.m. every Monday afternoon.

Light pours through the large windows onto colourful works of art displayed on the mantle, tables, and walls. That foreboding sense of dread we’ve all grown so accustomed to can’t help but give way to pure joy inside the small studio.

Were it not for the masked participants partaking in the occasional six-foot-shuffle — that awkward physical-distance dance we’ve all shared with unwitting partners over the past year — one could almost forget, if only for a fleeting moment, that we are living in times of crisis.

A freshly made piece of art at One City Peterborough's open studio.  (Photo: Sarah McNeilly / kawarthaNOW.com)
A freshly made piece of art at One City Peterborough’s open studio. (Photo: Sarah McNeilly / kawarthaNOW.com)

This is not a typical art class. There is no teacher standing at the front of the room imparting their knowledge onto passive recipients. Rather, it’s a non-hierarchical environment where the small group can safely gather to actively make art together, and learn about themselves in the process.

“It feels even more important during COVID,” says Tammy Kuehne, warming room coordinator for One City Peterborough, which is focused on housing, food security, community safety, and inclusion. The organization is an amalgamation of Warming Room Community Ministries and Peterborough Reintegration Services.

“The need for spaces where people can connect with each other in person, still being safe, is crucial,” Kuehne adds. “We’ve had a lot of people really excited to learn that we’re opening back up.”

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Now more than ever we all need community self-expression and creativity, but for those who have faced marginalization and alienation — mental health challenges, homelessness, illness, disability, and poverty — community art making represents a vital lifeline during the isolating conditions of the pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, both Nichols and fellow local artist John Marris have been hard at work finding ways to deliver the community arts programming they facilitate, respectively, with various not-for-profits.

Prior to the most recent lockdown, Nichols had been facilitating the open studio at One City Peterborough for Circles of Support & Accountability (CoSA) — a restorative justice program — since October.

Prior to the most recent lockdown, Peterborough artist Brian Nichols had been facilitating the open studio at One City Peterborough for Circles of Support & Accountability (CoSA), a restorative justice program.  Pictured is some of the CoSA artwork at the One City Peterborough open studio. (Photo: Sarah McNeilly / kawarthaNOW.com)
Prior to the most recent lockdown, Peterborough artist Brian Nichols had been facilitating the open studio at One City Peterborough for Circles of Support & Accountability (CoSA), a restorative justice program. Pictured is some of the CoSA artwork at the One City Peterborough open studio. (Photo: Sarah McNeilly / kawarthaNOW.com)

Throughout most of the winter lockdown, Marris has been offering art-making sessions for young residents in a bubbled household at YES Shelter for Youth and Families. He also managed to offer outdoor art-making sessions with YES in the summertime.

Peterborough artist John Marris has been offering art-making sessions for young residents at YES Shelter for Youth and Families.(Photo: John Marris / Facebook)
Peterborough artist John Marris has been offering art-making sessions for young residents at YES Shelter for Youth and Families.(Photo: John Marris / Facebook)

In January, Marris and local artist Wendy Trusler moved online the community art making workshops they had been running with mental health patients at Peterborugh Regional Health Centre so they could safely continue their important work.

This past fall, Marris and Nichols were also able to continue the ‘You Can Make It Art’ workshops at The Mount Community Centre, though only for residents of the centre. Previously, the workshops had been available on a drop-in basis to the broader Peterborough community, after Nichols launched the program in 2018.

Marris and Nichols have made it their mission to provide those facing marginalization with something the artists believe to be as vital as food, shelter, water, and air.

Art is neither a luxury nor a pursuit reserved only for the cult of the expert. Self-expression is an integral part of being human.

“These community art projects take us back to the fundamental need to express ourselves and explore ourselves in healthy and productive ways,” Marris writes for a presentation he recently delivered before the Arts, Culture Heritage Advisory Committee for The City of Peterborough.

“They help us develop skills and confidence and self-belief. They teach us how to be present, to find focus, and to know we have the right to express ourselves — to be the authors of our world.”

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For both Nichols and Marris the impetus to create, and to encourage others to do so, is anchored in the two artists’ introspective and philosophical investigations of presence, respectively.

“I need to find things that take me into that moment of presence,” explains Marris during a telephone interview. “What I’ve discovered is that making art, working with play, and making art with other people has become this way to be absolutely present in the moment.”

As for Nichols, his background in psychotherapy certainly contributes to his approach to community art-making. Most participants with whom he works have experienced grief or trauma in some form. However, his process is also born from a place of vulnerability and empathy from his own experiences.

In 2018, The Mount Community Centre hosted 'You Can Make It Art' drop-in art making workshops for the general community. The workshops resumed this past fall, but only for residents of the centre. (Photo: John Marris)
In 2018, The Mount Community Centre hosted ‘You Can Make It Art’ drop-in art making workshops for the general community. The workshops resumed this past fall, but only for residents of the centre. (Photo: John Marris)

In 2018, after a diagnosis of giant cell arteritis (a rare autoimmune disease) forced Nichols to leave his psychotherapy practice, he felt a sense of urgency to make art and to encourage community art-making. Since then, his artistic output has been as prolific as his community art-making initiatives.

“It’s been an incredible journey to figure out how to do the work,” Nicols says. “And it’s really subtle and easy, but difficult to grasp, how it’s not teaching, how it’s not simply making art — it’s about connection.”

“What is present is a new pain and the absence, for me, is often hope and a sense of future,” he replies when asked how presence and absence figure into his process. “To help others embrace the new pain, without trying to minimize it — we’re not just the pain but that’s hugely a part of our existence — without moving to hope and without any sense of future. What we have is now — being in the now — which is that sense of presence.”

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Art making is, in many ways, world making. There exists an essential connection between the real and the imagined. An artist’s created world is necessarily separate from, yet connected to, the world in which we live.

“I think living is that whole process of world making,” Nichols acknowledges. “To live authentically is to create both your own interior and exterior world.”

Through art, Marris and Nichols offer people not only the opportunity to be the creators of their own worlds, but also to create an inclusive and even emancipatory community of art makers, connected by their shared presence in the present.

 Community art making at The Mount Community Centre. (Photo: John Marris)
Community art making at The Mount Community Centre. (Photo: John Marris)

As such, their practices — art making, world making, and the gift of presence — transform the One City Peterborough studio into a sanctuary for all.

To support the important work Nichols and Marris are doing in the Peterborough community, you can make a donation to One City Peterborough at www.onecityptbo.ca/donate or to YES Shelter for Youth and Families at yesshelter.ca/help/help-yes/donate.

Atelier Ludmila Gallery, in the Commerce Building at 129-1/2 Hunter Street West in downtown Peterborough, will be exhibiting Marris’ most recent body of work, Material Dialogue. The show opens on the First Friday Art Crawl on March 5th from 6 to 10 p.m. It will be exhibited until Sunday, March 28th. Fifty per cent of all sales from the show will be donated to YES Shelter for Youth and Families.

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The Vancouver Heritage Foundation needs some art for their Wall – Vancouver Is Awesome

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The Wall, a wall of the CBC Vancouver Plaza, is in need of some new art.

Not because the art there is old, but because every year the art changes. Run by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation (VHF), the Wall currently shows The Giant Hand and the Birth of Gianthropology, by Henri Robideau, but its time is coming to an end.

We are now accepting proposals for the 2021 The WALL installation. Artists and independent curators are invited to submit proposals for consideration by the 2021 WALL committee,” states the foundation on the VHF website.

The curated space goes back to 2009, when the CBC was redesigning their building.

“2020 marked the 10-year anniversary of The WALL! This outdoor installation has featured artworks of both upcoming and established artists, exploring the theme of Vancouver’s built environment,” writes the VHF.

The 43′ x 32′ frame is above, and sponsored by, JJ Bean. 

The deadline for proposals from artists is coming up on March 15.

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STU student brings awareness to ecological crisis through art – The Aquinian

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Grace Hickey, a third-year St. Thomas University student, used the symbolism of the labyrinth to create an opportunity for reflection and self-awareness surrounding the ecological crisis. (Submitted: Madeline Harquail)

Grace Hickey, a third-year St. Thomas University student, put out a call to the Fredericton arts community for environmental pieces for an installation.

Hickey is organizing the installation as a part of her fine arts course at STU and her work with the Canadian Wilderness Stewardship Program. 

The project is inspired by Hickey’s former studies on labyrinths. She said a labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness, combining the imagery of the circle and a spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. Hickey said she’s using the labyrinth as a medium of how the installation will be displayed made of painter’s tape to take the viewer on a journey of reflection.

“The labyrinth represents a journey to our own center, and back again out into the world,” said Hickey.

The installation will be presented from April 6 to 10 in room 203 in Margaret McCain Hall with specific viewing times to be announced. The art submission deadline is at the end of March. Hickey said that she hopes the project will bring a new level of awareness and reflection to its viewers. 

Grace Hickey, a third-year St. Thomas University student, put out a call to the Fredericton arts community for environmental pieces for an installation. (Submitted: Grace Hickey)

Hickey planned on using this symbolism of the labyrinth to create an opportunity for reflection and self-awareness surrounding the ecological crisis. 

“[The artwork is] going to be purposely placed throughout the space and the labyrinth to allow the public participants to come and walk the labyrinth and have a contemplated moment with each piece,” said Hickey.

Because of the request for environmental art, Hickey said that she has received an “overwhelming” amount of support from the community. She said she has collected a variety of pieces in a number of mediums including paintings, sculptures and poetry. 

Hickey said her intention behind using multiple mediums is that she wants to hear stories about individual experiences and the environmental crisis.

“My hope is that people will have time to reflect on their own personal stories and experiences and be able to take this forward as part of our collective solution,” said Hickey. 

Grace Hickey said her intention behind using multiple mediums is that she wants to hear stories about individual experiences and the environmental crisis. (Submitted: Lila Gorey-McSorley)

The cause is important to Hickey as an environmental studies major. Though she explained that while she had always been passionate about social justice issues, she hadn’t even been aware that environmental studies was an offered program at STU. 

Hickey said that her introduction to environmental studies course in first-year was a “profound experience” and the more she learned, the more she wanted to dig deeper.

“I don’t think I’ve fully comprehended the fact that we were currently in an ecological crisis and a climate crisis and what that meant,” said Hickey. 

“I felt that it was important for me to absorb all this knowledge so that I could best effect change in whatever way I can, whether that be creating an art installation, or whether that be later on in my career.”

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