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Pop Culture Alternatives To Explore During Comic-Con

Giclée print "Sulu," by Adam Lister, is shown in this photo.
Adam Lister
Giclée print "Sulu," by Adam Lister, is shown in this photo.
Pop Culture Alternatives To Explore During Comic-Con
Pop Culture Alternatives To Explore During Comic-Con GUESTS Mark Murphy, curator, Art ExpoSD Tim Mantoani, San Diego photographer and host of KPBS television show "Snapshot" Nathan Sawaya, Lego artist/curator, Art of the Geek

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. The biggest comic book science fiction fantasy entertainment event of the year is about to take place in downtown San Diego. The annual Comic-Con officially gets underway on Thursday at the San Diego convention Center. But the event is so big it keeps spilling out of the convention hall into a number of other venues and related events downtown. Two of those related events are major arts shows both inspired by Comic-Con. The curators of those exhibits are here to tell us about them. Mark Murphy is curator of Art Expo San Diego, a show opening next week at the Wonder Bread factory downtown. Mark, welcome to the program. Tim Mantoani is one of the artists featured at the show, and he is also the host of the KPBS TV program Snap Shot. Welcome. And Nathan Sawaya is a Lego artist curating an exhibit in the gaslamp district called Pop: the Art of the Geek. Nathan, hello. NATAHAN SAWAYA: Hello, thank you for having me. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mark, how does Art Expo San Diego connect to the themes of Comic-Con? MARK MURPHY: That is a great question. Comic-Con is a wonderful array of artists from all over the world as well as guests. The idea of the show is to take advantage of friends and artists I have worked with over the last twenty-two years, and invite them over to the media design school. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us about some of the artists who will be featured at the show. MARK MURPHY: There is Katie Black, scratchboard artist out of Cleveland. Tim Mantoani will be showing behind the photographs in San Diego, which is a premier. We have Kevin Paulson, and Larry and Debbie Klein, who actually did a military inspired tank installation celebrating the real-life story of our local veterans. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Some of the artists from the introduction on your website that I see have images that resemble comics. I'm thinking of Joel Nakamura, tell us about his work. MARK MURPHY: Joel is a Santa Fe artist. It is really about blurring the idea of comics and things that you grew up with, childhood musings, cartoons on Saturdays, with your own arts. Joel is an artist that paint on tin, in kind of a mythology celebrating old stories that are very familiar. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tim, some of your work will be on display at the Expo. Tell us about what we will see there. TIM MANTOANI: I did a project over the course of five years where I used a mammoth 20 x 24 Polaroid camera. I photographed photographers holding their most iconic or favorite image. We have some pictures from that project over there. One in particular is Timothy Greenfield Sanders, an amazing portrait photographer out of New York City. He photographed a lot of celebrities on this format as well, so he is holding a 20 x 24 Polaroid of Lou Reed, and I photographed him holding it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's sort of infinite vision. TIM MANTOANI: I spent so much time doing this. The famous pictures that you have seen, the tank man at Tiananmen Square, the girl being burned by napalm in Vietnam, the Afghani girl in National Geographic. People know these photographs, but they have no idea who the photographer is. My project was a way to put a face to the photograph. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nathan, the exhibit you're curating is called Pop: The Art of the Geek. What is the art of the geek? NATAHAN SAWAYA: It is really the celebration of everything Comic-Con. We look at Comic-Con, it itself is a celebration of pop culture, sci-fi, fantasy, comic books, superheroes. I was tasked with finding artists that would interpret Comic-Con in an arts way, and explore what they could be doing with those themes, and really just have fun with it. Is an exciting collection that we have put together, and I am excited to share it with everyone. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Give us an example, one of the things that your show says, it shows pop culture icons reimagined in different works. I'm wondering if you can give us an example of one of those icons reimagined. NATAHAN SAWAYA: There is a great painting by Dave Pollitt that has R2-D2 and C-3PO strolling through a barnyard scene. It takes characters and puts them in different scenes. Greg Siegal there's a lot of great photography where he is looking behind the scenes at superheroes like Captain American getting his mail, or Batman working out at the gym. Those favorite comic book characters you know and love, but maybe interpreted in a different way. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sometimes contemporary art is not easily understood by the general public. Do you think that your show will be easily accessible for people who do not know much about art? MARK MURPHY: Absolutely, it is geared towards all ages, and it's really an invitation to bring the community together to celebrate local artists. There is everything from storybook illustration, to were avant-garde contemporary, to actual installations focusing on Rubiks cubes, and things that are familiar to make art. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It sounds as if there are levels to each of these shows, that is instantly accessible if you see Superman working out at the gym, but there are other subterranean levels were this art can work, can you agree with that? NATAHAN SAWAYA: Absolutely. Much like the show at Art Expo, there's something for the whole family as well. It works on different levels, and there is different media involves. Some of the work is built out of Legos, which children will connect with immediately, but the characters they know as well. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tim, you have photograph some of San Diego's legends. Who are some of your favorites? What did you really enjoy taking pictures of? TIM MANTOANI: Tony Gwynn was really amazing. Everybody has been talking about Tony for the last month. Him and Trevor Hoffman were class acts on and off the field. Really a pleasure to have had the opportunity to work with them both. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I would imagine that the entire event of Comic-Con in downtown San Diego might lend itself to be a Wonderland for photographers. Do you expect to be taking any pictures and documenting this year's Comic-Con? TIM MANTOANI: I love roaming the streets during Comic-Con. Where else can you see storm troopers just walking by Starbucks, or in Starbucks just ordering coffee? Just visually, you can sit on the side of the road and I think it is really one of the visually most interesting weeks in San Diego for a photographer just roaming around. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nathan, will you be showing any work with Legos at the Pop Festival? NATAHAN SAWAYA: I will have a few new pieces on display, but I really want to focus on showcasing other artists that have really done amazing stuff. The musician Chris Daughtry has actually done some great work as he has turned to more visual arts. It is astounding, there is a lot to see. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mark, I want to follow up on something you said earlier the conversation, you see Comic-Con directing so many artists of different kinds to San Diego, that you wanted to take advantage of that in this Expo. Tell us more about that. MARK MURPHY: So many networks are actually hungry for finding creative forces within the industry. You never know who you're going to meet. After having a booth myself for the last fifteen years, I have made great alliances with Cartoon Network, Sony, and other folks like that looking for talent. The idea of Art Expo focuses on talent that is accessible and local, where people can browse items that take advantage just like Comic-Con, but on an intimate level. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is this an opportunity for the featured artists to be seen by a number of people in the industry that they would like to get into? MARK MURPHY: Thankfully all of the artists featured will be there. They will be signing books and magazines, and instructing and inspiring people about the work that they do and what they are really passionate about. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tim, what are you looking forward to seeing in this exhibit? TIM MANTOANI: Well, I have been involved with Mark in the shows that he has had in the last few years. I am always amazed by the effort that he puts into building an arts community here in San Diego that in a lot of ways, if it was not for people for Mark, would not exist. It is a great opportunity for me as a photographer to meet artists of all different walks of life that use different mediums, and it's inspiring to me to see the visual approach that someone else takes, and how I can translate those into my own inspiration. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nathan, do you feel that you're in competition with Art Expo? NATAHAN SAWAYA: Not at all. It is such a celebration of art in so many different ways. The one thing I would like to mention is the sales from the exhibition, from Art of the Geek, part of the proceeds go to Art Revolution Foundation, a great foundation that puts art supplies into schools. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is a good thing, I'm glad that you mentioned that, and you brought out another part of this that I think applies to both shows. This is not just the kind of exhibit you see in a Museum. You are actively soliciting people to buy these pieces of art. NATAHAN SAWAYA: Right, at Art of the Geek right on Market and J the work is for sale, and we're hoping to raise money for a good cause. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Mark? MARK MURPHY: The interesting thing is, this is a class that has been instructed at the Media Design School of Digital Arts. Four students and myself have been working on this for two quarters. This is kind of a manifestation of their vision and hard work, and a celebration of the school. A lot of our proceeds are actually going to scholarships for the students to continue their success in school. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: People are going to be actively encouraged to buy this art. MARK MURPHY: Absolutely, it will all be available. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As I said at the beginning, there is so much going on at this short burst of intensity that we call Comic-Con. I am wondering, what do you think will make this event stand out? MARK MURPHY: I think it is just having so many years of connecting with people at Comic-Con and actually building a fan base. Also, each artist, like Tim and the fifty other artists featured, they have their own fan base. Collectively, in complement to Nathan, it is about getting people together and the community. That is the direction. It is a free event, everyone is invited. There's a lot to see and experience. If you are already at Comic-Con it is within a mile of the convention, it is really no big deal. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What will make Pop: Art of the Geek stand out amid all of the other choices people have during Comic-Con? NATAHAN SAWAYA: Similar to what Mark said, it is the collection of art and artists. We have a collection about emerging and established artists that have put together something amazing to look at. I am just excited for people to react to it and see it and hopefully raise some money for a good cause. I think the collection is the key thing. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When you say the collection, the artist that you have assembled? NATAHAN SAWAYA: It is really the collection of artwork, it is really diverse. You focus on the celebration of pop culture. It is diverse elements of work. As I said, there is Lego, collages, paintings, photography, and the subject matters that they chose to focus on really makes it quite a project. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I know you will each go to your own exhibition. What is it that you are looking forward to at Comic-Con? MARK MURPHY: It is unexpected, Comic-Con is full of surprises, and it is great to see old friends from all over the world. It is a great celebration of the city of San Diego, and a celebration of talent, vision, and inspiration. I just love it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tim, are you looking forward to seeing something at Comic-Con? TIM MANTOANI: I am always eyes wide open at Comic-Con. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You're going to be taking pictures? TIM MANTOANI: Yes, and just walking through, honestly about halfway through I am just exhausted, because it is such a visual thing. Everywhere you look, your brain just can't process everything happening around you. It is always fun, you just don't know what you're going to see. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Nathan, is there an event or an artist at Comic-Con that you're really looking forward to? NATAHAN SAWAYA: You know, there are so many things on my list that I want to do. Comic-Con brings so many different elements together that I don't know if I could pick one thing. I look forward to just seeing all of the people, my friends, and really just exploring. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me let everyone know that Pop: Art of the Geek opens this Wednesday at the Michael J Wolf Gallery in the gaslamp district. Art Expo San Diego opens Thursday, July 24 at the Wonder Bread factory in the East Village. Thank you all very much.

If you don’t have tickets to the main Comic-Con show at the San Diego Convention Center this week, there are still plenty of opportunities in town to get your pop culture fix. Here are two art exhibits that fill that bill.

ArtExpo is an alternative art fair inspired by the students at Media Design School of Digital Arts at NSAD (New School of Architecture + Design). Their collection of artwork, books, prints at collectibles will be on display Thursday through Saturday at the Wonder Bread Factory, 121 14th St.

The show is curated by Mark Murphy, who has overseen 13 major art exhibitions during Comic-Con over the past 12 years. Murphy has worked with Cartoon Network, Coint Eastwood, Brandon Boyd, Green Day and Hanna-Barbera.


One of the featured artists in the show is San Diego photographer Tim Mantoani, author of “Behind Photographs: Archiving Photographic Legends.”

One of the best parts of ArtExpo: It’s free and open to the public.

POP! The Art of the Geek is curated by Nathan Sawaya and showcases emerging artists who have re-imagined the icons of pop culture. Sawaya says the show “celebrates the blending of art and culture.”

Ten percent of all sales will be donated to the Art Revolution Foundation, a national nonpropfit that advocates for the importance of art in everyday life, in part by providing more art supplies to schools.

The exhibit premiere’s Wednesday and continues through Sunday at Michale J. Wolf Fine Arts, 363 Fifth Ave., downtown San Diego.