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Dark Contrasts

Comics and graphic novels are often purveyors of the darker side of life. Their hidden nature, confined to shop shelves or the houses of those who buy them give them leverage to tackle subject matter that lay more dormant to other mediums of art. So how are they received when they enter the more general public arena and are displayed in a gallery? Beat checks out Dark Contrasts , and exhibition showcasing Melbourne artists Dillon Naylor and Mandy Ord to find out.

It is Naylor's first major exhibition, and as he explains, the process of displaying the work in a gallery "puts comics into a new context." Comics are becoming cool, if you haven't already noticed. They're flooding the film industry, providing inspiration and heroes for the big screen. "People are becoming more broadminded about them because Hollywood has latched onto them," Naylor says. It's not just comics either; cartoons, illustration, animation, storyboards - this is highly functional art. They all seem to be related at their core: they have the power to combine words and images, making them more accessible to a wider audience - and an adult one.

It shouldn't seem so extraordinary then to attend an exhibition of comic work, though there is something about standing around an image for over a minute just to read the dialogue that is slightly distracting. The work ranges from comic book strips to single frame art, incorporating some new work that was made for the show. A personal surprise was the use of colour by both artists. Ord uses slight hints of blues, greens and browns for her Bearded Men series, while Naylor has five pieces in colour, all acrylic on canvas. Out of all of Naylor's work, these are the most simplistic in style. He says, "I've never dealt with single images on their own so I thought I may as well do it on paint, which I've never done before." Their detail is inherent in Naylor's use of line; they aren't busy or overworked, and nothing distracts from the subjects within them.
 
Rear View has a superb use of hot colours and perfect portrayal of stereotypes. The remaining works are in black and white, and it goes without saying that the theme of Dark Contrasts is both literal and allegoric.
Part of that darkness is provided by the combination of words and images that comics capitalise on. Though some of the work has no words except for a title, it's the blend of the two that provide the tongue in cheek humour that is apparent in both Naylor and Ord's work. One of Ord's pieces consists of three images conveying a conversation between two men in a gallery. "You. Don't touch the artwork." The face then changes from furrowed brow to a helpless look "Touch me instead." It's the type of humour you don't have to be a genius to follow, but it sure does help to have a little something dark in you to appreciate it just the same.

A lot of Ord's work is autobiographical, detailing simple conversations or moments in her life. Her commentary is often dark, such as the incessant brain chatter in 5 Minutes to Spare "...usually it's a cynical, kinda funny negativity but now it feels like a depression negativity... shit." Such work gives the audience an interesting and honest observation on communal feelings and thoughts. Ord also uses the literal sense, and sometimes the literal is ironically the most obscure.

Ord's style is busy and stark, contrasting to Naylor's, which is almost aggressive. Perhaps this is also due to his subjects - they never appear innocent. Naylor says this depiction is not intentional, considering on display is a "stretch of work since the '80s." His influences are the comics he grew up with, "Disney comics and horror comics," he states. A lot of his work is a gruelling amalgamation of the two.

If nothing else, the exhibition provides a look at the making of comics. As Naylor concludes, "I thought the exhibition was a great way to put what would normally be page seven of some old comic out into the public... it shows the work in progress: tones of mistakes, liquid paper, coffee, gunk all over the paper... it explains how the process is done."

Dark Contrasts is showing at the Town Hall Gallery, rear 358 Burwood Road, Hawthorn, from Wednesday September 1 to Saturday September 25. Entrance is free.