In the work of self-taught underground comic artist Mark Beyer, childlike imagery combines with world-weary malaise to form a universe of bizarre creatures that are at once charming and sort of menacing, like something conjured in a dream after a really spicy meal and a few too many.
Tom Wagner can’t fully explain his obsession with Beyer’s work, but there’s no doubting his commitment to it. His private stockpile of Beyer’s strips, paintings and other output, amassed over 30 years, is large enough to fill half of the spacious galleries at OSU’s Urban Arts Space. It makes up “With/Without Text,” the first major retrospective exhibition of Beyer’s work and his first extensive solo exhibition in the U.S.
During a pre-opening walk through the gallery, Wagner recalled seeing Beyer’s work for the first time in the magazine New Music Express.
“I love his style – it’s sort of like German Expressionism. I don’t collect any other comics but it just blew me away,” he said.
Wagner was moved enough to photocopy a number of strips Beyer published in the magazine and format them as a small comic to give to his friends.
Over time, Wagner’s collection has grown to include numerous examples of Beyer’s most famous strips, “We’re Depressed” and “Amy and Jordan,” as well as the artist’s early self-published books, commissioned album covers and concert posters, examples of the animation he created for MTV’s 1990s series “Liquid Television” and a colorful assortment of ephemera, including hand-painted paperweights, trading cards and Amy and Jordan collectible dolls produced by Dark Horse Comics.
Also on display are Beyer’s most recent, less known works: large numbered color prints from the French underground publishing house Le Dernier Cri and wildly vibrant Plexiglass paintings, for which the artist works in reverse, outlining his images and filling in the color on the back of his clear canvas.
The paintings are Wagner’s main reason for emptying his home of its Beyer-related treasures and sharing them with Columbus art lovers. He hopes the effort might help the artist rise above the underground in the public eye.
As he explained, “I’ve always been interested in getting his paintings more well known. I want to see a book of these.”