paintings by Christine Shields
Reading Frenzy, through Oct 31

It must be difficult for artists who release comics to separate themselves from the perfect union of font and pictorials. Indeed, forming uniform letters that not only have a literal communicative meaning, but also augment a painting, is a skilled art form in itself.

Christine Shields, self-publishing comic artist (Blue Hole series and "High Sea Hijinx" with Tony Millionaire, among others) and illustrator (including the cover for the Petra Haden/Miss Murgatroid album Bella Neurox ), have beautifully married the words and figures in Portraits from Mission High Yearbook 1942.

Taken from actual yearbook photos, it's a series of acrylic paintings--in Shields' signature technicolor rusts, pinks, and cadet blues--on brown butcher paper. Underneath the graduates' likings, she's painted their names and interests (i.e., "Art Major. Intends to do art work.") in a vintage typewriter font. Like her comics, the paintings depict individuals with heavy eyelids, jutting teeth, or big ears, although they never venture into the realm of caricature. Instead, they emphasize a viewpoint that's popular in comics but seldom seen in trendy or more commercial art. It's a slight, off-kilter ugliness that is tragically universal: the awkwardness of humanity.

Shields never exploits her subjects' inherent flaws. She paints them in simple lines, allowing them to exist within their dated hairdos and statements ("Collects stamps. Intends to join the Navy after graduation.") The people and their correlating interests often play off stereotypes for a really whimsical effect. It's charming, and great to see Shields diversifying her work.