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The Arts Voyager, 6-24: Auberge Espagnol
Mariscal @ Martel: Elevating the "Alpha-Art''

"Los garriris pescando con música," 1987. ©Javier Mariscal. Ink on paper, 35 x 50 cm.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2011 Paul Ben-Itzak

PARIS -- If France has long placed comics art, or what the French call 'bande dessine' or even, more fancily, 'graphisme,' on the same level as the rest of the fine arts, the Galerie Martel, nestled into a side street off the rue de Paradis (once best known for its crystal and Limoges porcelain boutiques; years ago, you might have scored a piece painted by a young Renoir) in the cosmopolitan 10th arrondissement of Paris, may be the country's first gallery to both devote itself exclusively to the art and expand its definition. Its goal, the gallery says in its mission statement, is to lift the profile of 'graphisme' by exhibiting artists of the highest order whose point in common is exploring new territories and knocking down the barriers that often separate illustration, painting, comics, and animation.

The gallery is also unique in its singular lack of chauvinism, demonstrating no particular proclivity for featuring French comics artists in disproportion with their actual importance. (As opposed to, say, Parisian cheese shops or dance theaters, where the French varietal dominates.) Thus, in its three-year existence, the Galerie Martel has already featured comics -- or, more properly, comix -- pioneers like Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman, as well as Jose Munoz, Lorenzo Mattotti, Milton Glaser, Charles Burns, and Thomas Ott.

With its latest exhibition, devoted to Spanish-born and Barcelona-heeled (you can see it in his pastel yellows and Mediterranean blues) Javier Mariscal, the Galerie Martel has outdone itself and extended both its vision and the horizons of its visitors when it comes to imagining the possibilities of and demolishing the barriers between 'comics' and the supposed finer arts. Is the image featured below with the man blowing on the saxophone in the foreground a comics image so nuanced and layered it looks like a high-art watercolour? Or is it a high-art watercolour so animated it could come out of a comic book? In fact, it's from both a graphic novel, "Chico & Rita," released earlier this month, and a full-length animated feature based on the book, coming out next month in France, and the occasion -- if one were needed -- for the Galerie Martel's exhibition.

Mariscal installed himself in Barcelona in 1970 to study at Elisava. "This school of design," writes Francois Landon in the exhibition program, "rendered him a good service: he realized that his path was that of the audo-didact, and he quit the establishment. From this point on, drawing and painting would be the focal point of a kaleidoscope of activities: Illustration, comics, graphic design, industrial stylism, interior decoration, ceramics, communication, sculpture, furniture design, cinema, shows. In the toy-box that opened up to him, Mariscal chose first and foremost: comics." But such genre dexterity aside, what astounds about Mariscal is his complete disregard for frontiers of time and place as well. The first image below, for example -- like most of those that follow, taken from "Chico & Rita" -- could have been drawn in New York in 1950, as the letters indicate; only Mariscal was in Valence, Spain that year, busy being born; the image, and the vistas it promises, new and retro at the same time, was created this year. The Javier Mariscal exhibition runs through September 3 at the Galerie Martel, 17 rue Martel in Paris. For more information and to see more images, visit the gallery's website.


"Chico & Rita," 2011. ©Javier Mariscal. Pastel on paper. 50 x 70 cm.


"Chico & Rita," 2011. ©Javier Mariscal. Reed plume on paper. 70 x 50 cm.


"Chico & Rita," 2011. ©Javier Mariscal. Reed plume on paper. 100 x 70 cm.

"Chico & Rita," 2011. ©Javier Mariscal. Watercolour on paper. 70 x 50 cm.


"Chico & Rita," 2011. ©Javier Mariscal. Ink on Paper. 100 x 70 cm.


"Chico & Rita," 2011. ©Javier Mariscal. Watercolour on paper. 70 x 35 cm.


"Chico & Rita," 2011. ©Javier Mariscal. Ink on paper. 50 x 35 cm.


"Cocina azul," 2007. ©Javier Mariscal. Pastel on paper. 70 x 50 cm.


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