Kantor Gallery is pleased to present a new solo exhibition, Search/Party, by Los Angeles-based artist Vonn Sumner. The show will be on view at the gallery from August 20 – September 14, 2022.
Meet Krazy Kat: a mischievous (or guileless?) genderless (intersex?), human-animal (so…Mememoji?) hybrid. OK, so he’s complicated. But the character remains what you make, or remember, of it. Because there is arguably no comic work as canonical as the 109-year-old Krazy Kat.
“Krazy Kat is a relic of bohemian America—a ‘beat’—an eccentric, a romantic wanderer,” says painter Vonn Sumner on Search/Party, his latest show of 15 new paintings that reinterpret the feline cartoon in absurdist, tonal dreamscapes befitting these these crazy times.
The series effuses a two-pronged nostalgia bomb; one part for an era Sumner never experienced (the Wild West intrawar heyday of newspaper comic strips), and the other for the salad days of freshman year when he first encountered Krazy Kat in a course taught by renowned painter Wayne Thiebaud at UC Davis.
The original Krazy Kat was the creation of George Herriman and ran in William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers from 1913 to 1944. Herriman was an “artist’s artist,” Sumner says, counting E. E. Cummings, Picasso, and de Kooning as fans. This highbrow-lowbrow burlesque was part of the fun of Krazy Kat. Decades after Herriman’s death, in the early 1970s, the artwork reached new depths when his birth certificate revealed that he was a black ‘Creole’ man who “passed” as white his entire adult life. Here was proof from the artist himself that Krazy Kat represented more than a chimera of the American Dream; it was a harbinger and a confirmation that all art is a search for redemption and humanity. Today, cartoons and fine art are invariably linked, from Robert Crumb’s Fritz the Cat to the “Maus” graphic novels of Art Spiegelman to the Mickey Mouse-inspired KAWS Companion, but each stands on the buoyant shoulders of Krazy Kat.
Sumner paints in reverential strokes, placing the bemused and egoless Krazy Kat at the birthday table, atop a melting glacier, or in the Garden of Eden. It’s no surprise, then, that the series began in the pandemic when, inspired (or even comforted) by the past, the artist finally gave himself permission to paint the venerable cartoon as he saw him today—walking past a dumpster fire, wearing a surgical mask—an avatar for our contemporary anxieties and conditions. It was also a way to connect with the person who first defined it for him: Thiebaud.
“We often talked of how cartoon characters allow people to empathize with that figure in a way that’s different from human beings,” says Sumner, who found an unexpected confidant, co-conspirator even, in his mentor. When Thiebaud died at age 101 last December, he left Sumner to continue that conversation. Search/Party is an ongoing dialogue on nostalgia versus longing, coloring what Americana looks like today and searching for empathy in an increasingly brutal, competitive, hyper- consumerist world. Krazy Kat is about having some fun while doing it.
By Mariella Rudi
For any inquiries or book an appointment to view the exhibition, please contact [email protected]