Page 45 Review by Diamond Previews
Here lie some of the crispest black lines and glossy black shadows you are likely to come across in comics. Its very striking indeed, particularly the Australian landscapes, beautifully framed, once more, in black.
While reviewing a clients inventory for sale, gallery manager Choosy McBride discovers an anonymous work of art which takes her breath away. Its only hint of provenance is that it came from a remote area of North Queensland close to where Choosy is due to meet Fred Merriweather, an aging and ailing artist due to exhibit for the first time in twenty years. With her boyfriend Dmitri in tow she follows the trail of the enigmatic art to The Prayer House, an elusive gallery up on a hill, accessible only by foot. There they find all four walls covered in similarly mind-blowing masterpieces, but still no evidence of the artists identity, existence or even any curators. Its entirely deserted and open to public plunder. Half-suspecting its Fred himself, Choosy is surprised to discover a radiant example on his own wall and is even more surprised to discover that he simply took it for free. Uncannily, everyone she encounters has taken a single specimen down from the walls for free, and no one considers it theft. What is the artist playing at when theres serious money to be made?
The eerie and the everyday have been impeccably joined by Bruce Mutard here, in a book which asks questions about the value of art aesthetically and commercially. Both Fred and Dmitri have become cynical about the commerce which has built itself up around what should essentially be about communication rather than interior decoration or speculation. Oh yes, that word I despise along with everyone in comics practising it: speculation. As I am wont to repeat (perhaps ad nauseam): This is an art form, not a stock exchange. So it is in Fine Art too: parasites spending money to acquire more money straight from exhibition to auction without regard to the intrinsic merit of what they buy or the fact that the artist makes no money from its resale. This is very much on Fred and Dmitris minds with Choosy caught not in the middle for shes a gallery manager not an auctioneer but to one side, desperate to discover and represent this ethereal artist who seems determined not to be discovered, represented nor indeed recompensed. It leads to a most unexpected finale
Critically, of course, you never see these works of art. Thats left entirely to your imagination.
Meanwhile the arguments on each side are well made, Choosy frustrated that while she operates in the real world where she successfully earns a living by promoting art she loves, live-in lover Dmitri seems to demand instant recognition for his talent without having to sully himself with the day-to-day transactions that would keep a roof over anyone elses head. Basically, Get over it! and Get over yourself! Fred, on the other hand, is jaded about his own work and a substantial reputation he doesnt necessarily believe he deserves. Theres plenty to ponder, for sure.
If youre anything like me, Dmitris negativity will drive you up the wall to begin with, just like he does Choosy, and there are many moments of silence which place the lovers so far apart. But Mutard may make you rethink.
My only criticism is that the conversations themselves occasionally verge on the contrived. In an effort to be clear, the sentences are sometimes too complete. Im also naturally more drawn to somewhat softer artwork than the regimented and the rulered, but the forms inside each panel are far from stiff, and Bruce has made such an attractive job of it, I am completely won over. I cant stop flicking through, just to make sure!