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Artist brings his 'Action Abstraction' display to town

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 8:50 p.m.
'Action Abstraction No. 14' by David Leblanc
'Action Abstraction No. 15' by David Leblanc
'Action Abstraction No. 20' by David Leblanc
'Action Abstraction No. 23' by David Leblanc
'Action Abstraction No. 21' by David Leblanc

Having a lifelong love of comic books, superheroes and the escapism they represent, abstract painter David Leblanc of Amesbury, Mass., has been working on a series of comic book-inspired works he calls “Action Abstraction” since 2006.

“These paintings started with a foundation of collage that highlights the bold hero flying fearless through the skies of Metropolis saving those in need and fighting for justice,” Leblanc says. The series has evolved from abstractions inspired by the covers of Action Comics featuring Superman from the 1930s to '50s to more expressive paintings.

Currently, nearly a dozen large-scale mixed-media paintings from Leblanc's “Action Abstraction” series constitutes his first solo exhibit of the same title at the Toonseum, Downtown.

Leblanc says his superhero obsession goes back to his youth, where comic books fueled an early love for art and reading.

“I often spent extended periods of time in the car reading comic books while I and my father waited for my mother, who was a registered nurse, to complete her shift,” he says. “My father would pick me up from my day-care provider, and we would drop by the local 7-Eleven store before going to the hospital. Marvel Comics' Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, The Invaders and the Avengers would fill my time and imagination as we waited.”

After struggling for many years with how to integrate this boyhood passion into his paintings, Leblanc stumbled upon a book comprised of Action Comics covers featuring Superman from the 1930s and '40s.

“The book became the inspiration for my signature Action series, combining the elements of abstract expressionism and the Pop Art elements of comic books,” he says.

Big, bold and alive with vibrant color and rich texture (thanks to the underpinnings of paper collage), as visitors will see, they really pack a punch! For example, the painting “Action Abstraction No. 14” focuses on the cornerstone of the Superman legacy: the preciousness of life as a struggling, weakened Superman clutches the arm of a virtually unidentifiable Brainiac.

Here, the notion of action overtakes slight semblance of figure and form.

In the diptych “Action Abstraction No. 15,” Leblanc grapples with another grandiose moment in the Superman legacy, with the hero flying through a sky full of bursting explosions while protecting a young Lois Lane.

“At this point, I was working through the process of balancing a foundation of collage with layers of more paint and paper combined with the idea of the line work found in comic books,” Leblanc says.

Much like with “Action Abstraction No. 14,” the piece “Action Abstraction No. 21” features the hero flying to the rescue of a plummeting Batgirl.

“That's the Barbara Gordon version from the 1970s,” Leblanc says, adding that the streaks of red on the left side in the center of the painting are the “remains of Superman,” as if to indicate his presence rather than represent it.

“I have come to say to people that these paintings are not about characters or content, but about artistic ideas and elements that are manipulated to make paintings great,” Leblanc says. “In other words, I am somewhat like a landscape painter, as I consider the characters to be like rocks or trees. And I will move or change them in any way that makes the painting better.”

The largest work on display — “Action Abstraction No. 20” — is Leblanc's most ambitious to date.

“This was the scariest of the paintings as it was the largest in scale to this point,” he says. “The effort to deconstruct so much of the original reference sources (primarily an image created by comic artist Jim Lee) and still hold it together as a unique and cohesive piece was especially challenging.”

In “Action Abstraction No. 23,” the evolution of Leblanc's work becomes even more expressive, wherein all figurative references to the super villain that was its inspiration are almost entirely lost. Leblanc says of this particular painting, “(It) has now allowed me to begin to explore new elements of both comic books and painting. ... Villains have always been my favorites. They bring out that fantastical feeling of danger.”

That's why, Leblanc says, “the unofficial subtitle for this painting is ‘In the Closet,' as in monster in the closet.”

The Toonseum will host an opening reception from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Dec. 8, where Leblanc will sign prints. Admission: $5

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kshaw@tribweb.com.

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