My friend Aubrey has been telling me for a few months that I should drop by his building and check out the new art gallery there. He mentioned that the artist showing her work at the gallery was a comic book artist who knew Robert Crumb. He told me her name, but I didn’t recognize it.
Yesterday I finally made it down to Barbara Mendes‘ art gallery – called the SoRo Art Center Gallery and located at 2709 S. Robertson Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90034 – on the west side of Robertson between Pico and Venice. It’s easy to spot because there are great mural paintings all over the outside of the building, and even a public art installation hanging from the adjacent street trees.
In the 1960s-1970s, Mendes did early underground comic books under the pen name Willy Mendes. Some of her comic book work is collected in a recent book called Art in Time by Dan Nadel. I confess that I had been unfamiliar with her comic books.
Mendes moved from comix to painting, but interestingly, her paintings do a lot of sequential story-telling. Mendes’ fine art utilizes quite a bit of comic books’ visual vocabulary. For example, there’s a lot of strong drawings with dark outlines and somewhat flat colors (the limits of describing art – that sounds wrong – the color is great, but it’s expressive, not photo-realistic.) Many works even incorporate panels telling sequential stories. Often there’s lettering/wording, too, much of it Hebrew.
Many are sort of massive elaborate story-telling paneled murals – including some that tell, verse by verse, the entire books of the Bible – ie: Leviticus. A lot of it includes stories drawn from early Judaism.
There’s a lot to see there – plenty of Mendes’ works, and some other artists pieces. Lots of big intricately-detailed mural pieces, many small works too.
Nearly all of what I saw was engaging, beautiful and vibrant, but what I most enjoyed were her depictions of cities. A number of her large murals include some depictions of neighborhoods. There’s a lot of place detail, often very identifiable, but also great invented color that makes it pop, too.
A lot of Barbara Mendes’ work is posted on her website… but it’s better in person, so go check out Mendes’ gallery at 2709 South Robertson!