YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Butler Institute of American Art will become a museum of heroic proportions when comic book and pop culture legend Jim Steranko’s long-awaited exhibit opens next week.
The 65-piece “Steranko and the American Hero” exhibit is set to be one of the most high-profile shows ever from the butler, and fans of the innovative artist, film consultant and author should descend on the museum from everywhere. the globe.
The show opens Sunday, March 13 and runs until May 29. It was originally scheduled for 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic.
Steranko is revered in the industry as a creative innovator across multiple platforms.
He is best known for his key role in creating the Marvel Comics phenomenon with Stan Lee in the 1960s, as comic book writer and illustrator Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. He revolutionized comics by introducing many new approaches to storytelling and art, and was a key player in shaping the characters of Captain America, The Hulk, Superman, and X-Men.
While Steranko’s work has been exhibited numerous times around the world, the Butler exhibit will be his first in an American museum to focus solely on his paintings. It will include everything from book covers to artwork made for the film production process.
But it’s not just for hardcore comics and action movie buffs. The exhibit, he told the Business Journal, will appeal to even casual pop culture fans.
“Characters in the exhibit come from all media – movies, novels, TV series, newspaper strips, magazines, radio, paperbacks, comics and even history,” Steranko said. “So it’s impossible that the general public doesn’t have any affection or experience with them. Americans have lived with these characters. They’re in the blood, they’re part of the family. The X-Men. Conan the Barbarian. Luke Skywalker. Captain America.”
Although the artist only spent a few years creating comics, this work eclipsed his career as a painter. The Butler exhibition, he says, will therefore be a unique opportunity for his fans.
“They will witness a mother lode of Steranko images they never knew existed, from superheroes to science fiction to sword and sorcery, from Sherlock Holmes to Star Wars, from Mickey Spillane to Steven Spielberg,” he said. “They need to see it to believe it.”
The idea for this exhibit took root several years ago when one of Steranko’s colleagues pointed out that he had probably painted more hero figures than any other artist in America.
“It seemed like a compelling theme for my first American solo painting exhibition,” Steranko said.
It also makes the Butler show unique.
The 83-year-old’s magnetism as an artistic force was first demonstrated in a 1978 exhibition at the Winnipeg Museum and Art Gallery which later toured Canada.
Another exhibition in Spain in 2002 drew 1 million viewers over its 10 days.
“These shows highlighted a range of my work,” Steranko said. “But the Butler exhibition will focus exclusively on my paintings.”
He said he hopes the Butler exhibit will grow into a series of exhibits across North America and welcomes inquiries from interested museums.
Although Steranko’s move into comics was groundbreaking, he quickly moved on to other media.
His two volumes of “The History of Comics” have sold over 100,000 copies and are considered the definitive resource on the genre.
His unusual and varied career includes success as an escape artist, designer, magician, historian, male model, fire-eater, publisher, ad agency art director, pop culture speaker, typographer, and filmmaker. He played a key role in developing the character of Indiana Jones for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981).
Like the characters he created, Steranko’s story is larger than life.
Descended from Ukrainian immigrant grandparents, he grew up poor in a primitive, unheated house in northeastern Pennsylvania, where his father was a coal miner. As a child, he learned to draw on his own by studying newspaper cartoons. Despite his disadvantages and having no formal artistic training, he traveled to New York and launched his historic career.
The title character of Michael Chabon’s acclaimed 2000 novel “The Incredible Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” is based on him.
Steranko said her art is “a reflection of my tangled and twisted life experiences, my energy, my imagination, my passion”.
Wendy Swick, spokesperson for Butler, has been planning this exhibition for four years. She said Steranko got the ball rolling when he reached out to Louis A. Zona, executive director and curator of The Butler.
“Lou was recommended to him when he started telling people he wanted to put on an exhibition,” Swick said.
Butler’s exhibition will be Steranko’s largest ever, focusing on his solo paintings.
Alongside the show, Steranko will be giving an artist talk on April 9 (for tickets, click here), and is also planning a fan autograph reception at the Doubletree Hotel downtown that evening.
Unsurprisingly, the artist and publisher took on the task of compiling a catalog for the exhibition. Sales will benefit the museum, Swick said.
“It’s a typical catalog but there will be additional Steranko in it,” she said. “He is in the process of setting it up and will include trivia about the pieces.”
Autographed copies of the glossy book, which will run to nearly 100 pages, will be sold at The Butler, as will autographed posters of Steranko art.
Anything Steranko produces tends to become a collectible, Swick said, noting that the artist wants to use his influence to expand the butler’s audience.
“He wants to attract new audiences, the fine arts audience,” Swick said. “This exhibition will bridge the gap between the two. It will also attract new audiences to the museum and expose them to the visual arts. That’s what he wanted to accomplish for the butler.
Swick said she has been getting calls from Steranko fans around the world since news of the show broke a few years ago. She expects visitors to come from across the country and from many countries to see it.
“Its reach is international,” she said. “And although his work is not art, it is cinematic and literary art. It is part of the history of art. And the butler shows American history through art.
Steranko last visited the Valley in 2019 when he was a guest at Youngstown Comic-Con at the Covelli Center. He appeared at the same event in 2014 when it was held at Packard Music Hall in Warren.
Greg Bartholomew, founder of Youngstown Comic-Con, said Steranko’s status in the pop culture pantheon cannot be overstated.
“He’s a real comic book superstar as an accomplished artist and writer,” Bartholomew said. “He’s also a wonderful human being from every encounter I’ve had with him…and no one can tell a story and hold a crowd in the palm of their hand like Jim can.”
Bartholomew has stayed in touch with Steranko since his appearance here and considers him a friend. He said the artist was as excited about the Butler exhibit as his fans.
“The range of his art spans all of popular culture and the man is a real treasure,” Bartholomew said. “Being able to see over 60 original paintings by a master artist will be a treat for everyone, whether it’s comics, sci-fi or detective novels.”
Top of photo: Steranko painting by Indiana Jones. (Image courtesy of Jim Steranko)
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