Heroes & Villains is the first museum exhibition celebrating the artwork of Alex Ross, today’s foremost comic book artist. Ross, acclaimed for the photorealism of his work is often referred to as “the Norman Rockwell of the comics world.” Heroes & Villains features over 130 works represented as paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculptures from Ross’s personal collection. The pieces range from a crayon drawing of Spider-Man that he created at the age of four through to today’s paintings. This exhibition outlines Ross’s career of redefining comic books and graphic novels for a new generation of followers of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and other classic comic book superheroes. The exhibition also includes original artwork by Frank Bez, J.C. Leyendecker, Andrew Loomis, Norman Rockwell, and Lynette Ross (Ross’s mother and a successful commercial illustrator), as well as artworks and archival material from The Andy Warhol Museum collection.
Born in Portland, Oregon in 1970 and raised in Lubbock, Texas, Alex Ross grew up in a world of colorful, painted images. His interest in the difference between right and wrong was influenced by his father Clark, a minister, who instilled a strong moral framework in Ross. Ross’s mother, Lynette, was a successful illustrator in the 1940s and 1950s, the same time that Warhol was creating his commercial illustrations in New York City. By the time Ross was 13 years old he was drawing and scripting comic books. At the age of 17, Ross went on to study painting at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, where he was influenced by Salvador Dali’s hyperrealism, as well as by such classic American illustrators as Rockwell and Leyendecker.
Ross began his professional career as a storybook artist for an advertising agency. At the age of 19 Ross received his first comic assignment from Marvel Comics – a comic titled Terminator: The Burning Earth. Five years later, Ross created the illustrations and cover art for Marvels, a full feature comic book, designed along with writer Rick Busiek. Ross’s photorealistic gouache technique showcases superheroes and villains such as Spider-Man, the Human Torch, Captain America and Galactus.
His sophomore project, Kingdom Come, is a comic in which an alternate DC Universe is filled with aging superhero forces including Superman, Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern, who come out of retirement to fight modern superhumans. Thanks to his talents, Ross would go on to win the Comic Buyer’s Guide Award for Favorite Painter seven times in a row, resulting in the retirement of the category.
Curated by The Warhol’s Director of Exhibitions, Jesse Kowalski, Heroes & Villains comprises 5,500 square feet of gallery space. Kowalski states that Warhol had a natural interest in comic book art: “Given Warhol’s vital role in using and adapting American popular culture, it seems only natural that he would have an interest in comic books. Warhol was a lifelong fan of comic books, evident in his first Pop Art exhibition in 1961 in which he displayed paintings of Superman, Popeye, and Dick Tracy. Several of Warhol’s comic books, from his personal collection, are on display in the exhibition, including ones he bought in the 1930s as a child in Pittsburgh.”
Ross will be on hand for the opening celebration on October 1, 2011 which includes a private tour of the exhibition, an autograph session and the Heroes & Villains Unmasked party. “The opportunity to be featured at the Warhol Museum is one of the greatest achievements of my career. It is an honor to have such a prestigious museum exhibition my work next to that of Andy Warhol’s,” Ross stated. In addition, Warhol’s uncompleted film Batman/Dracula (1964), which has not been on view since 1964, is also included in the exhibition.