The comic-book superheroes in David Leroi's paintings are brash and muscular and, perhaps most-intimidating of all, they pick up a newspaper once in a while. X-Men's the Beast talks of a jobless America. Iron Man complains that his rocket shoes have been outsourced to China. And Captain America argues that consumerism has transformed Americans into witless zombies.
But if Leroi's topical and sociopolitical portraits of characters reveal the Miami-based artist as an unabashed collector of comic books, well, he assures you, he's no nerd.
"People think I'm kind of a geek, but it's actually not the case. I used to read comic books when I was younger, but not that much. What I really like is global culture and simplicity," says Leroi, who began the series five years ago after moving to South Florida from France. "I'm just using the comic book as a Trojan horse, because people visually connect with comic-book images. But the tension is in the words."
Leroi's fascination with the so-called "Bronze Age" of Marvel and DC comics — from 1970 to 1985 — compose the artist's solo exhibition "Amusez la Galerie" (translated: "Enjoy the Gallery"), opening Friday night and running through Feb. 24 at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood. He says he chose the period for its singular drawing aesthetic — bold, black lines, a palette filled with reds and oranges and Lichtenstein-esque Ben-Day dots — transforming yellowing pages of comics into acrylics-on-canvas.
"I took big stacks of comics when I moved to the U.S., but it wasn't enough," says the 40-year-old, who operates a studio as an artist-in-residence at ArtCenter/South Florida. "I went on eBay. I bought a little bit of Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Iron Man. I wasn't trying to acquire this huge collection. I don't know how rare they are. I was trying to get a full range of canned images with characters and situations. I wasn't really concerned about the collectability."
Leroi says he cracks open the dead-tree edition of the newspaper every morning for current events, which he'll convert into speech-bubble fodder for his hand-painted superheroes. In "Bad Kid," created in the wake of the recent Sandy Hook shootings, the son of Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman is depicted bearing a sharp-toothed scowl and radiant eyes, ranting, "Thanks to you … hatred and violence created me and shaped me into what I am today." Others make overt references to economic suffering, such as the Phantom's exclamation, "Call my hedge fund manager now!" in "Schist Happens"; or Spiderman's urgent countdown in "401K": "401K, 301K, 201K, 101K??!!"
Leroi says he was inspired in part by a 1960s French anti-capitalism movement, Situationist International, though he doesn't want his ponderous and darkly comical parodies to seem rebellious. "I'm not trying to be subversive, but if I am, that's fine. I'm not trying to trigger emotion, to provoke or be provoked," Leroi says. "I'm more on the conceptual and political side, with a little bit of humor and cynicism."
"David Leroi: Amusez la Galerie"
When: Jan. 25-Feb. 24 (opening reception 6-9 p.m. Jan. 25)
Where: Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison St.
Cost: $10 for opening reception; $4-$7 thereafter
Contact: 954-921-3274 or ArtandCultureCenter.org