In the aftermath of World War II—and the cataclysmal effects of the atomic bomb—pop culture became inundated by exaggerated tales of violence and anomie, as seen in a slew of best-selling crime and horror comics whose over-the-top yarns led to the birth of the censorious Comics Code Authority. The legacy of grotesquerie in the comic medium and its relation to contemporary art is a complex and circuitous one, but painter Tim Brawner admits that he is influenced by EC Comics publications from the 1950s—such as Tales from the Crypt and Mad magazine—as well as illustrator Basil Wolverton (1909–1978), whose grossly exaggerated mutant characters, created with pen-and-ink, were unmatched in their visceral fabulousness.
Brawner expands upon this legacy with his acrylic-on-canvas images here, such as The Escape III (all works 2023), which depicts the closely cropped visage of a distressed man clutching the steering wheel of a car. A range of Cimmerian blues are accented by small dots of white paint that make the surface shimmer, causing this noirish man on the run, whose oversize eyes reveal both terror and desperation, to appear uncomfortably vivid.
Brawner also cites underground comic artist and former Heavy Metal regular Richard Corben (1940–2020)—known for his Grand Guignol fantasy and horror airbrush stories—as an influence, which jibes with Brawner’s Character Head 2: The subject’s ghoulish, rotting teeth, bugged-out eyes, and orange pallor give off Evil Dead II vibes. The artist’s fetishistic approach to detail is perhaps best exemplified by Semiochem, one of the few pieces here that strays from the painter’s monochromatic palette. The canvas depicts a macabre being with pointed ears feasting on an array of foods rendered with unearthly, hypersaturated colors. In the foreground, a large insect flies amid glowing candlelight—the image feels like a scene plucked out of a ’70s Hammer film. Brawner’s abject, fantastical, and nightmarish visions, while grotesque, are surely no more monstrous than reality.