The Book of Lenny
Jonathan Marshall's artwork and video illustrate a mythic journey that's *cough* Star Wars *cough* strangely familiar
Reviewed by Salvador Castillo, Fri., Nov. 23, 2007
'The Book of Lenny'
Art Palace, through Nov. 24
"The Book of Lenny"
In a house-cum-gallery, on the east, Eastside of town ...
Finely crafted drawings and sculptures illustrate a bearded fellow, a man in black, and a growling bear guiding a young hero aboard a rickety vessel. *Cough* Star Wars *cough*. A video elucidates the mystical meetings where Lenny, our everyman, receives a Weirding module, lightsaber, and the One Ring – oh wait, I mean a sextant, a stargazer, and a flag to initiate his journey. A fluent conversation unfolds as the bear snarls nonsense and Lenny whistles a vaguely familiar tune in response. Later at night, the Man in Black suddenly appears and maintains a Cheshire Cat smirk, until he, just as suddenly, disappears. And so we watch Lenny pedal his boat off into the unknown of the horizon.
The Star Wars comparison is only a half-rib. It is documented that George Lucas heavily referenced Joseph Campbell's work in his popular space opera, and Campbell's hero-myth formula is also evident in Jonathan Marshall's show, as well as in the monumental narratives used by some of Marshall's contemporaries – Seth Alverson and Chronicle contributing illustrator Peat Duggins, both of whom have shown at Art Palace, immediately come to mind. Reading the press release for "The Book of Lenny" before the show's opening, descriptions of a postapocalyptic setting suggested a revisiting of Alverson's barbaric setting. Peat Duggins, another artist I accused of riffing on the Skywalker saga, described a colorful set of characters that manifested in drawing, sculpture, and video. Justin Boyd's recent run at the Arthouse Texas Prize featured an installment of a multichaptered project spanning the same three mediums but mining an expansive history from geographic landmarks focused on a more factual odyssey. At the beginning of the year, the Blanton Museum's WorkSpace presented the final installment of an apocalyptic trilogy by Matthew Day Jackson, whose intertwining of autobiography and history helped point to some ideas of social reconciliation.
I am willing to bet that none of these artists has experienced anything like the war and poverty of the early 20th century that affected J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, or any of the Jewish immigrants who Americanized their names before creating today's iconic superheroes. So what drives our young artists to address, sometimes directly, historical and current events in the form of elaborate "alternate" worlds employing multiple incarnations? Well, if they grew up on a diet of Hasbro-, LJN-, and Mattel-licensed products as I did, then I have an idea. Unable to tackle a defensive lineman for real, we're Monday-morning quarterbacks who do so playing Madden NFL on the PlayStation. This is a form of play given to us through licensing and merchandising. We create parallel worlds where we have ultimate control, and our reign can be as destructive or benevolent as we wish.
In "The Book of Lenny," the boat is very much part of the main installation, but the other sculptures in the exhibit feel less useful. They are situated as relics or props of the video production. It's almost like the "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth" exhibition that visited Houston six years ago. But let's not get too cynical yet. Marshall has chosen the side of good as he has Lenny accept the call, and the rubble in the side gallery appears to be fodder for the construction of the bike boat. The characters are helpful thus far, ushering in the call in the drawings and providing tools to guide Lenny. Colorful laser lines seem to have become prevalent elements in art, and in the gallery they point toward Lenny's horizon. Just as Sam and Frodo crossed the Anduin without the Fellowship, "Lenny" embarks on the next chapter of the trilogy. So you know there's gonna be a box set.