In 19th century England, the top form of adolescent working-class entertainment was the penny dreadful. Named for their cheap price and lurid subject matter, they planted the seeds for zines, tabloids, and pretty much the rest of alternative publishing. At Whitdel Arts, nine artists take on the form as part of an exhibition called The Dreadfuls.
“[They] had a lot of stabbings and murders,” artist and show curator Ryan Standfest says of the original dreadfuls. For his show, he gathered illustrators from across the country to explore “the cheap and sensational” however they pleased.
Ian Huebert illustrated an Appalachian murder ballad, while Stephen Schudlich lampoons Grosse Pointe archetypes. Gregory Jacobsen’s bizarre drawings cannot be described in any way other than they will make anyone blush. Published by Standfest’s own Rotland Press, the books are available for flipping-through at Whitdel Arts with original art (framed, though not precious, often with white-out corrections or on torn tracing paper) on display as well.
The juxtaposition between commerce and underground is present behind much of the work. Wearing a bow tie and newsboy cap, you get an immediate sense of Standfest’s lexicon even before he admits, “What I’m interested in is that space between the vulgar and the refined.”
“He shepherds this body of smart dark humor,” Shudlich says. (Full disclosure: Shudlich is a former professor of mine.) “It’s observations of dark events and despair but framed and presented in really tasteful and engaging ways.”
“[He] can channel pop culture, but he also channels a lot of 1950s and ‘40s notions,” Shudlich says. “It’s almost like he’s living in a time warp. Ryan would be happier in a job where he can wear a thin black tie and a short sleeve dress shirt everyday. He sort like, worships at that altar of the workman.”
View a slideshow of photos from the opening here.
Runs through December 7. This event is free and open to the public. Open gallery hours are Saturdays during exhibitions, 12-3 p.m., or by appointment. For more information, please visit www.whitdelarts.com.