Painter Bernard Martin grew up in Ferrum, Va., "on the edge of Appalachia, with moonshiners, where nobody had ever heard of Rembrandt or Picasso," he recalled in 2003, when recognized by this magazine with a Pollak Prize for Excellence in the Arts. Two major influences on his worldview — as on those of many of his generation — were comic books and movies.
"This is all part of the landscape," he says in his Jackson Ward studio. "Van Gogh went out en plein air and painted; this is what we see."
Martin re-creates in his recent "Comics" series the lurid covers of Comic Cavalcade, Jumbo Comics and Mad, though expanded to 63 by 46 inches and featuring juxtaposed pictorial elements. These appropriated images are rendered by hand, no photographs or photocopying.
Thus, accompanying a vine-swinging Sheena, Queen of the Jungle is the beguiling Josephine Baker — as Martin puts it, "the white fantasy jungle queen, with the black queen in the center, who developed this arousing fantasy character."
Martin's Real Life Comics features William Faulkner paused in the door of an old house, and other "stories" running alongside include existential writer Albert Camus, the Carter family musicians and Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane.
More than 20 of these inventive, collage-inspired pieces will be shown Jan. 8 to Feb. 6 under the exhibition title "New Hero Paintings," at the ADA Gallery, 228 W. Broad St., 646-0100 or adagallery.com.