An artist talks

‘Bodycount’ illuminates illustration

The Northern Michigan University DeVos Art Museum hosted 'Bodycount: A Graphic Reckoning in the Illustration Morgue,’ on Tuesday. The event was an artist talk by Dr. Jaleen Grove on the personal and cultural influence of illustration archives. Above, Grove discusses artwork by Norm Saunders, a popular 20th century commercial artist featured in comic books, pulp magazines and on the covers of paperbacks. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — “Picture morgue.” It’s a phrase that immediately conjures images in the mind’s eye. Perhaps rows of mortuary cabinets or bodies on tables. Interestingly, this phenomenon is part of what the phrase represents; the archive of images we have collected and filed away to represent language and ideas.

This was the subject of “Bodycount: A Graphic Reckoning in the Illustration Morgue,” an artist lecture given Tuesday evening by Dr. Jaleen Grove at the DeVos Art Museum of Northern Michigan University. Grove is a Canadian artist who has been exploring, working on and writing about illustration since 1990. She is the associate editor of the new textbook “History of Illustration” and editor of the Journal of Illustration.

On the phrase “picture morgue” Grove said, “That’s actually a newspaper term. When a newspaper was done with its story, all the photos that were related to it or all the pictures that were gathered and perhaps never published, … all the bits and pieces would go into archives and it’s referred to as ‘the morgue.'”

Grove tied this idea into a metaphor for the illustrative process, which heavily emphasizes the human body in both the making of the image and the image itself.

“What I’m referring to is the files that we keep, that illustrators themselves have kept over the years … I’m using that word (morgue) intentionally because it represents the actual bodies that were involved in the creative process, as well as illustration being a deeply figurative mode of expression.”

The audience applauds at the end of the lecture. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

The lecture explored the way the “picture morgue” of historical illustration continuously impacts the viewer and shapes our culture. This archive also informs the education and techniques of illustrators, who pull from it to visually represent emotions and ideas. Grove also examined “missing persons” in the history of illustration: racial minorities and female artists.

“It does matter who writes the history,” said Grove, explaining that the majority of text about illustrators has been written by Anglo-Saxon men.

Bodycount was a lecture held in conjunction with the DeVos exhibit Telling Gestures: American Illustration from the Secord Collection. Grove describes it as “a cross-section of a whole bunch of stuff that we include under the umbrella of illustration. There’s editorial illustration in there, there’s magazine or pulp magazine covers, there’s comic strip panels and there’s animation stills, and there’s book illustrations.”

Telling Gestures is curated by Dr. Steven Leuthold and will be on display at the DeVos until May 27, 2018.

Rachel Oakley can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. Her email address is roakley@miningjournal.net.