In MOSO: Part 1, Mathew Reichertz blends the conventions of comics with his representational style of painting, creating a site-specific installation at Hermes Gallery. The large comic/painting (as Reichertz’s work can be analyzed as both) documents a cat fight on a city street – North street to be precise – where the gallery itself is located. The view from the gallery windows is reflected back onto the walls like some kind of camera obscura, telling a story in a “through the looking glass” version of the gallery and its neighbourhood.
The story in question: two cats spot each other, and a fight quickly breaks out. They tumble and tussle in front of the painted backdrop of Hermes Gallery as a pigeon appears to rocket over their heads. On the next wall, a black indoor cat overhears the fight outside her window, as her owner prepares to leave the house and hop on a motorcycle. The next wall shows a family painted to look like Reichertz’s own, the parents sitting on the couch while their young son leaps and tumbles behind them, seeming to move in time with the cats on the opposite wall. He calls for his Papa’s attention as he climbs the door frame, jumps, and crashes into the back of the couch. “I get a hot feeling in my gut every time he hits the floor,” says the father/Reichertz figure. Behind them, the cat-owning motorcyclist can be seen driving past through a painted window, linking the three groups and their storylines.
Save for the first scenes of the cats meeting, which are made to fit the smaller walls of the gallery, the narrative is not split up into traditional comic panels. Typically comic scenes are sequestered into smaller, closed frames, but in MOSO: Part 1 the sequential narrative happens in open scenes with the character popping up in multiple places throughout a static background, like in Medieval painting traditions. But – breaking from Medieval conventions in favour of 20th and 21st century ones – the use of motion lines is crucial here. Expressive lines flow through space to show where a character’s form has been, connecting the figures in the scene to demonstrate that they are, in fact, the same character multiple times over.
These motion lines are also some of the more “comicy” parts of the composition. In his opening essay on Garbage, another of Reichertz’ painted comic installations, Canadian comics scholar Dr. Benjamin Woo states that comics have historically employed “cartoony” drawing styles as a way to help the reader/viewer adjust to the “reality” of the world of comics. Because the characters and their environment do not look “real” we accept the rules of these comic book universes. But an artist like Reichertz complicates this contract between the author/artist and viewer/reader. By painting in a style that more closely resembles the natural world, Reichertz’s images have the most engaging effect of standing in stark contrast to the comic elements in his scene and appearing alien in their own environment.
Reichertz plays with our sense of reality by weaving the familiar with the strange. This work is site specific, with the plastic sheets of polystyrene serving as substrates made to fit the borders of the gallery’s walls. On one wall he turns a wall-mounted electrical panel into the door of a medicine cabinet, a trompe l’oeil effect that blends the real, physical object into the painted comic scene. The merging of comics and painting techniques in Reichertz’s art should be noted, and all of the perceptions of high vs. low art that come with each respective medium. But at the center of these images are Reichertz’s characters, human and animal, and what is particularly interesting in this hybridity is how Reichertz’s style choices affect our relationship to these characters, as the closer a style of representation gets to reality the more we expect the rules of reality to apply to the image. We don’t fear that the ACME anvil will truly and irreversibly harm Wile E. Coyote (as comics and cartoons employ a common visual language), but a naturalistic-looking anvil hovering above a coyote that appears to be made of flesh and blood does, in fact, cause us to fear that such blood can be spilled. Because of the realism of these paintings, there is also a hot feeling in our guts: This boy, these cats, and this motorcyclist are not invincible.
This vulnerability invests in Reichertz’s characters beyond the short glimpse of the story we’re given in Part 1. Whatever Reicherz’s characters do next, and however they are connected to each other, we understand that they are not, in fact, invincible. But like the child who jumps up after falling from the couch, or the cats who presumably scatter to different alleyways to lick their wounds, we still have faith that the comics format will bring them to some happy conclusion, like the ones that always await our favourite cartoon characters and comic book heroes.