Pow! Bam! KaBoom! It’s the brilliant colors that grab you first. Bright pops of blue, yellow, red and orange dominate the canvases painted by Lowell artist David Leblanc. They draw you in, but it’s the superheroes at the center of each work — inspired by Batman, Superman, Flash — that won’t let you go. (Editor’s note: This article originally ran in the Nov/Dec ’12 issue of mvm.)
That’s just the way Leblanc wants it. An artist by education (he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Southeastern Massachusetts University, now UMass Dartmouth, in 1989), he struggled for years to meld his interest in abstract expressionism and pop art with his childhood love of comic books. Originally he planned to become an illustrator, but by the middle of his college career, he was leaning toward fine art.
“I realized I didn’t have the skill set to do comic books. I need spontaneity,” says Leblanc, 45. “I can’t follow a script — by page 20 I’d be going nuts, and the story would never get done.”
Frustrated, Leblanc took time off from art after graduation. He earned a master’s in education and spent his days teaching. It wasn’t until 2004, when he volunteered to paint a mural on the wall of a gym he attended, that his desire to paint returned. Something about the large-scale project clicked.
Leblanc, who grew up in Lowell, found space at Western Avenue Studios around the same time. He began working on a painting as a wedding gift for friends, he recalls. “It was of these dainty little flowers, and I just didn’t like it,” he says. “So I brought in a big canvas, got some black enamel and a big brush, and that
Today, Leblanc’s paintings usually run 60 inches by 44 inches and utilize mixed media, including enamel paint and collages made from comic book pages and covers. “I’d thought about using comics in some way for years and years,” Leblanc says. “I started off with just paint, but I wanted to bring in more depth. So I was ripping up the pages and collaging them in tiny pieces and it was taking forever.”
A book of Superman comic book covers from the 1930s sparked a different approach, as did a portfolio review with three professionals at the Cambridge Art Association. Katherine French, executive director of the Danforth Museum of Art, suggested that he try taking complete comic book covers and putting them on canvas. “She pointed out that none of us were getting any younger, and by doing this I could actually start painting [on a larger scale],” Leblanc says.
For Leblanc, the iconic covers are an element of the art, not the art itself. “You build on it, take what you see, add another element. Don’t limit yourself by saying that’s silly or I don’t want to do that,” he says. Although his canvases may look chaotic at first glance, Leblanc strives for balance. On the rare occasions when he’s stuck for inspiration, he relies on that balance to motivate him. “I’ll take paper or paint, something different from what is there, put it in a spot that will force me to redo it, add elements, look at it differently, then connect all the pieces again,” he says.
Those pieces are constantly changing as Leblanc, who considers himself to be largely self-taught in spite of his art degree, adds to his education. But for now, one element remains constant, he says. “A landscape artist thinks of trees and mountains. I think of comic books.”
See more of Leblanc’s work at actionabstractionstudio.com