By Michael C. Butz
• Live & Create Cleveland’s Cudell neighborhood • Degrees Laura: self-taught; Gary: associate degree in art from Cuyahoga Community College
What drew Gary Dumm to work with legendary comic book writer Harvey Pekar for 30 years was Pekar’s tenacity and honesty.
“There was the honesty of a life well-lived with all of the crap a person has to go through in their daily life – the idea that there are no superheroes, but every person has to do things that could be deemed heroic in the course of just getting through their day,” says Dumm of Pekar’s approach.
In that vein, encouraging people to make perhaps mundane yet heroic changes to their everyday lives for the sake of the planet is central to a series of environmental paintings Dumm and his wife, Laura Dumm, have worked on in recent years.
The couple uses recognizable fictional monsters – Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster, Medusa, the Wicked Witch of the West – as light-hearted and approachable hooks. In “Saraband for a Sinking Fantasyland,” a mummy plays violin in front of Disneyland.
“The element of humor, I think, is important – so that it doesn’t seem rather pedantic” Gary Dumm explains.
Upon closer inspection of each piece, however, environmental tragedy unfolds. In “Saraband,” Dumbo flies away to escape the approaching storm, and Mickey Mouse has to row to and from work at the Magic Kingdom because sea levels have risen. The violin-playing mummy, at first humorous, feels more like part of the orchestra that played as the Titanic sank.
Through it all, no lifeguard is on duty in “Saraband.” In that, the artists reveal the true monsters in the environmental equation: humans.
“We want to start creating some kind of conversation,” Laura Dumm says. “We want our art to have a message and teach without preaching too much to sort of let people know, ‘Hey, this needs attention.’”
And pay attention they have. One example: Some of the couple’s friends stopped buying bottled water as a result of “Burning in Water, Drowning in Plastic,” which depicts the Creature from the Black Lagoon up to his waist-high inflatable duck in water pollution.
“I don’t think we do this series or that we do these paintings if we didn’t want to make a difference,” Laura Dumm says. “I think we always want people to sort of think a little bit more.”
Self-described children of the ’60s, Laura and Gary Dumm, 68 and 71, respectively, say they’re no strangers to protest. They also feel it’s incumbent upon them as artists – and upon all artists – to serve as “reporters of what’s going on in their time.”
“What’s going on in our time is we have global warming. We have water and air pollution. We have a government that doesn’t care about the environment,” Laura Dumm says. “So, maybe we have to get out there and scream.” CV
Lead image: Laura and Gary Dumm. Photos courtesy of the artists.