Visual Art » Art

Mark Newport

Heroic Endeavors

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Invulnerable and morally unwavering, superheroes are the Freudian superego come to life. While normal people struggle to fight traffic or remember relatives' birthdays, superheroes are busy rescuing the world from destruction at the hands of evil geniuses. There's a sizable disparity between comic book fantasy and the real world, but such standards of heroism are nonetheless impossibly unfair. The irony isn't lost on Arizona-based artist Mark Newport, who uses superheroes—and, in particular, their costumes—to expose the adult male experience as its own formidable challenge. But instead of creating intimidating, protective uniforms to mirror the kind of hardened stoicism they often demand, Newport offers costumes that wear inner vulnerability and weakness, quite literally, on their sleeves. Essentially full-body sweaters, his soft costumes are rendered in what he calls "the protective gesture of my mother—hand-knit acrylic sweaters meant to keep me safe from New England winters."

Representing both well-known characters and his own creations, Newport's costumes dangle limply from the gallery's walls and ceilings. It's not that the costumes simply represent superheroes as "soft," either; Newport is effectively emasculating them. It's a critique he weaves into the work itself. As a feminine craft, the knitting deflates the heroes' overblown masculinity. And to drive the point home, Newport's costumes reserve generous proportions for the heroes' presumably large, but conspicuously absent, penises.

In "Reflection," one of several digitally enhanced prints that accompany Endeavors' costumes, Newport peers into a mirror, dressed in an oversized outfit. Observing the folds of extra fabric that hang from his body, he agonizes over his appearance. Where a woman might fret that she is too big, here he laments that he is not big enough. Not only is he unable to fill the costume physically, but he is also unable to encompass the superhero's exaggerated traits of masculinity and virility. Like his costumes, the artist's prints collapse distinctions between the masculine and the feminine, adult and child, strength and weakness. Heroic Endeavors may be disguised as mindless fun, but it's rich in thoughtful commentary.

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