ARTIST STATEMENT: In this series of paintings Kumasi J. Barnett satirizes “The American Way” by appropriating and transforming familiar comic book imagery. Beloved heroes like Spider-Man and The Hulk are transformed into meta-cultural icons like The Amazing Black-Man or The Thug. These champions form a brutal hyper-realistic version of an all too familiar America. Through these comic books Barnett is constructing a subculture of heroes to take on a terrifying host of novel super villains. Stereotypes, prejudices, southern-pride, and killer police are all parts of Barnett’s evil alliance, all attacking “The True American Heroes”.
Acquired from years of gathering, the comic books Barnett uses in this series are personal mementos sourced from his private collection. The collection also includes recent purchases that revisit and re-engage the artist’s youth spent among the dusty shelves of comic book stores in Baltimore Maryland. By defacing these familiar comic books Barnett puts his finger on the pulse of America today. We see here a schizophrenic America, one that attempts to celebrate and hate both our differences and our sameness.
In Barnett’s series, each comic is repainted to obscure and obliterate the original American icon. This allows a new and often terrible story to be built around a fragile and familiar American experience. The result is small nostalgic paintings that walk a fragile tightrope over pain, mockery, humor, and truth. Barnett’s work shakes this tightrope of culture that unites us all as Americans, both in its heroic iconography and stereotyped racism.