Unanticipated Fallout from the “Between Heaven and Hellboy” Art Exhibit

In July I had the honor of being one of three guest judges for the “Between Heaven and Hellboy” Art Exhibit at the Greenwood Collective here in Seattle. The show was quite successful, with many local artists creating absolutely stunning works of art that paid homage to comics. A huge turnout of people showed up to the opening party at the gallery. I don’t regret being part of such a great event in the least, but over the last month and a half, unexpected negative fallout from being a guest judge has emerged on multiple occasions.

It seems many people disagree with the selections that received awards at the show — and a few have not been shy about voicing their disagreements to me. This has happened quite a few times online, as well as in person. I have received complaints from fans as well as a couple of artists. I have been told that digital art was not given fair consideration. Or that gimmicky work was favored, or consequentially ignored. I have been told that works of art featuring mainstream characters, as well as lesser known characters, were not given fair consideration. These objections have ranged from friendly genuine curiosity as to the criteria with which the decisions were made, to thinly-veiled hostility in which I have been told outright that the judges’ decisions were “completely stupid” and “wrong.” Every time this happens (and it still continues to, occasionally) I am somewhat shocked, but try to remain understanding and supportive.

Between Heaven and Hellboy flierI went into “Between Heaven and Hellboy” under the assumption that the awards were mostly just for fun. The role as a guest judge put me in somewhat uncomfortable territory (aside from having severe social anxiety and having to appear in public). When I review comics, I critique them as standalone works of art. I consider the merits of the art for that comic alone, not judging them against other comics that might be from different genres or utilizing vastly different artistic techniques and styles. I read a diverse array of titles, and enjoy a wide variety of artistic styles. As a reviewer, honestly and objectivity are of utmost importance to my reputation. There have been times when I have had to write unflattering reviews. Taste in art is subjective, but when I write a review the opinion is completely mine. Need I remind anyone who has complained to me that not winning an award is a hell of a lot less painful than receiving a negative review of your work? If the truth of the matter be known, I find judging art against other art kind of defeats the entire point, but this was a fun opportunity and I remain honored to have been invited to take part.

See, the fact is that which works received the awards (Best Superhero, Best Villain, and Best in Show) were decided by three guest judges working together to make these decisions. We each had somewhat different criteria that played into our individual preferences. One judge put emphasis on artwork that he would want hanging in his home. Another seemed to value work that was unconventional, crafty, and more off-the-wall. I tended to look for work that I found to be aesthetically pleasing, while utilizing skillful technique and adhering to the comic book theme of the show. The fact is that all of the judges had to come together in compromise to make the final decisions.

Compromise rarely leads to choices in which all parties are completely satisfied. I’m not trying to throw anyone under the bus here or to take anything away from the winners, but I will confess to you that some of the works chosen would not have likely been my first choices if the decisions were mine alone to make. If you are displeased with the choices made, please feel free to discuss it with me in a civil and pleasant manner. I will not publicly second guess the decisions here or on social networks, but will happily discuss them with anyone who desires to do so in a private setting, online or in person. Please, no more angry rants in bars or cold shoulders on the sidewalk.

I thought the point of this exhibit (as well as one of my own personal goals) was to continue building a strong and united art community here in Seattle. Bad feelings over perceived slights or “for fun” awards do not contribute to that goal. We have a staggering amount of talent here in this city that deserves the widest possible audience — let’s make that the focus, not second guessing and silly little ribbons. I have nothing but the utmost respect for anyone who contributes to the vibrant creative community here. Keep on producing amazing art and pushing the boundaries with your incredible work, Seattle.

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2 responses to “Unanticipated Fallout from the “Between Heaven and Hellboy” Art Exhibit

  1. Wow! I am so sorry that this has happened to you, Robb. As one of the main people who put this exhibition together, I can tell you that the only reason this was put together, was to create and deepen the ties that create, instill and bind community. Community between artists and each other, between the artists and Seattle and even between our artists and the local comic shops and their customers.

    While, I have to admit that I personally don’t like the idea of judging artists and giving awards–mostly because it creates exactly the kind of enmity between artists etc. that you are describing (and therefor, I actually pulled myself out of having anything to do with that part of the show,) others like that shit and wanted it in. I won’t name names as it doesn’t matter, but to a large degree, I agree that judging art work and giving out awards is an archaic artifact left over from the official salons of the past and one that probably doesn’t need to be continued in our scene. I did voice my dislike of having awards, but not very strongly, but now, I will pass news of these incidents along and I personally apologize to Mr. Orr, for you having to deal with this unfortunate and “unanticipated fallout.”

    • Most of these complaints seem to come from a vocal minority, but they have come up with enough frequency that I thought some sort of statement was in order to clear the air, provide transparency, and resolve any lingering hard feelings. I abhor drama, and likely wouldn’t even take such complaints seriously if I didn’t feel that they were calling into question my personal and professional integrity. Everyone directly involved with putting the show together and the overwhelming majority of contributing artists were extremely kind and a pleasure to work with. I know there are many people like yourself working hard to build and strengthen the Seattle art community, and I salute such efforts.

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