Born in Wilmette, IL; based in Baltimore, MD
Michael Bussell makes mixed-media drawings that track how characters—and the values and meanings that we associate with them—mutate and proliferate through contemporary culture. In this series on comic book backing board, Bussell renders the face of Gengar from the Pokémon franchise. He begins with linework, creating cells that the artist then fills in with grays or pops of color that animate the cartoonish persona. Bussell uses ink, a material to which he gravitates because of its permanence: “The only kind of erasure that's possible is a kind of further distortion, or more commonly, obfuscation with another element [... such as] covering it with paper or sticker paper.”
Represented with expressive graphic marks, the Gengar figure in Bussell’s hands appears to resolve and then dissolve again before the viewer’s eyes. The artist’s lines dramatically shift in density, from thin delicate strands to thick blunt strokes. Such depictions gesture in style to Pokémon trading cards, video games, and manga as well as graphic novels, graffiti, and fan art at large.
The artist sometimes adds a matte paper on top of the backing board, and often places each composition in a polypropylene bag. He then inserts it into a toploader—a plastic sleeve that typically houses comic books—that acts as a frame. The glossy and reflective nature of these pieces make them resemble stained glass, as writer Anastasios Karnazes has noted. Across this body of work that ranges widely despite its uniformity, Gengar’s expressions are ever transforming. This series echoes how entertainment and media is perpetually metamorphosing our physical and virtual experiences.
Michael Bussell received a BFA in Photography from Maryland Institute College of Art. His output has been exhibited internationally over the past decade, including in solo exhibitions at Plague Space, Krasnodar, Russia (2022); Wild Flower, Baltimore, MD (2017); and Deli Gallery, Brooklyn, NY (2015). Private collections throughout the United States, Canada, England, France, Germany, and Australia have acquired his work.
Gengar is a character in the Pokemon trading card game, video game, and television series who is notable for its ability to hide in shadows and infiltrate dreams. A player can evolve a Gengar from a Haunter only through trading it back and forth with a friend. This requires trust, since the friend could easily disconnect and keep the Gengar for themselves. Trust and trading are important, though usually unseen, features of art, and often change its meaning, value, and experience.
Michael Bussell repeats and refigures Gengar throughout an unnamed series to create shifting yet fluent images that recall comic book covers, graffiti, signatures, fan art, and portraiture. The series has the feeling of individual devotion as it is both strictly unified but also versatile in its usage of a broad range of drawing techniques and vernaculars to experiment at the limits of repetition and figure.