Gary and Laura Dumm: Here There Be Monsters

In their latest series Here There Be Monsters (a name taken from the legend that map makers in the Middle Ages would designate unexplored areas on their maps with those dire words of warning), quintessential Cleveland artists Gary and Laura Dumm have pulled the innocuous masks off of society to reveal the beasts seething beneath.

What did they find? We are the monsters lingering under the stairs. We are the boogeymen lurking in closets.

The pop-surrealist series, which will be displayed at BAYarts from October 7 through 25, explores current environmental concerns with iconic movie monsters in the role of humans - sometimes the villain, other times the unintended consequences of tampering with the environment. They address topics such as climate change, genetic engineering, destruction of animal habitats, extinctions, and pollinator decline using such familiar characters as Frankenstein’s monster and his bride, the Creature (from the Black Lagoon), and a collection of vampires.

<span class="content-image-text">Old King Coal</span>Old King Coal“Some of the horrendous things being done to our planet's environment, whether use of pesticides, deforestation, pollution and the use of fossil fuels among others, frankly are monstrous,” Gary says. “Many of the monsters in our paintings are science experiments gone wrong and were - and are - potent warnings about the folly of humans playing god. We thought that most viewers’ familiarity with them was a hook to get them to dive deeper into what we are trying to portray: that in most of these paintings the monsters are us.”

With such heavy topics, it would have been easy for the couple to paint a bleak picture, but the edgy series remains fun and engaging.

“We do not want to lecture the viewer and turn them off,” Gary says. “We need you to have a willing suspension of disbelief and allow the message to percolate and create discussion. I like black humor, and although there’s nothing funny about the issues addressed, it’s easier to take if there’s just a dollop of humor. Some are more obvious and funnier than others, I must admit.” 

Perhaps some of the funniest results are those that didn’t make the final edit.

<span class="content-image-text">Gary and Laura Dumm with "The Four Horsemen of Extinction"</span>Gary and Laura Dumm with "The Four Horsemen of Extinction"

“I’d wanted to use Bela Lugosi in the cowboy-vampire piece The Four Horsemen Of Extinction, but I found that without his high-collared cape and evening wear he just looked like an older, non-threatening Jewish guy wearing a cowboy hat,” Gary explains. “The other cowboy-vampires are fierce and blood-thirsty, Bela just looked like somebody’s uncle.”

It is all part of the artists’ shared process. Gary made two lists: one of environmental concerns and the other of famous monsters and paired them up. After making thumbnail sketches to show Laura, the couple discussed each piece and made revisions before Gary drew the final sketches. Then they both approved them, and Gary transferred the drawings onto the canvas before Laura painted them.

“It really works out wonderfully because we both have strong but very different talents to bring to the canvas table,” Laura explains.

Although disagreements are inevitable with two separate artistic sensibilities, Gary says they are handled by always keeping the focus on what will make the artwork stronger.

<span class="content-image-text">Laura Dumm</span>Laura Dumm“It’s a synergy, something greater than the sum of its parts, and we believe that this is some of the best work that either of us has ever done,” he continues. “It’s built on the bones of my comics work, research, and fleshed out by Laura’s graphic design chops and brilliant color sense.”

Laura worked for a design studio and a few magazines before starting a graphic arts business in 1986. After 20 she decided to paint full time in a style she refers to as ‘patternism,’ breaking down a realistic subject into colorful shapes and patterns.

Gary worked with Harvey Pekar on American Splendor since its inception. He’s shown his artwork at exhibits nationally and internationally and in Entertainment Weekly, the New York Times, the VillageVoice and France's Le Monde and in the Cleveland Scene, Free Times and Plain Dealer.

Prior to 2003, the duo rarely collaborated professionally. However, that year, Gary was busy with promotional artwork for the American Splendor movie. Laura taking over the color when needed enabled him to work more on the black and white.

In 2011, the Community Partnership For Arts and Culture awarded the couple a Creative Workforce Fellowship for an eight- by 60-foot mural entitled Our Love Letter To Cleveland displayed on the Orange Blossom Press building near the West Side Market.

<span class="content-image-text">Gary Dumm</span>Gary DummThen in 2014, the two developed a series of large paintings concerning relevant issues and current events such as corporate greed, job outsourcing, and prescription drug abuse titled The Fame, Shame, Blame Game. Laura says that the viewers’ reactions and the conversations the show roused inspired her and her husband to create their current project, which has garnered almost immediate success.

“Several of these paintings have been accepted and exhibited in juried shows both local and out-of-state, so we’re very happy with the response thus far,” Gary says.

Scream of the Butterflies won Best of Show in BAYarts Annual Juried Show 2016, and the local band Vanity Crash used it for an album cover.

<span class="content-image-text">Jekyll-Hyde (Flushed With Pride)</span>Jekyll-Hyde (Flushed With Pride)On Friday, Oct. 7, from 7 to 9 p.m. The Rust Belt Monster Collective will be creating a mural during the opening reception of the Dumm's BAYarts show, which includes all nine paintings and four black and white drawings in the Monsters series.

“At BAYarts we exist in the beautiful natural setting of the Metroparks; we are committed to our environment and the show deals with issues that are near and dear to us,” BAYarts artistic director Karen Petkovic says. “BAYarts is a zero-waste campus; our goal is to exist as a facility that treads lightly on the earth and we make every effort to protect the environment that we exist in.

“[The Dumms] bring a unique and graphic style that provides social commentary to the environmental challenges that affect us right here in our own back yard… The show speaks to the Dumms' commitment to our area and these concerns.”

Hollie Gibbs
Hollie Gibbs

About the Author: Hollie Gibbs

Hollie Gibbs earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Kent State University and studied photography at School of the Visual Arts in Manhattan. Her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous local and national publications. She spends her free time playing guitar, taking pictures, and traveling.