In many ways, our collective unconsciousness imagines pockets of respite from modern life a-plenty in the city once given the wince-inducing moniker, Chill-Town. Megan Gulick (website: megangulick.com), perhaps the most talented illustrator among the ever-growing bevy of artists who call our fair city home, captures this idyll figment in her distinctive idiomatic style in a stunning mural up there in the J.C. Heights. See it on Central Avenue & South Street.
Megan is hare-brained. She has a lapin obsession. Anthropomorphizing animals has long been a cartoonist tradition and Megan applies her skill in a thoroughly imagined rabbit realm. Dislocation readers may remember coverage of her Battered Bunny series (here ), a collaboration with Ken Bastard, where Ken’s adult comic book pulp sensibility found a new manifestation in Megan’s lepus imagery. The Battered series took famous, often horrifying historical images and replaced the familiar humans with her signature rabbits.
You can’t call her rabbits cute, nor are they grotesque. They fall into an oxymoronic category – appealingly un-adorable. In fact they are too cute to be grotesque and if they are too grotesque to be cute it’s because their grotesque aspects are the familiar expressions of our all too human pathos. Our resemblance to the quirky rabbits depicted in our “less than humane” moments of human history gave the Battered Bunny collection its unnerving edge.
I hadn’t seen any new Megan illustrations until this mural and at the risk of pushing a Maus metaphor too far, what came to mind was that post-holocaust bunnies have their homeland. Since the bunnies have a sort of freaky damage like quality, it’s not hard to see this Technicolor glade as a refugee camp for rabbits escaping abusive hutches.Urban Inner Peace Zone is the work title, and indeed these rabbits are in a peaceful setting alongside bison and bears and frogs, all of whom are joyously watching a rainbow coalition of wall-eyed fish leap and frolic in a reservoir. I’m assuming it’s a reservoir; the red structure in the background says J.C. Heights reservoir, and somebody told me that Pershing Fields Park is built over a reservoir. I think there may be some other reservoir in that neighborhood. I don’t know for sure and there are better websites than this one for accurate Jersey City facts. An explanation of the work is on the plaque, read that as a starting point. I just provide impressions.
Notice the subtle word play in the mural title. Urban Inner – sly reversal of Inner City – and no street in town looks more delightfully old-skool Inner City than Central Avenue – Peace Zone, as opposed to Economic Zones that were created a few years ago, allowing only 3 cents sales tax. Something like that. The key word is zone. Instead we get Inner Peace; is this idyll depicted expressing an inner peace the artist is feeling? Her signature rabbits, while as weird and off-kilter as ever, exhibit a welcomed bliss absent from Battered Bunnies.
Here, Rabbits have a predator free homeland; in this meadow harmony prevails. Not only do the bear and the bison lay down with the lapin, but see the back haunches of the two non-bunnies mammals, they’re rabbit haunches. Even the frog’s thighs are more rabbit like here than in the world the rest of us call real. Rabbits not only rule the meadow, they also rule evolutionary selection of animal traits.
This mural is wonderfully illustrated. Depicting happiness is as difficult, maybe even more difficult, than showing other emotions because a higher degree of subtly is required to avoid mawkishness and falseness of feeling. Hallmark thankfully this mural is not. It could easily have sunk to that level if done by an artist lacking her imagination. Viewers do not feel merely glad, it’s impossible not to be genuinely amused.
Fun and funny is not just achieved by the drawing alone. The color composition is equally superb. Predominately garden green, a swath of light blue water in the middle balances the vast green areas; a light brown of the banks outlining the water yet, the brown of the bear and bison echoes the brown of the banks. Tiny slivers of white create reflections in the water, the suds around leaping fish emerging in and out of the surface, again echoing the tiny spots in the turtle shells and the daisies sprinkled throughout the grass; the red of the background shack is mirrored in the pink (a pale shade of red) of the bunny couple in the foreground. The colors are bright; they have a richness and glow – is there some sort of enamel or gloss at work here? – lacking in other murals I’ve blogged about. But that sheen only enhances the composition at work here, further enriching this particular slice of Megan’s ever widening, rabbit-centric animal kingdom.