It’s not unusual for Bob Hall to have a show of his art in Lincoln.
But “The Quick and the Dead” isn’t an exhibition of the comic book art that Hall has done for decades working for Marvel, DC or most recently, “The Carnival of Contagion” for the University of Nebraska Press.
Rather, the Iron Tail Gallery exhibition is Master of Fine Arts show by the man I’ve jokingly called the world’s oldest graduate student.
After a lifetime of work in New York and Lincoln in comics and illustration and theater — last year he left the Flatwater Shakespeare Company, which he’d founded 15 years earlier — Hall, 73, enrolled in the graduate program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Art and Art History in 2015.
The Iron Tail show is the culmination of those studies, an exhibition of 18 paintings that largely share the same medium — charcoal and acrylic paint — while touching on varying themes.
The most compelling of those are three paintings that are a take on the Biblical idiom that is the exhibition’s title. They are rooted in the teachings of the rapture that Hall heard as a boy some 60 years ago at the City-Wide Gospel Tabernacle.
One of the paintings is a dynamic, loosely rendered “Self Portrait of the Artist Ascending (or Descending as the Case May Be),” with strong lines conveying the sense of light and motion.
Another, which, with its narrative content connecting with Hall’s comic book work, is “White Van in the Negative Zone” in which a grim reaper-style figure is found in front of the van, which appears to be lifted by a swirling force.
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The third piece — and one of the best works in the show — is called “Ascension Day,” a depiction of a dead squirrel, which Hall saw near his home, being raptured in front of the stained glass windows of a church, an image that’s simultaneously reverent and creepy.
“The Late David Richmond,” a suite of seven paintings, demonstrates Hall’s considerable gift for conveyance of feeling and emotion through depiction. A tribute to a friend who passed away, the series opens with “David — 1990,” the first of a series of portraits, and ends with “Mr. Richmond Walking Away,” a shadowy black figure walking beneath a tree.
The remainder of the paintings are portraits of “The Quick” — living people — like Hall’s wife Paula Ray who is the subject of two of the largest, most well-executed paintings in the show. Most notably is “Paula in Canada,” which finds her in profile, sitting with her elbow on a table and hand on her face with a background of solid planes adding depth and punch to the image.
The most colorful piece in the show, “Cousin Shirley, 5 Years Gone,” is the only one created with India ink and oil paint. It’s a full-length portrait of Shirley, a little person, wearing a red skirt and shoes with beautifully patterned curtains on the window behind her.
A connection can be seen between Hall's comic book character depictions and some of the paintings in the show. But in general, the paintings don't have the hard lines required of graphic art, or, perhaps more accurately, add softness and ambiguity to the depictions.
Hall hadn’t earned his master's degree when I looked at “The Quick and the Dead” in the middle of the week. His orals were set for Friday morning at Iron Tail.
But it’s a safe bet that Hall will be picking up his diploma next month. His exhibition shows the work of an artist who finds the heart of his subjects and delivers its with a richness and depth beyond the graphic sensibility of the comic work for which he is known.