by Jamilyn Hiskes
HAMMOND, Ind. (May 28, 2019) – The “underground” art of Jim Siergey came to Paul Henry’s Art Gallery (416 Sibley St.) the weekend of May 18 in a flurry of satirical, comical, and sometimes political comic panels. In a paint-spattered back room of the late-19th-century hardware-store-turned-gallery, art from Siergey and fellow underground artist John Giemzik was posted for display and sale, drawing curious onlookers.
“I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil, for as long as I can remember,” Siergey said. “At some point in my life, I said, ‘Well, there’s painting with expensive canvas and oils, and cartooning with paper and ink—I can afford that.’”
Siergey, a Munster, Indiana, resident and cartoonist for The Lansing Journal, began making this kind of art—known as “comix”—in the 1970s. He said his style hasn’t changed that much since then, but he doesn’t see that as a bad thing.
“My natural approach to drawing is like this [for comix],” Siergey said. “Sometimes I’m asked to draw realistic stuff, like ‘realist,’ and I say, ‘This is realistic!’ But I’m good at drawing in other styles too.”
“Cultural Jet Lag,” while it’s the name of his current exhibit, was also the name of a comic strip Siergey created with late writer and fellow Columbia College student Tom Roberts in the 1990s. According to informational pamphlets at the exhibit, the strip was popular in that decade, getting printed in publications such as Time magazine and USA Weekend.
“[Roberts] mostly wrote, and I illustrated,” Siergey explained. “It was a fun collaboration. …He was great at looking at everything we look at, yet he saw a whole different side of it.”
The exhibit at Paul Henry’s features many original strips and panels from the series, as well as political cartoons from George W. Bush’s presidency. Most are for sale for an average price of $500. There are also political cartoons, “Cultural Jet Lag” comic books, and single strips available for sale.
Siergey believes the role of political cartoons is just as important now, if not more important, as it had been during Bush’s presidency. However, he wishes the impact were stronger.
“During the [George W.] Bush years, I wore myself out doing Bush cartoons and it didn’t do a thing,” Siergey said. “But I did what I could to make a little chink in the armor. …It’s important that we have them, but now it’s mainly for people who are preaching to the choir.”
Giemzik, who was introduced to Siergey by gallery manager David Mueller shortly before the exhibit opened, said he got into art in his 20s—what he considers, “late.”
“I was bored one day, so I picked up a poster board and started drawing,” he said. “It just clicked. People seemed to like it, so I kept doing it.”
While Siergey’s art is more traditional cartoon style, Giemzik describes his own style as “psychedelic illustration.” He was surprised, he said, to see how well his art and Siergey’s meshed for the gallery.
“I like to call it ‘urban organic,'” Giemzik said. “My art is good for the common man—sort of the blue-collar artist … So far, the reaction has been very enthusiastic. This is probably one of my better [art] shows.”
Giemzik said he wants his art to touch each person who encounters it in a “different, unique” way.
“I want it to inspire people to look into themselves,” he said. “And if they get a laugh out of it, that’s great too.”
Siergey said he wants people who visit the “Cultural Jet Lag” exhibit to dig deeper and research any pieces they might admire to discover more of the meaning behind them.
“It’s ‘edu-tainment,’ of a sort,” he joked. “If someone could get a smile [from it] and learn something, that’s all I’d want.”
“Cultural Jet Lag” is free to the public and will run through June 30. Paul Henry’s Art Gallery also hosts frequent art workshops and entertainment events such as concerts. The gallery is open Sundays 12:00–5:00pm and Tuesday through Saturday 10:00am–7:00pm. For more information, call 219-678-5015, visit their website, www.paulhenrysartgallery.com or find them on Facebook. To see more of Siergey’s work, visit his Facebook page, “Stuff, Nonsense & Art by Jim Siergey.” To see more of Giemzik’s work, visit his Facebook page, “JAG III.”