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South Philly artist presents ‘Dead Kings’

The collection of ink illustrations draws parallels between historical rulers and today’s political climate.

Passyunk Square artist Kate Glasheen works on drawings for her first solo exhibit, “Dead Kings,” at Paradigm Studio and Gallery. Inspired by historical sovereigns, the collection of 16 ink-drawn kings evokes parallels to today’s political climate. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

Derived from annals of dynasties across the world, depictions of crowned heads have conquered Paradigm Gallery and Studio.

Though portraying sovereigns of 10th century Ireland to fifth-century Mandé, these illustrated regal thrones are actually ruled by corpses.

As Passyunk Square artist Kate Glasheen executed these morbidly royal visions from pen to paper, she noticed her collection of 16 ink-drawn kings mirrored today’s executive state.

The unplanned parallel has led to Glasheen’s first solo show, “Dead Kings,” at the Queen Village gallery, which opened Friday, Jan. 25.

“I started drawing these things, and then, once I had it in front of me, it felt like some pieces moved into place,” Glasheen said. “As I was working on the visuals, it kind of evolved alongside how I was feeling about what’s going on and what’s always going on.”

Riveted by the motifs of indie video games, tarot cards and her brother’s “Dungeon and Dragons” books, Glasheen has always found herself drawn to grim yet fantasy-esque images.

While growing up in Troy, New York during the 1980s and ’90s, Glasheen unraveled an aptitude as she began doodling with micron pens.

“Some of my earliest memories include me drawing in them,” Glasheen said. “It’s just something I naturally started doing…The more I did it, the more entrenched I got in doing it, and it became this, like, nourishing habit that I had.”

After high school, Glasheen studied fine art at Pratt Institute’s Utica site in 2000 before transferring to the Brooklyn campus her junior and senior years.

Along with work showcased in spaces like LA Gallery’s 1988 and Brooklyn Gristle Gallery, Glasheen found a particular knack for comics, which she has illustrated in both ink and water colors for a several publications. Adding to her accumulation of comic book contributions, including the Adventure Time series, Hybrid Bastards!, The Sakai Project, Resist! and the Graphic Canon series, Glasheen’s “A Radical Shift of Gravity,” a collaboration with Nick Tapalansky, will be released in November by Top Shelf Productions.

But, “Dead Kings,” she says, stands out from the rest of her work, evoking influences from her youth and fusing them with both historical and contemporary contexts.

“The kings — they’re this factual, historical thing…but, I’m also this super-sentimental person, and childhood is pretty sacred to me,” she said. “So, I feel like there’s always an element of things that I loved as a kid coming through in work now.”

In early 2018, as she began researching and doodling bygone potentates, Glasheen says similarities surfaced between the luxuriousness demonstrated by medieval rulers and the gold-plated lifestyle of the United States’ current commander in chief.

Even beyond the White House, “Dead Kings” evokes resemblances to other rising autocratic leaders across the world, as Glasheen conveys that such behavior is often repeated through the ages.

But, like their predecessors of several centuries ago, when opulence is stripped from these superiors, all they have left is mortality.

“I’m trying to kind of poke fun at these kings…I’ve come to realize — this is kind of like my mocking them,” Glasheen said. “For all of the power these people had in their lives, they’re dead now. And that power means nothing after they’re dead.”

Image courtesy of Kate Glasheen

From researching to sketching, each of the 16 kings, which are drawn on archival paper ranging from 14″ x 11″ to 20” x 16” dimensions, averaged somewhere from 10 to 15 hours to complete.

Since February, Glasheen first sketched each king with loose pencil drawings and then later traced over the intricate designs using micron pens. While the pencil acts as a “suggestion,” the ink, she says, is used to make decisions.

The very first drawing, which reveals a lifeless skelton slouched against a brick wall, was scrapped. In Glasheen’s eyes, the image included excess scenery, shifting focus away from the kings. So, while each king is posed and placed in slightly different scenarios — some smugly riding horses, others sluggishly sitting on thrones — every image maintains a certain level of negative space.

The intentional focus on the kings coincides with the medieval mindset that rulers were once, or perhaps still are, perceived as the center of the universe.

But they, too, are not an anomaly to death.

“When I die, there’s not going to be much difference between my corpse and a king’s corpse, despite our differences in life…I feel like there’s this kind of idea behind having such power that you can outrun death,” Glasheen said. “When it’s, like, actually, time is the only king, because no one’s going to outrun that, despite all their earthly trappings.”

Info: “Dead Kings” will run at Paradigm Studio and Gallery through March 16.

For more information, visit /www.paradigmarts.org/blogs/news/kate-glasheen-dead-kings

Twitter: @gracemaiorano.


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