Concrete Park and Art: Puryear Purloins Painters’ Perfections

Paul Gauguin, Nevermore (Nikad više), 1897

Concrete Park, You Send Me cover, Dark Horse Comics, Tony Puryear & Erika Henderson, October 2014It was the cover that caught me.

Concrete Park: You Send Me

Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander
Dark Horse Comics
October 1st, 2014

Talking to Bleeding Cool about his “artist’s journey,” Tony Puryear, illustrator and co-writer of Concrete Park, said:

I majored in art at Brown [University], loving Gauguin but doing very indulgent, Morris Louis-inspired color field paintings.

Let’s talk around that a bit.

I don’t know that he said this because I follow the creator’s work or closely read every Bleeding Cool interview. No! I know he said this because I googled “Tony Puryear Gauguin” after having read this book. The influence shines. It’s not just Gauguin, but Matisse, too; Matisse in Morocco and Gauguin in Tahiti. I feel complexly about this; both of these painters were like, “woo, gonna go party in the Orient and look at exotic nude babes!” Does this show in the paintings? Can you feel it? Perhaps you can. Perhaps you can’t. Perhaps it’s one layer of a complex reading.

Matisse, Seated Odalisque Arms Raised (Green Striped Armchair)
Henri Matisse, Seated Odalisque Arms Raised (Green Striped Armchair)

Odalisque—this term seems like it means reclining nude, but, in fact, it began as an art term to specifically infer that the subject was a harem member. It “evolved” to mean a bit Eastern, or whatever, and also naked in art and rich man’s girlfriend in the vernacular. Sexist! Racist! All the fun of the fair!

For example, look at her armpit hair. She’s not bothered that we can see it. Naked women chilling with body hair and belly softness … today that might stand in for progressive. For me, it felt good to see.

Concrete Park, a sci-fi comic, doesn’t have any white people in it. On the one hand, the lack of white characters in this situation suggests that Earth culture has increased its white supremacy to the point of deporting young people of colour to space which … is bad. On the other hand, it could mean that there are no white people left in the future? That’s not so bad.

But “a child’s parents dying” is bad, and plenty of stories use that as a way to tell a positive story about childhood power, helping readers to conceptualize themselves and others more deeply.

Concrete Park: You Send Me  Tony Puryear & Erika Alexander  Dark Horse Comics,

We’re introduced to the socially powerful female lead and her girlfriend through her leadership monologue. She debuts in her story naked and sexual, with an emphasized roundness of breast. This portrayal speaks to the history of the control and manipulation of women through sexuality—a history deeply embedded in, though not exclusive to, American media. But it reads great. Organic and loving. Complex and relaxed. Their lack of clothing interacts with colouring choices to communicate just how hot the environment is supposed to be; it’s not over-obvious art. It doesn’t telegraph what it’s doing, it just sits there being real. My understanding of this setting is physical, and when characters enter wearing boob tubes and short shorts and whatnot, I don’t feel like it’s only so some boys’ club creator can get his rocks off. I think, “pass this woman some water and a fan.”

Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander,, SDCC
Alexander, right, and Puryear, left, at SDCC (image via

I would definitely rather think about the weather than whether a comic is trying to perv on its own characters. What if … what if all comics with women in them were, at least, co-written by women? That might be nice. It might be a positive move. Concrete Park is co-written by Erika Alexander to whom Tony Puryear is married. You may know her from her acting career. I don’t, but now if I happen across her work, I’ll sit up and pay attention.

The Gauguin influence (see above) is obvious (Matisse goes unmentioned, but if you enjoy the imagery of Concrete Park, perhaps you’ll be interested in his galleries). The subject being two women of colour with intimate body language, the positioning of their bodies in the frame (the poses are nearly identical), the flower behind the ear, the shapes of their bodies. It’s clear.

Jack Bush, Big A, 1968
Jack Bush, Big A, 1968

In that Bleeding Cool interview, Puryear also mentions colour field painting. Colour field work is non-representational; it consists of abstract pieces that, understandably, are fields of colour. I’m not much for abstract art, but perhaps a quick Google image search will inform your own reading of Concrete Park. It can’t hurt, right? Give it a try. The above 1968 colour field piece (Big A) is from Jack Bush and reminds me of our front page. It also bears a strong resemblance to the Gauguin below, no?

Paul Gauguin Quand te marie tu and Jack Bush, Big A, 1968 and page from Concrete Park, You Send Me cover, Dark Horse Comics, Tony Puryear & Erika Henderson, October 2014

Claire Napier

Claire Napier

Critic, ex-Editor in Chief at WWAC, independent comics editor; the rock that drops on your head. Find me at and give me lots of money