Moss illustrates that it pays to go your own way

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Bexley High School and Columbus College of Art and Design graduate Ian Moss will have an exhibition of his illustrations at the Catacombs gallery, 17 Buttles Ave., in the Short North, through July. Works to be on display include “Feed Me,” and “Seuss Self-Portrait.”

Ian Moss has never been afraid to go his own way.

At Bexley High School he was a southern California transplant and a fish out of water in central Ohio.

“I probably didn’t adjust until I got to college,” Moss confesses.

His idiosyncrasies showed up in positive and negative ways. He admits that he had a bad reputation for being rebellious and picking fights.

He found other ways to express his individuality as a member of the backstage crew for such shows as “Into the Woods,” and in art classes.

When he enrolled at Columbus College of Art and Design, he rejected the advise of his peers to pursue such cutting-edge fields as video production, opting for the time-honored traditions of illustration.

His faith in his own vision has begun to pay off.

Moss, who graduated from CCAD this spring, will be the featured artist at the Catacombs gallery, at 17 Buttles Ave., in the Short North, through July. The exhibition of about 20 of his works will open during the Gallery Hop July 7 from 6-10 p.m.

It is unusual for a gallery to take a chance on a young illustrator, Moss said. Too often the fine arts world looks down its nose at this line of work, he has found, and even university instructors tend to look at illustration as “a dying field. At CCAD, illustration used to be their lifeblood, but it isn’t so much anymore.”

But Moss was determined to follow in the footsteps of the artists who have influenced him, from Norman Rockwell to Maxfield Parrish to Frank Frazetta. He sees no reason why an illustrator can’t be regarded as a fine artist, as well as a commercial success.

And he wants to be among the best.

“I don’t compare my work to other students. I compare it to the work of other artists,” Moss said.

He appears to be well on his way to that level of achievement. His work shows a high degree of technical proficiency, and engaging flights of imagination.

As a kid, he copied drawings of cartoon and comic book characters, and as he got older he took a more photo-realistic approach, thinking this was the way to be taken seriously.

He has since returned to a more stylized, cartoon-like style, similar to the paintings of Chris Payne, who has illustrated books authored by John Lithgow.

He finds in his own paintings “a Tim Burton feel – if Tim Burton did something cute.”

The cuteness found in such works as “Feed Me” isn’t overstated, and it has a purpose.

He juxtaposes comically menacing figures, such as the slobbering plant a la “Little Shop of Horrors,” with the smiling child to empower kids and teach them not to be afraid of the imagined monsters around them.

He rates his progress as an artist since entering CCAD as “exponential.”

One of the lessons he learned is how to include contrasting images in a painting. And so “Feed Me” also has an old man in the background nurturing a seemingly benign sprout that will grow up to be like the drooling dandelion in the foreground.

Bexley High School and Columbus College of Art and Design graduate Ian Moss.

Moss’s paintings are full of such surprises. A classroom assignment resulted in a “Seuss Self-Portrait,” an homage to Norman Rockwell’s three-way view of himself.

In this painting, Theodore Geisel is looking into a mirror to get a glimpse of his own face, but looking back is the Cat in the Hat. His palette is a platter of green eggs and ham.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 stand by to help or hinder. The Grinch grumpily stands in as a stool, and the canvas is held up by a Seussian contraption (Moss had included Horton in earlier sketches but edited him out of the composition).

Rockwell himself beams approvingly, with pipe in mouth, from a sketch attached to the canvas where Geisel’s face appears.

The work was included in CCAD’s spring student exhibition.

Make-believe worlds of fairy tales and rock and roll morph in “The Frog Prince,” with the previously unpronounceable performer playing a lily pad guitar instead of a Fender.

Moss’s ultimate ambition is to be an illustrator of children’s books. His paintings for “La Mariposa,” about a butterfly traveling the world, has been submitted to McGraw-Hill Publishers.

He wants to create high-quality works that will inspire children, and that won’t bore parents.

His art didn’t always have such a family-friendly feel to it. Early works included violent and sexual themes.

But since becoming a Christian, Moss has gone in a more lighthearted vein.

His faith has also led him to participate in community outreach efforts, including mentoring at an inner-city recreation center.

He has done scenic and costume design work for theatre, and one of his ambitions is to found a Christian arts ministry that would include stage, video and music productions.

In addition to selling his paintings, Moss makes a living as a graphic designer, portrait artist and caricaturist, and draws licensed characters such as Disney’s Stitch.

Information about Ian Moss’s full portfolio is at www.mossillustrations.com.

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