Olivia Plender uses the format of the comic book as an alternative mode of distribution for art, capitalising on its inexpensive accessibility as a means to challenge cultural ideals. The Masterpiece series is an expansive critique of originality; the drawings are conceived as a by-product of artistic process and not actual artworks in themselves. Appropriating her title from Emile Zola’s novel about Cezanne, Plender’s The Masterpiece 4 explores the concept of Romanticism and authors a complex fiction examining the concept of artist-as-genius. Her protagonist is an archetypical painter – tortured by his creativity, exploited by a cruel world – who is invited from 1960s London to a weekend in the country. The plot unfolds as a Byronic epic cum Hammer House horror, delving her champion into a world of psychedelia and occult as a metaphoric parody of artistic strife. Drawing reference from 19th century technical manuals and b-movie film stills, Plender’s graphic narratives are designed with the stylised glamour of pulp fiction covers. Her vignette images intertwine as surreal pastiche, adding a psychological complexity to her illustrated story.

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