Does That Make Sense? at SVA Gramercy

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday January 24, 2024


Marshall Arisman (1937-2022), longtime chair of the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Department at the School of Visual Arts, and a co-founder of American Illustration, will be honored by SVA in an exhibition, Does that Make Sense?, opening tomorrow at the SVA Gramercy Gallery. Info  Arisman began teaching at SVA in 1964 and founded the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program in 1984, of which he remained chair until his passing in April 2022. Nearly 40 years on, it is one of the most distinguished programs of its kind. Its many notable alumni include MacArthur Fellowship-winning author Lauren Redniss (2000); children’s book creators Brian Floca (2001), Stephen Savage (1996) and Shadra Strickland (2005); and illustrator Yuko Shimizu (2003), to name a few. Photos courtesy of SVA; above: courtesy of Dee Ito Arisman

Among his many awards and honors are the 2003 SVA MSVA Masters Series Award and Exhibition, and in 2017, SVA presented “Marshall Arisman: An Artist’s Journey From Dark to Light, 1972 – 2017,” a multimedia career retrospective, which also included several of the artist’s SVA posters. (info) Arisman is also the subject of filmmaker and BFA Design faculty member Nada Ray’s documentary Unlocking the Creative Self with Marshall Arisman, which offered a master-class-style look at his artistic practice and philosophy.


Designed and curated by Arisman’s recently appointed successor and 1996 program alumnus Riccardo Vecchio, in collaboration with SVA Galleries and Arisman’s wife, writer Dee ItoDoes that Make Sense? presents works across a variety of mediums, including examples of his sketches, studies and collages that have rarely been seen.

Vecchio and Ito mined Arisman’s enormous personal archive to collect the works on view, which include a variety of drawings and prints of monkeys and other animals, which are among the artist’s favorite subjects. A broad array of subject matter demonstrates his endless curiosity, from his illustrated novel, The Divine Elvis, and other books; a triptych from a series focused on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II; humorous and culturally skewering comic-style pieces; to an array of unfinished projects. A mix of paintings, illustrations, writings and sketches in Arisman’s signature inky hues and scratchy fine lines convey his undying passion for his craft. As a whole, they reflect an artist engrossed in his process.

Of Does That Make Sense?, Vecchio notes, “As artists, we are grateful for the recognition and fame that come with cohesive, iconic and recognizable styles, yet at the same time, the work that gives us fame can also hinder the many, often divergent, facets and curiosities we are eager to explore. In my journey through his archives, it was evident to me that Marshall never stopped questioning, searching [and] experimenting. Aside from the groundbreaking and well-documented works that brought him fame and defined an era, many of the folders were filled with work that defied chronology and dates; as Marshall passionately painted over works, re-titling, changing dates, or tearing them apart to create completely new pieces. This show will, I hope, reveal Marshall as the eternally curious, indefatigable artist that he was.”

Among his students, Arisman was known for his emphasis on mining one’s own biography to find and develop an individual artistic identity, rather than following the changing dictates and trends of the marketplace.“There’s that ‘aura of Marshall,’” said 2002 program alumnus Nathan Fox, comics artist and chair of MFA Visual Narrative at SVA. “It’s all about ‘Who are you?’ and ‘What’s your voice?’ and ‘How do you solve problems?’”

Does that Make Sense? continues at SVA Gramercy Gallery through March 9. 209 East 23rd Street, New York, NY Info.