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Pow! It’s a brush with Batman

Special to The Times

ADAM WEST said he made a decision 20 years ago to make peace with his signature role as Batman.

“There was a time when I had to deal with a terrible stigma because nobody could imagine the actor who created Batman could do anything else,” West said. “In the last 20 or so years I’ve made a beneficial agreement with the role of Batman, and that is to enjoy it and the response it gets.”

So when this year marked the 40th anniversary of the 1966-68 TV series, West decided to exhibit drawings and paintings he created as an impression of that time. The show is called “Beyond Batman,” at the M Modern Gallery in Palm Springs, and it is accompanied by a tribute exhibit, “Gotham,” that includes more than 40 contemporary artists presenting their interpretation of “Batman.” Both are showing through July 23.

West’s show features 52 sketches and paintings depicting characters such as the Joker, played by Cesar Romero, and Catwoman, played by Julie Newmar.

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“I had been working on a series of pictures to kind of give my expression to the anniversary,” West said from his home in Ketchum, Idaho. (He also lives part-time in Palm Springs.)

The actor added that his artwork is either loved or hated by audiences. “I don’t paint butter dishes, doilies or hummingbirds in my garden. It’s more raw, I suppose. But it always creates a reaction,” West said.

Jay Nailor, owner of M Modern Gallery, curated the exhibitions.

Nailor’s gallery specializes in an emerging genre known as lowbrow art, or pop surrealism. Lowbrow is a form of artwork inspired by Los Angeles pop culture and is becoming a beloved staple of Generation X members who enjoy its nostalgia and kitschy cool. Artists such as Camille Rose Garcia, Mark Ryden and Shag dominate the genre with religious, cartoon, surf and tiki influences.

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“We knew the tribute show would be a good way for animators and illustrators to take part,” Nailor said. “I’m also a big fan of the 1960s ‘Batman’ series.”

Nailor’s artists in “Gotham” proved to be fans of the series too. Amanda Visell, a 28-year-old artist and freelance illustrator in South Pasadena, said she wanted to be part of the exhibition immediately.

“I used to collect 1960s Batman comic books when I was little,” she said. “And I knew I really wanted to play with the suits.”

Her painting “Double Identity” features a smiling Bruce Wayne, Batman’s alter ego, sipping a cup of tea and being attended to by his manservant, Alfred, while the other half of his image is a frowning Batman with Robin hanging by nearly a thread to his Batapult.

“I think he’s frowning because he’s at work and he has to be serious,” she said, adding that Batman and Robin always had a tense relationship anyway. “And the one where he’s smiling, he’s being served by Alfred.... I think most people are happy when they’re being served.”

Ryan Heshka, a 35-year-old artist and illustrator from Vancouver, B.C., also said he had a plethora of old Batman comics. “I’ve been drawing Batman all my life,” he added.

For the show, Heshka painted “Batman,” a riff on his favorite cover from a 1940 comic book. (Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics in 1939.) His painting shows a tied-up Robin being held captive by a mad scientist armed with a syringe, and Batman breaking in to save the day.

“I updated the image with the Adam West version and threw in Robin for good measure,” he said. “I get feedback from people who recognize the actual image.... It’s very recognizable for people who collect Batman comic books.”

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Batman fans are die-hards. Despite 110-degree heat outside, the M Modern Gallery was packed by hundreds who came to meet West and guest-star favorite Newmar at the show’s reception last month.

West said he’s happy so many have come to see the exhibitions and enjoy the Batman legacy.

“Not many people get a chance to create a role that has that kind of place or position in our pop culture,” West said. “Batman seems to go on forever.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

‘Beyond Batman’ and ‘Gotham’

Where: M Modern Gallery, 2500 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays

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Ends: July 23

Info: (760) 416-3611, www.mmoderngallery.com


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