Sculptor Steve Lohman’s playful exhibit ‘That’s All Folks’

Much of the work that wire sculptor Steve Lohman is known for is on a fairly large scale. He creates three-dimensional line drawings writ large in steel or, more recently, in neon tubing. So it’s a bit different to see a show of the artist’s work in a smaller scale, but that’s clearly appropriate when the subject is a mouse — the world’s most famous mouse, that is, Mickey — who, along with many of his cartoon peers, will be on display at the M.V. Film Center from Sept. 14 to 28.

The show, titled “That’s All Folks,” will feature a sampling from an upcoming exhibit of Lohman’s cartoon-based work that will be presented at the Cricket Gallery later this year. The Atlanta-based gallery is the largest and oldest venue in the world dedicated to promoting the original American art form of animation. Along with Lohman’s sculptures, the Film Center exhibit will also include samples from the Cricket Gallery’s collection — some early original drawings and hand-painted movie cells from classic Disney films and Warner Brothers cartoons.

The Film Center exhibit will feature 15 tabletop sculptures of Mickey, the Road Runner, Bugs Bunny, and others, along with a showstopping, wall-mounted Mickey Mouse in vibrant red neon.

It wasn’t much of a stretch for Lohman to move his focus from human figures to cartoon characters. As a matter of fact, he found that the subject lends itself well to his simple, often continuous line style.

“Cartoons are one more deep influence on my work that I hadn’t realized before,” he says. “Especially these very simple early drawings, where the image is instantly recognizable. That approach very much relates to my wire work. I use very minimal lines that say a great deal, that have this instant visceral reaction. You get the image and you get the joke. You get the expression in a simple straightforward line. That relates to cartoons. And the positivity that I try to represent relates to that Disney sense of joy.”

Lohman’s relationship with Cricket Gallery owners Michael and Jackie Halbreich dates back to the days when the couple first established an animation art gallery in Vineyard Haven. “They contacted me about 25 years ago,” Lohman recalls. “I made them a little Mickey Mouse in wire, and for years that sat in Michael’s office. He told me that he had been looking at that sculpture for years and years.” Eventually the Halbreichs decided that they wanted their longtime friend to create a series of cartoon-based pieces for the gallery. Along with original artwork, the Cricket Gallery also exhibits new work inspired by classic animation.

“They talked to me in March, right as COVID happened,” says Lohman. “It’s certainly been a different type of project for me, where I’m abstracting another art form instead of working directly from life, as I usually do. The challenge was in keeping the images unique and as my own vision while honoring the original work.”

In researching the subject for the Cricket Gallery show, Lohman watched hundreds of cartoons and animated movies featuring iconic animated characters. “A lot of my COVID time was spent in my childhood cartoon years,” he says.

This year marks the artist’s 40th anniversary of creating and showing his wire sculpture work. His first exhibit was at the Field Gallery in 1980, and he has since been represented, in his estimation, by just about every gallery on the Vineyard, as well as at numerous places around the country, including his second home, New Orleans.

These days Lohman works primarily in commissions, and through the many connections with collectors that he has made throughout his four-decade career. Lohman’s commission clients include Louis Vuitton, Alvin Ailey Dance Company, the Boston Children’s Hospital, and Stanford University. On-Island, his work can be found at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, the Mansion House health club, and Atria restaurant, along with many private residences.

Whether he’s representing musicians, fishermen, triathletes, dancers, or those engaging in everyday activities, the one thing always found in Lohman’s work is a sense of whimsy, humor, or wit. Creating cartoon characters proved a uniquely fun project for the accomplished artist. “Life is complicated during this time,” he says, “and it’s nice to retreat to this playful world.”

That outlook applies to the artist as well as to the viewer, and to accompany the exhibit, the Film Center will be showing cartoon shorts before many of their feature films during the month of September.

“That’s All Folks,” an exhibit of work by artist Steve Lohman, along with original hand-painted drawings and movie cels from classic animated films, will be on view at the M.V. Film Center from Sept. 14 to 28, with a reception on Sept. 19 from 6 to 7 pm. The show is a collaboration between Lohman and Atlanta’s Cricket Gallery.