Black Panther & The Thing

by Emil McAvoy

The amplified fears and desires of fantasy fictions materialise in Rohan Wealleans’ comic book works. Vivid, colourful explosions puncture the surface of two-dimensional illustrations and burst into the three-dimensional world. Black Panther and The Thing offer an encounter with space-invading beings from other dimensions.

Wealleans’ comic book series began during a 2008 residency at McCahon House in Titirangi, when he found a number of used comics at a local West Auckland store. Their covers bear the markings of a life well lived: inks bleached by sunlight, scuffing and rounded corners, a smear of purple paint. One bears a fifty cent price tag obscuring part of the title, a constant reminder of its status as pulp fiction—how cheap the past always appears in the present. Yet their custom perspex cases frame and preserve these fleshy forms as collectibles, like comics in plastic sleeves or items of unopened fan merchandise in their original boxes.

The comic book series grew out of a cross-pollination of two earlier strands of work. The first was his ‘birth paintings’ which emerged from what have been referred to as his ‘vagina paintings.’ The birth paintings feature Wealleans’ ‘blob’ motif as the spawn of new imaginary life forms. The second strand is ‘Horrorgami’, which he describes as “the ancient art of paper slashing.”[1] The artist has gone on to slash science fiction and horror movie posters, along with other ephemera.

These works continue Wealleans’ conversation with sculpture and painting, visible in his trademark layering of house paint to build forms, and his surgical incisions into their thick, flexible skin to reveal anatomical or geological looking stratifications beneath. In this case, his protrusions respond to both the formal qualities and the narratives of the comic books themselves, echoing his sustained dialogue between form and content.

In both works he borrows the comic books’ titles, along with their dominant and complimentary colour palette, entangling his works, as Justin Paton suggests, in intricate fictions and back-stories often involving ‘first contact’ with alien cultures and foreign realms.[2] A yellow, indigo, black and white blob of solid, carved paint echoes the cracked, irradiated skin of The Thing, a recurring figure in Wealleans’ work. Black Panther features a blob of black and dark chocolate browns, with highlights of red, white, yellow and green finding colour harmonies with the skin of the ‘natives’ and the shadow cast by the title. Although the titular character in Black Panther is fictional (being the first black superhero in mainstream American comics), the title may also connote the history of the black militant political party of the same name. Ever the playful provocateur, as a Pakeha man Wealleans delights in engaging subject matter that he isn’t ‘supposed to’ engage with, whether that be the sexualised representation of female bodies, or problematic representations of non-Western cultures.

Wealleans’ biomorphic blobs appear to be at once creations of the fantasy worlds of comic books, and entities which are alien to them. He activates and animates their surfaces, adding mutations to their mutations, which in turn double, echo and mirror their apparent hosts. It is as if they emerge from a parallel universe in which everything is made of paint.[3]


[1] Emil McAvoy, Interview with Rohan Wealleans, 21 October 2015.

[2] Justin Paton, “Rohan Wealleans,” in Speculation, ed. Brian Butler (Aotearoa New Zealand: Venice Project and JRP|Ringier, on the occasion of the 52ndBiennale di Venezia, 2007), 212.

[3] Justin Paton, “An appointment with the thing,” How to Look at a Painting(Wellington, New Zealand: Awa Press, 2005), 30.