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Frank Stack is credited with inventing "underground comix" -- the now celebrated precursors to today's graphic novels -- back in 1962. Those first slender volumes, released under the unlikely nom de plume of Foolbert Sturgeon, depicted the contemporary escapades of a scruffy, socially conscious Jesus Christ. Stack's Adventures of Jesus revolutionized the comic book genre, inspired hipsters and hippies around the world, and turned the native of rural Texas into a 1960s-era icon.

But comic celebrity was hardly Stack's plan. In a conversation from his living-room studio, Stack, now 66, recalls a young adulthood immersed in history's great painters while in art school at the University of Texas, Austin. He settled for a commercial graphic arts job, he says, only "to prove to my dad I could make a living."

Once on the job, Stack had a rapid change of heart: "I began to think, ‘God, I guess I'd really rather be Toulouse-Lautrec.'"

"I don't mean being debauched," he deadpans in a slow drawl. "But to be able to go out with my sketchbook and interpret the life I had seen."

Even while drawing his famous comics, Stack continued his fine arts training, first at the Art Institute of Chicago, then at the graduate art program at the University of Wyoming and, finally, at the Académie Grande Chaumière of Paris. Stack joined MU's fine arts faculty in 1963, and quickly distinguished himself. Today his paintings and prints are shown in galleries throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

These pages depict mostly recent works in oil and watercolor -- some collected from Stack's personal holdings, others provided courtesy of Columbia's Legacy Art Gallery. Together they illustrate the bold commingling of light and color that has come to characterize Stack's landscape and figure painting.

"He's somebody who understands color relationships on such an intimate level; how to use the juxtaposition of colors to accentuate and augment one another," says Legacy owner James Downey. "I've seen him engage an artist and say, ‘Gauguin did this, this way and for this reason.' It's just so much a part of Frank's nature. He'll say, ‘It works for this reason, this is why it's successful.' It's an incredible depth of knowledge; it allows him to accomplish things most artists can only aspire to."

       
     
       
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