Texas Contemporary Art

June Mattingly

Reconsider Rockwell

by Jeremy Lupe

Painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell (1894 – 1978) left his indelible mark on twentieth-century, American visual culture. His warm, inviting genre scenes could be found in such magazines as Boys’ Life, Popular Science, Life, and most notably, The Saturday Evening Post, for which he published a total of 323 original covers.

The Four Freedoms, 1943

The Four Freedoms, 1943

Besides commercial commissions, Rockwell produced paintings that reflected contemporary social and political issues.  In 1943, Rockwell completed the Four Freedoms, a series of four oil paintings that first appeared in the Post alongside essays by Booth Tarkington, Will Durant, Carlos Bulosan, and Stephen Vincent Benet.  These four images would later become a wartime poster campaign, which saw the reproduction of 2.5 million posters, and were the centerpieces for a nationwide war bonds drive that raised roughly $132 million for the war effort.  In 1964, Rockwell completed The Problem We All Live With, a now iconic image of the civil rights movement in America that first appeared in Look magazine.

The Problem We All Live With, 1964

The Problem We All Live With, 1964

Rockwell has always been a polarizing figure in the art world.  In 1939, Clement Greenberg cited Rockwell as the poster child of kitsch in his seminal essay, Avant-Garde and Kitsch.  Today, Rockwell continues to be at the center of the debate between high and low art, and what fundamentally constitutes serious art making and discourse.  However, art critics and historians have begun to descend from their ivory tower to reconsider Rockwell’s place among the annals of American art.

As a result of the “Rockwell revival” of the 1990s, Rockwell and his works have “reentered” the art world.  A touring exhibition, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, visited such esteemed art institutions as the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

The value of his works, as not merely likeable or not, but as worthy of attention, divided art critics.  In 2001, Jerry Saltz of the Village Voice, after seeing the exhibition at the Guggenheim, stated that “Loving Rockwell is shunning complexity” and, quite harshly, “…an empty room with piped-in music by Hank Williams and Sonny Boy Williamson…would take you deeper and tell you more about America than this show.”  More recently, in 2010, Blake Gopnik of the Washington Post referred to Rockwell’s work as representing “…his trepidatious, homogenized vision of the country.”

Dave Hickey, however, went on to refer to Rockwell as the great narrator of American art, and that “Rockwell’s whole idea of history is very American; it’s based on the promise of youth.”  Art critic for the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl called Rockwell “terrific,” and that “It’s become tedious to pretend he isn’t.”  And perhaps the most visible champion of Rockwell in recent times was Robert Rosenblum, contributing editor for ArtForum and the curator of twentieth-century art at the Guggenheim when Picture for the American People was exhibited.  Rosenblum, who was the target of much criticism for devoting some of the Guggenheim’s resources to Rockwell’s works, suggested that “We have a newborn Rockwell who can no longer be looked at with sneering condescension and might well become an indispensable part of art history.”

The Art Critic, 1955

The Art Critic, 1955

Criticism aside, the success of Pictures for the American People has seen the continuation of the traveling of some of Rockwell’s works.  Currently, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum, is at the Newark Museum until May 26, 2014.  Future locations for the show include the BYU Museum of Art in Provo, Utah and Fondazione Roma, Arte Musei, in Rome.   American Chronicles has already visited Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Arkansas, the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, the Akron Art Museum, and the Dayton Art Institute.

Saying Grace, 1951

Saying Grace, 1951

As Rockwell’s successful career suggests, along with the ubiquitous nature of his name outside the art world, he has been highly regarded by the American public.  Besides positive remarks from well-known art critics and multiple, large, touring exhibitions of his works, his recent success at a Sotheby’s auction hints towards his growing reputation among denizens of the art community.  In December, 2013, Saying Grace, 1951, sold for $46 million, breaking his previous record of $15 million in 2006 at a Sotheby’s auction.

Where Rockwell fits into twentieth-century American art is still up for debate.  He does not neatly fit into the rubrics of Clement Greenberg, who valued abstraction, form as the basis for quality, and a focus on the inherit qualities of a particular medium, or of Harold Rosenberg, who shifted attention to the process of creating a work of art, and viewed the canvas as a record of an event.  These ideas permeate art historical conceptions of modern art to this day, and perhaps say more about how we choose to remember and value art produced from the early twentieth-century onward.

Rockwell’s works reveal more about how Americans envisioned themselves, rather than how Rockwell envisioned them.  In his illustrations, he produced what they wanted to see.  After all, as many of his works were created as a professional illustrator, they had to meet certain demands of savvy magazine editors that knew what would be successful, and what could potentially create controversy.  His works are not “Modern,” but they are “modern.”  That is, they do not represent how art historians think of modern art, but they do reflect a particularly modern moment, or moments, in American history.  They are significant in terms of their historical context, and what visual art can reveal about a national sense of self.  Besides being enjoyable images to look at, they are documents, of sorts, that tell part of the story of American life during the times in which they were produced.

And as Robert Rosenblum has stated, “The sneering, puritanical condescension with which he was once viewed by serious art lovers can swiftly be turned into pleasure.  To enjoy his unique genius, all you have to do is relax.”

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Kristin Cliburn’s first solo show at Cris Worley’s titled “Gaps, Bands and Zigzags” is on now through August 2 to appreciate and contemplate

Untitled, 2014, acrylic on canvas

Untitled, 2014, acrylic on canvas

The subtle interaction of light and color in Kristin’s sparkly canvases requires one to literally stop short in the best way. In the beginning, it’s not unusual to try to relate never-seen-before artworks to other artists you’ve watched. Even with my many, many years of studying and teaching contemporary art in my background, I find no comparison of Kristin’s art to the artists associated with the worldly Minimalist school of the 60s where it superficially belongs. Rather than attempting to make more of the experience required by art reviewers like myself, I spent my time in Cris’ gallery opening simply enjoying the tranquility and immaculate execution of these paintings.

Kristin, a Houston-based artist, received her BFA in painting from the University of Texas and her MFA on the same subject from the University of Houston.

With Gratitude, 2014, acrylic on canvas

With Gratitude, 2014, acrylic on canvas

Three sentences from Kristin’s Artist Statement make fine additions: “These paintings reflect a tandem relationship between electricity, air and the artist’s hand. Using an air gun, a carefully choreographed layer of color dissolves the gesture into a field of unmediated presence.” “Color hovers on the canvas like atmosphere, subtly transitioning to create a sense of weightlessness and buoyancy. They are at times airy and light, and at others opaque and dense.” “Each one seems to have a different chord, a silent sound that rearranges language into one of personal emotion.”

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Ellen Berman’s show “Object/Subject” stays at Conduit Gallery through June 21.

Her new appealing oils celebrate the playful movement of intense light and color and express how in her talented hands these components delight the eye and engage the mind. Ellen’s explorations juxtapose with other contemporary artists approaches who work in the representative mode – from the painting’s surface and scale to its overall composition.

Ellen Berman, Open Book, 2014

Open Book, 2014

Ellen revitalizes the still life form in such commonplace, rarely utilized items such as a kitchen knife, an open book, a water-filled glass jar and a bowl of tangerines. The first steps to create one of her intricate paintings in her studio in Wimberley where she lives, are to pay special attention to the selection and placement of a single object or often of more than one object, like three apples. Just arranging the subject matter, considering all possibilities and selecting the proper source of light must take Ellen an unimaginable expanse of time. Actually, I wonder how long it takes her to complete a painting once everything is in order – I bet it’s close to a month.

Ellen Berman, Tangerines, 2014

Tangerines, 2014

Ellen earned her MFA from the University of Houston. The museum exhibits she’s been invited to join include the Blaffer Gallery in Houston, the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christie and the Austin Museum of Art.

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Barry Whistler’s current show Parallel Process is a stunner! It remains on view until June 7

Don’t worry if you miss the show, Barry and his assistant Travis will have inventory or get you listed for new work as it leaves the studio.

This review discusses mostly the work of Lorraine Tady, who lives in Dallas, and Leslie Wilkes, who lives in Marfa.  Both are featured in the first edition of The State of the Art: Contemporary Artists in Texas.  Barry’s gallery represents Tady and Wilkes.

Contemplating the title “Parallel Process,” there’s a similarity of the four artists’ artwork and an earlier generation of accomplished abstract painters – Frank Stella (born 1936 in New York) and Al Held (born 1928 in Brooklyn).  Held taught at Yale and Stella at Princeton.  Like Stella and Held, the four artists in this show produce highly organized series of works as they explore aspects of styles from Abstract Expressionism to Geometric Abstraction.  All are devoted to linear and/or geometric forms, abstract repetitions and the relationships of process, color and design.

Lorraine Tady

Lorraine Tady, (OVS-3B) Octagon Vibration Series, Oscillation Expansion, 2014, graphite, pastel, pigment, 44 x 35 inches

Lorraine Tady, (OVS-2) Octagon Vibration Series, Tetronimo Hyperbole, 2014, graphite, pastel, pigment, collage, 60 x 44 inches

Lorraine Tady, (OVS-2) Octagon Vibration Series, Tetronimo Hyperbole, 2014, graphite, pastel, pigment, collage, 60 x 44 inches

Lorraine, at a mature point in her career, investigates complex variations on a single theme.  Her combinations of mediums from lead pencil, ink and charcoal on variable surfaces from archival grid paper to canvas create an intended physical quality.  “The process employs diagramming, mapping, plan/elevation, cross-section, translation/re-translation inquiry (or subverting the clarity these systemic intentions may imply) allowing my images to be intuitively found, extracted, analyzed, shifted, and represented in various words.”

Tady_Octagon Vibration Series_Resonator Levels_44x35in_2014

Lorraine Tady, (OVS-1B) Octagon Vibration Series, Resonator Levels, 2014, graphite, pastel, pigment, 44 x 35 inches

Lorraine received her MFA from SMU and teaches art at the University of Texas at Dallas. In 2014, Lorraine wrote the erudite comments for the catalog on Leslie’s exhibit “Optic Verve” (March 29 -May 18) at Women and Their Work, an important nonprofit space not far from downtown Austin.

Leslie Wilkes, Untitled (14.10), 2012, gouache on paper, 12 x 12 inches

Leslie Wilkes, Untitled (14.10), gouache on paper, 12 x 12 inches

Leslie develops overall surface designs from edge to edge, and asserts its flatness with no visible brush strokes.  Her sophisticated and studied abstract gouaches are pursued without distraction in the small town of Marfa.  Miraculously, all the straight lines in her striking geometrical paintings are free hand; she uses no tape to control the outlines of the contained linear spaces.  Leslie has trained her eye to understand how an unusual combination of colors and patterns interact and as a result can be surprising while exceptionally pleasing to the eye.

14.05

Leslie Wilkes, Untitled (14.05), gouache on paper, 12 x 12 inches

Leslie has a BFA from UT Austin, an MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago and attended the residency program at the Skowhegan School in Maine.

Leslie Wilkes, Untitled (12.02), 2012, gouache on paper, 12 x 12 inches

Leslie Wilkes, Untitled (12.02), 2012, gouache on paper, 12 x 12 inches

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George Tobolowsky

From The State of the Art: Contemporary Artists in Texas: Second Edition

I make abstract metal sculptures from steel and stainless steel “found objects”. These found objects however, are not of the everyday sort, but rather bulky industrial metal castoffs that I scour scrap yards and fabrication plants to find. I rarely alter theses metal pieces but instead work to fit the individual scraps together – much like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle – into balanced compositions. My sculptures are one part assemblage and one part recycling, which follows closely with the philosophy of another early artistic influence, Louise Nevelson.

My titles are typically added upon completion and offer a suggestion for interpretation but mindfully allow room for various readings within each piece. My works represent a logical extension of the welded steel sculpture tradition that can be traced from Julio Gonzalez to David Smith.

In his studio on his ranch in Mountain Springs George produces complex forms from indoor tabletop sculptures, utilitarian furniture to monumental outdoor works. For three-dimensional assemblages he uses vast heaps of heavy industrial steel and stainless steel castoffs, his main medium, found in scrap yards or what he calls his “back yard.” An average of 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of discarded bent, molded, extruded, colored and punched objects are scavenged weekly; completed works weigh from 600 to over 3,000 pounds.

After cleaning the metal the pieces are welded together to relate to each other in some way. In the process are created abstract, tactile, amazingly elegant and balanced compositions announcing “the sum is more than the parts?” Lacquer is added for luster and protection – no wonder George welcomes museum-lookers to rub the surfaces, usually a no-no. Tongue and cheek titles, “The Auditors,” “Wall Street” and “Dealbreaker” refer to his personal life.

George’s career-long buddy James Surls was his instructor at SMU and continues as an inspirational force in his work. A crowded commitment to one-person museum exhibitions deservedly continues to face George. Jim Kempner in New York, Gerald Peters in Santa Fe and Deborah Colton in Houston represent George’s work.

Dropping in, 2012, welded painted steel, 81 x 50 feet x 26 inches

Dropping in, 2012, welded painted steel, 81 x 50 feet x 26 inches

A Rough Red Road to a Start-up, 2012, welded painted steel, 10 x 12 feet by 5 inches

A Rough Red Road to a Start-up, 2012, welded painted steel, 10 x 12 feet by 5 inches

 

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Susie Rosmarin

From The State of the Art: Contemporary Artists in Texas: Second Edition

Susie’s stunning gridded paintings pulsate the walls with light and color in their charged up moving environment – they literally light up and move in sync on the canvas. The perception of light jumps out from tight linear overlapping patterns in clearly defined color combinations on synchronized glowing white backgrounds. The inescapable attraction to her paintings is they defy the limitations of two-dimensionality.

Her complicated mathematical formula is based on each layer of the color pattern arrangement being taped, painted, waited on to dry and repeated – over and over again. Meticulously crafted, she uses an intricate gridded system inspired by fractal geometry, and Diophantus’s Arithmetica, the renowned third century text on numerical equations.

Red Painting #2, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20 inches

Red Painting #2, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20 inches

Gray #3, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches

Gray #3, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches

While mathematics play a central role in her work, she is also influenced by Op Art, hard-edge abstraction, and the observation of pattern, repetition and geometry in nature and everyday life – gingham and fabric design, modular architecture details and even the front grille of a 1960’s Cadillac.

Susie, a Houston-based artist received a BA from the University of St. Thomas in Houston and an MFA from Pratt Institute in New York. The Dallas Museum of Art, the McNay in San Antonio and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts own her paintings. She is represented by Talley Dunn in Dallas, the Texas Gallery in Houston, and the Danese Gallery in New York.

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Trenton Doyle Hancock

From The State of the Art: Contemporary Artists in Texas: Second Edition

As U Enliven a Test..., 2012, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

As U Enliven a Test…, 2012, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

In 2012 Trenton returned to New York for his fifth solo show at James Cohan Gallery. He is well known for creating densely layered mixed-media installations that merge words and images in painting, collage, sculpture, print, and the performing arts.

…And Then It All Came Back To Me expands on metaphysical interpretations of the artist’s dreams, the invented symbolic language that has long been a hallmark of the work, and most notably on the idea of self-portraiture as exploration of the artist-as-archetype.

In this new body of work, which he refers to as “radical autobiography,” the action takes place at the front of the picture plane, with complex terrain behind. An intense spotlight shines on the protagonist—the artist himself—that forces us to contemplate whether this character is hero or failure. “How absurd is it to be an artist?” Trenton asks. Word-plays, palindromes, maxims and proverbs provide a springboard for the visual imagery and set the mood of the paintings. These witty and often self-deprecating poetic musings of the artist’s invention are cut out or collaged onto the canvas, creating texture and tone. Hancock works to marry the image to the text, which in turn informs the work’s titles.

The Former and Ladder or Ascension and a Cinchin, 2012, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 84 x 123 inches

The Former and Ladder or Ascension and a Cinchin, 2012, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 84 x 123 inches

Viewers will find a rich trove of references in these emotionally charged paintings, with motifs from the artist’s personal lexicon of recurrent images including bones, cats, cages, feet, bloodshot eyes, black and white striped fur, and pink flesh.

Parts of this article courtesy of the James Conan Gallery’s review.

In his mid-30s, this Houstonian is also represented by Talley Dunn in Dallas. His achievements include an MFA from the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and inclusion in two Whitney Biennials. Solo exhibitions were at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. He’s in the collections of the Whitney, Museum of Modern Art, Houston’s Museum of Fine Art and the Dallas Museum of Art. Among his awards is a $50,000 prize from the Studio Museum Harlem in 2007.

 

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Jay Shinn

From The State of the Art: Contemporary Artists in Texas: Second Edition

Ring of Fire (studio installation view), 2011, latex paint, on wall with projected light, 96 x 96 inches, dimensions variable

Ring of Fire (studio installation view), 2011, latex paint, on wall with projected light, 96 x 96 inches, dimensions variable

His materials include neon, paint, mirror, projected light; most obvious is his obsession with geometry – “relentless but rewarding.” Most recently, he has been making projection painting – a hybrid, combining a projected light drawing from a laser-cut disc and paint on the wall, creating a “holographic Op Art effect that is as disconcerting visually as it is intriguing.”

Illuminated Icon #5, 2012, neon, enamel, mirror and frosted Plexiglas, 42.5 x 30.5 x 6 inches

Illuminated Icon #5, 2012, neon, enamel, mirror and frosted Plexiglas, 42.5 x 30.5 x 6 inches

“Illuminated Icons #5, #6 and #8″ were recently chosen by the Houston Art Alliance artwork selection panel and installed in the Hobby Airport Public Art Collection. These three are located in the recently renovated space between the arrival terminals and the baggage claim area.

From these pictures its obvious Jay is a master of optics. Inspired by Light and Space, Minimalism and Op Art he focuses on the “infinite complexities” of artificial light and the space it illumines “by always situating the work in dialogue with the surrounding architecture and taking care to control the light source and intensity around the work, he is able to manipulate optical perception, even create illusions, without being overly obvious.”

Jay lives and works in New York City and Dallas. His BFA is from the Kansas City Art Institute, He also attended the School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, ME. Marty Walker’s gallery in Dallas represents him.

Eclipse, 2012, neon, 32 x 64 inches

Eclipse, 2012, neon, 32 x 64 inches

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Adela Andea

From The State of the Art: Contemporary Artists in Texas: Second Edition

Frozen, 2011-2012, installation in Cris Worley's gallery, dimensions vary

Frozen, 2011-2012, installation in Cris Worley’s gallery, dimensions vary

Adela’s exuberant, fluorescent light sculptures simply radiate. Powered exclusively by manmade electronics, they submerge a whole wall, room or outside space into a mystifying and magical landscape. The “futuristic eco-systems” of intricately-woven circuits of LED/CFL lights, computer hardware, manufactured building materials, consumer electronics and mass produced objects embody both a physical presence, as well as an ethereal sensibility.

Light alone transports a viewer into an uplifting reality; the glow encompasses them with an electrifying presence. The hardware sections, a medium unto themselves, provide support and hold the strips together and are an integral element in the digitally-conceived constructions and create a prismatic landscape that combines themes of technology and nature, over-consumption and recycling.

Inspired by the widespread presence of modern technology through video, television, photography and computers, Primordial Gardens aims to redesign a new kind of bio-electronic environment that grafts artificial objects into natural environments; combining cinematic illusion with industrial design. “The meaning of nature through the advancements of innovation and technological progress is a source of inspiration for my art” says Andea. “I try to create artificial environments that produce a sense of “beauty” that is equal to or greater than the natural landscape itself. I want to redefine the conventions of nature, and reflect humanity’s desire to control it.”

Adela is represented by the Anya Tish Gallery in Houston and in Dallas by the Cris Worley Gallery. In 1999, this Romanian-born artist immigrated to the US. She lives in Houston. In 2012 she acquired an MFA from the University of North Texas in New Media and she lives in Houston with her husband and daughter.

 

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Jeff Elrod

From The State of the Art: Contemporary Artists in Texas: First Edition

The ten gorgeous, action-filled abstract paintings created exclusively for the “Flower Thief” series ranged from monumental to intimate in size with intense white areas and rich, flat planes of color. To produce these artistic floral achievements Jeff uses a mouse to design the preparatory composition. He then enlarges the drawing and meticulously transfers it using tape to outline everything on a canvas or directly onto a wall in his Marfa studio.

Jeff describes his paintings as “handmade copies of digital originals.” Drawn to the play between digital technology and the history of painting itself, he brings together the artist’s hand from the initial scribbles and thoughts on the computer to creating a unique composition on canvas. His paintings combine not only the formal aspects of traditional painting, but address a growing art-making process of the 21st century.

Born in 1966, he received an MFA from the University of North Texas, an artist-in-residency at the Glassell School and a Residency Fellowship at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa. He’s been collected by the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Hirshhorn Museum in DC.  Leo Koenig Gallery represents him in New York, James Kelly in Santa Fe, Texas Gallery in Houston and Talley Dunn in Dallas.

another5

The Flower Thief II, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 64 inches

Untitled, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 42 1/2 x 30 inches

Untitled, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 42 1/2 x 30 inches

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