Texas Contemporary Art

June Mattingly

“Lagoon,” Lucas Martell’s show at Circuit 12 Contemporary

Lagoon - Drift, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 30" x 40"

Lagoon – Drift, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 30″ x 40″

“Lagoon” was this serious 30 year old Dallas artist’s first solo. His large number of very attractive paintings and watercolors, all dating since the beginning of 2014, beautifully filled Circuit 12’s walls in their gallery on Dragon Street. Lucas’s abstractions also fit well into the gallery’s burgeoning audience of collectors, private and corporate, in their homes or offices and idea of prices.

“A genesis of color and light was over the waters of the mind at the beginning of each day, creating new meanings and uses what is left behind. Splattered paint, cut paint, smothered paint, slow paint, fast paint – through gesture and deliberation remnants of memory begin to surface in these works. The meaning is still hidden, perhaps even to me, but the repetitious investigation of memory is always predominant in the process.” LM

Micro Two, 2014, watercolor and dye on paper, 30" x 22"

Micro Two, 2014, watercolor and dye on paper, 30″ x 22″

In 2011 and 2013, Lucas received Master’s Degrees from the University of Dallas, and in 2010 he graduated from the University of North Texas with a BFA. Since 2012, he has held a position as an Adjunct Faculty at Mountain View Junior College in Dallas. Circuit 12’s show gave him the ideal way to get his art off the campus and into the public’s eye.

The owners/happily marrieds, Dustin and Gina Orlando, are full of spunk in their choice of a diversity of artists and in their focus on post-2000 2-D and 3-D art, digital and new media productions, and site-specific installations in the gallery space. Gina and Lucas first met as students at the Booker T. Washington High School for Performing and Visual Arts, and thus made a wonderful connection for the future that would benefit both in their professional careers.

Macro Decoy 2, 2014, watercolor and dye on paper, 30" x 22"

Macro Decoy 2, 2014, watercolor and dye on paper, 30″ x 22″

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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.


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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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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