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Visiting a Real Community Art Center —
The Fort Worth Community Art Center

Story + Photographs by J R Compton

Cynthia Brandt - Camillia

Cynthia Brants - Camillia, 1984 - acrylic on masonite - 20 x 24 inches - CB-0030

D-ART (now called The Contemporary) here in Dallas, and to an extent The MAC across town, were founded as community art centers. And yeah, I was involved in the latter but not much of the former till later, although we published stories before it began. But neither of them serves that function now, so it's interesting to see an actual community art center in the big middle of working, even if I have to drive to Fort Worth (or Irving or Plano) to see a real one.

I got there early, so I could photograph work at several shows opening that evening and get a feel for the place. The two shows I knew about involved DallasArtsRevue Supporting Members, whose latest work I like to catch up with, although I'm being careful in this story to present new (to me, at least) work. But FWCAC is bigger than three shows. A lot was going on in that long-familiar building that used to be the Fort Worth Art Museum (and eventually, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth) as the several exhibitions prepared for opening receptions.

The shows I knew about were: Friends of EASL (Emergency Artists Support League), a North Central Texas nonprofit that often raises funds to help area area artists in dire need, only this was more of a thank-you than a fund-raiser; and Best of the Biennial of work chosen from FWCAC's biennial open show there last month.

Cynthia Brants - Acropolis at Glen Rose

Cynthia Brants - Acropolis at Glen Rose, 1989 - oil on linen
scanned from the Beyond the Curve catalog

What I didn't know about and would probably not have included in my plans if I had, but turned me right around when I actually saw it, was Beyond The Circle - Cynthia Brants, one of the younger members of the Fort Worth Circle Artists, which had formerly been known as School though it was never a movement, just a group, many of whom are featured in a much larger show at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth through May 11 2008. That's Intimate Modernism:  Fort Worth Circle Artists in the 1940s, which we saw there last month. Anna liked that show, but I quickly tired of the weight of pseudo Cubism in the guise of experimental geometry, although I still like Klee, Mondrian and the real Cubists.

Oddly, the overriding math of the Camillia above is not in the way. It's important. Structural rather than applied in some mad distracting game. Here, the flower is the geometry, and it's beautiful and essential to it.

Cynthia Brandt - Landscape in winter's Light

Cynthia Brants - Landscape in Winter's Light, 2003
oil on canvas - CB-0031

Many of Cynthia Brants (1924-2006)'s paintings here seem profoundly dated because of the limited color palettes and geo-formalism, but a few shine timeless in lilting colors beyond the claustrophobic geometry of Mid-20th Century avant. Exciting, new and oh, so modern then, but time-bound since. According to the catalog, apparently for her 2007 Beyond The Circle show in The Old Jail Art Center in Albany, Texas, Brants referred to her two, sometimes competing but often coexisting styles her "geometric/arithmetic direction and the more 'freehand' approach" she employed toward the end of her life. Like this exterior view of the artist's home in Granbury.

There are more pyrotechnic combinations, like the 39.5 x 25.25-inch, vaguely Mannet-like Plaza — Monterrey, 1953 oil, and others from the mid-50s, but these are the paintings I kept coming back to in this little showing. Standing close to watch the paint dance in these expressive abstracted, yet clearly recognizable objects and scenes made my 80+ mile drive eminently worthwhile.

Debra Brown - clay fish

Debra Brown - Sculpture - Clay

Being a Community arts center, not a Contemporary one essentially means, like the early D-Art days, many of the shows are not carefully juried, and much of what I saw would never make it onto the walls of either of the two Dallas Contemporaries. Some few other works would, though only if they were included in traveling shows from almost anywhere but Dallas or Fort Worth. The MAC only shows Dallas artists who've made it. Both Dallas centers have one membership show a year, as does FWCAC. It also has lots of other exhibition opportunities for artists in this extended community, and if it didn't involve a nearly 90-mile round trip, I'd visit much more often.

I think Debra Brown's large, colorful fish sculpture was in the Best of the Biennial show. If so, it was one of few that paused me in my run-through of that show. Other instances include Sean Ibanez' superb and utterly simple Rhino Man paper and sugar sculpture I photographed at 500X earlier this year. I paused at others but did not photograph them, so they are forgot.

Lorrie McClenahan - Upper Level Disturbance

Lorrie McClanahan - Upper Level Disturbance, 2008 - acrylic

Lorrie McClenahan's piece, manifesting more color and depth than her flattish abstract paintings I'd become accustomed to on her Member's Page [link above] may take me more time to get used to, but talk about Fierce. So many labyrinthine little rooms comprise the Fort Worth Community Arts Center that it's difficult to tell where one show ends and another begins, although it was clear that the whole, big, perhaps main gallery was given over to the EASL exhibition.

Which brings us, finally, to the EASL acknowledgement exhibition, Friends of EASL, which I also doubt could have been held in either of Dallas' erstwhile contemporaries. That unlikelihood has more to do with the community aspect of EASL and this particular exhibition than any concern about quality. There's oodles of quality in this show. A higher percentage here than any other exhibition at FWCAC right now — with the possible exception of Cynthia Brants' historical show.

Letitia Eldredge - Argos

Letitia Eldredge - Argos, 2004
glazed ceramic sculpture, cone 01,
white stoneware and low fire glaze

The first piece to take me away — this time back in time about 30 years — was Letitia Eldredge's mask. I first met Letitia through Sharon Leeber in the mid 1970s, just before I photographed several friends of mine, otherwise naked, wearing those masks on a cold wintry day. A couple of those photographs — which I haven't seen in years — were of masked naked persons kneeling in the snow. Yes, I remember Letitia. And I'm delighted to know she's still making masks. Theatrical as ever, I suspect.

Rebecca Low - Peek-a-Boo! - steel found objects and automotive paint

Another narrowly three-dimensional piece that grabbed my attention was this circle play by Rebecca Low. Circles in circles on piles of circles in a bold, simple concentricity whose eye is neatly dotted with positive and negative space circles.

Pam Summers - Untitled Vessel

Pam Summers - Untitled Vessel
low fire glazes on ceramic

This one stopped me in my tracks. Bright contrasting colors. Ultimately simple shape. Don't know what that is on the outside but I was shocked by it as I first saw it and still like that shock of color and simplist shape.

Frances Bagley - Vessel

Frances Bagley - yarned vessel, 2008

Another very familiar shape. Frances Bagley has been mining this utterly simple, sometimes as here almost primitive geometry for decades, and she still manages to find new ways of expressing the concept. This vessel is multicolored yarn tied around and through a wire-frame armature faintly resembling the female form.

Jim Woodson - Continuous ARticulating ARticulations 

Jim Woodson - Continuous ARticulating ARticulations, 2007
oil on canvas

Jim Woodson - detail

Detail of Jim Woodson - Continuous ARticulating ARticulations

I first fell for Jim Woodson's deceptively complex spatial studio studies several decades ago. I liked watching them, as I like watching the brushstroke extravaganza of this deceptively simple desert scene. Then it was telling details and the play of light. The light is still with him but there's gobs more texture now. I think he has a contemporary (that is, occupying this same time span) exhibition at TCU where he teaches, that I have not attended but probably should. I liked what I saw small well enough to feature another desert piece on the DARts Calendar and relished standing right in front of this one imagining the fun of watching Jim apply this.

John Hartley - Rocket Shooting Fighter

John Hartley - Rocket Shooting Fighter, 2007 - oil on canvas

I had to look at this large painting several times to be certain it was a toy airplane. I like the painted-on pilot, nearly realistic colors and especially the dents and scratches on the metal toy jetting through its own immense negative space darkness.

Ed Blackburn - Luncheon on the Grass

Ed Blackburn - Luncheon on the Grass (detail)
acrylic on canvas

I didn't care much for Ed Blackburn's crowded contemporized Luncheon on the Grass, but I love this straight-forward face shaped by color lines and shadows against a complexity of textures, colors and other shapes in this large detail of a very large painting. I know EASL asked for dimensions, because I have a photograph in this show, too (another version of which is at the bottom of my Member Page). But it would be nice to have the dimensions on the price list hand-out. Heck, it would have been nice to have all the artists in the show on that page.

But when I arrived there was a big note stuck in the frame of Norman Kary's beautiful little piece saying that Sherry Owens, who delivered it and was already falling in love with it when she picked it up at Bob Nunn's studio for Dallas delivery to the Fort Worth show. I suggested a small red dot on the i.d, so people could actually see the piece, not just Sherry's big note, which I suppose someone thought was part of the work. They put it on the wall nearby instead, and I was momentarily happy. I also helped move another piece whose too-close shadow interfered with its self, but then I've been helping EASL a long time, and they've helped me through a major scrape back some years, too.

Chase Yarbrough - Venus on the Halfshell

Chase Yarbrough - Venus on the Halfshell, 2008
mixed media, wood, plastic, metal, marble, rubber

Then, from the Nothing Exceeds Like Excess school — or circle — of art comes the first piece of Chase's I've seen in many years, and I've always been a fan of his work. I didn't laugh out loud when I saw this, but a large smile did cross my face. An art vs. Art delight. Thanks, Chase.

There's even a canny resemblence to another piece in the show involving day and night lamps that I probably should write about but I hafta hafta hafta do my taxes, and I wanted to get this story up now. There's plenty else to see in this show, of course, as in all the concurrent shows at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. I just wish it were about 40 miles closer.

Friends of EASL, an exhibition — not a request for donations or an auction — of art by "Artists who have contributed in special ways during EASL's 15-year history" at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center including Anne Allen, Frances Bagley, Alice Bateman, Carol Benson, Ed and Linda Blackburn, Daniel Blagg, Anitra Blayton, Rebecca Boatman, Rachel Bounds, Jim Bowman, Mary Lynn Bowman, J R Compton, Kathleen Dello Stritto, Ann Ekstrom, Letitia Eldredge, Nancy Ferro, Chris Fulmer, J.T. Grant, John Heartley, Val Hunnicut, Carol Ivey, Norman Kary, Rebecca Low, Jim Malone, Pam Nelson, Bob Nunn, Sherry Owens, Sally Packard, Michael Pavlovsky, Barry Phillips, Margaret Ratelle, Marty Ray, Art Shirer, Terry Smith, Elaine Taylor, Ellen Tuchman, Tom Vanderzyl, James Watral, Jim Woodson and Chase Yarbrough

Also opening at the Fort Worth Community Art Center is the Best of the Biennial selected from the open Biennial in March by the Exhibition Advisory Panel with Anne Allen, Bill Barter, Byron Black, Ray Broadbent, Debra Brown, Jeff Clark, Brooke Cowdin, Tom Delaney, Dennis Farris, Angel Fernandez, Floyd Gentry, Mary Emma Hawthorne, Candace Hicks, Lee Hill, Cindi Holt, Val Hunnicutt, Sean Ibanez, Carol Ivey, Marilyn Ivy, Phyllis King, Raymond Knight, Ann Kotzer, Leslie Lanzotti, James Lassen, Cynthia Lewis, Linda Little, James Malone, Jimmy Manning, Le Anna Markus, Lorrie McClanahan, Jimray Scott McPherson, Susan Moore, Barbara Pfaffenberger, Gregory Ploetz, Chris Powell, Jason Reynaga, Matt Sacks, Gehard Satz, Tanya Spolans, Jennifer Stufflebeam, Karen Weinman, Adam Werner, Joan Whitcomb, Pat Woodson and Flo Zimmerman both at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center through April 19, 2008


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