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Two Communities Reveal Themselves:
by JR Compton and Kathleen Dello-Stritto
Eat Art - The First
erhaps the most prominent architectural aspect of the Continental Gin Building is its towering water tower, visible from many parts of the Deep Elm and Baylor neighborhoods. Under that old tower is a growing -- and often changing -- community of artists who opened their doors, living and working spaces and a wide spectrum of art forms to a lot of visitors on November 10, 2001.
Later that evening, a different sort of community -- day-time graphic artists / night-time fine artists -- exhibited work responding to a much more focused concept.
We've been watching the gin building a long time. Kathy remembered that it used to be a lot more trashed out. But people have fixed up their spaces. It used to be that, when you were upstairs, you could see downstairs through the floorboards and outside through the walls. This visit, the place looked better, more sealed and complete.
It's always nice to see a lot of art in one place, but perhaps the most fun at a big studio opening like at the Continental Gin Building, was seeing the spaces where serious artists live and work and play.
Margaret Ratelle's studio above seemed clean, serene and orderly -- a dream place to create art in.
There was much more chaos in James Watral's clay studio, and it was intriguing to see his spontaneous ideas sketched out on his wall.
Sherry Owens' art often resembles netss, and it was fascinating to see that her studio looked and felt like a giant one, stuffed with crape myrtle branches.
It said Ikarus on the door, and inside the darkened, soft, space, a wing projected on the far wall intriguingly, and a giant American flag blazoned a life-sized Wonder Woman on the left -- both beginnings of a complex conceptual performance piece by Manuel Mauricio to be executed later this year in Marfa, Texas, and a small collection of wall pieces and floor sculptures lined the opposite wall by his 17-year-old daughter Zoe Steadham.
Ah, but the prize at Ikarus was the hatbox ceiling, also by M Mauricio.
Nearby was a newer Julia Ousley sculpture -- an extensive, white- cubish, semi- abstracted floor structure with a hokey, shrouded twin towers in a NYC skyline. But we liked this older piece that looked like stone eggs in a cartographic macrocosm.
Like a 1970s barbeque patio discordantly set in a half-decrepid downtown building, a densely foilaged "back yard" extended along the railroad tracks, always evident through the back door of the artists studios along the ground floor.
Grids were one of the day's more prominent subtexts. Studio after studio featured them. JR especially appreciated this collection of gourds.
Artyce Colen seemed fascinated by formal grids of nine objects each, here shown in close-up detail. Kathy remembers one that was chaotic from one angle and fascinating from another. They filled her studio and were distinctive, different and interesting, with lots of great texture explorations.
Another detail of grids were the truly precious assemblages of Caroline Waite. "Everything," Kathy noted, "was so teeny weeny. Does she do these with her fingers or with tweezers? I was more fascinated with how tiny they were than what they were. They made me feel big and clumsy."
Rusty Scrubby's studio was filled with painted geometric shapes like the one in the background of the portrait below. But Kathy pointed out this grand drawing, high up on one splotchy wall -- a marvelous self-portrait in great grayscale tonalities, strong line and lovely paper.
And lower on another wall was this portrait of fellow Gin Building artist Margaret Rattelle in front of one of Mr Scrubby's geo walls.
Another colorful joy were Bert Scherbarth's new fused glass pieces, which were lighted internally and marked by strong stripes of color and technical-looking minutia. We've seen Bert create unique expressions in many media over the years -- great funky drawings, fine furniture and colorful paintings among them. But we were very impressed by these vividly vibrant pieces.
James Michael Starr's relatively new studio was one of our favorite stops. His work just keeps getting better. We both admired this self-contained piece, he calls Turning Point.
It reminded Kathy of a head being born. I saw it bowed, the arm on the right extending into the nailed hand on the crossbeam. "There's something assymetrical about much of his work," she noted. "One arm here, the head turned..."
Talking about it later reminded her of three old prints she'd noticed by his door -- of nude young women that James had stuck butterfly wings onto -- "like angel wings," Kathy said; only they were real butterfly wings. She felt something disturbing about them, yet very beautiful.
Another notable subtext for the day, as you shall see, was cruciform art. This detail of one hanging -- its torso full of nails -- in James Michael's front room excited us in its lines, shapes and detail -- especially its flaring, tire-iron inception.
Usually you don't see that many overt symbols, Kathy said. But that bright Saturday they were everywhere we looked.
We both enjoyed seeing this pegboard of shapes awaiting the right inspiration on the back wall of James' still-spacious, not quite moved into studio. Kathy thought it very calming to see the kinder and gentler rounded things in ordered sets, reminding us that the universe is organized; things are in their place; and there is unity.
Great sentiments -- How can you think about painting and dancing at a time like this? How can you not? But one of the sensations not adequately conveyed by the photographic medium is how terribly self-important everyone was in Clay Austin's studio, which proclaimed "Performance Art" -- always a difficult and iffy form to make art of.
Driving through Deep Elm lost on our way to Boyd ( I was driving and navigating ), we discovered this new cruciform standing atop Santiago Pena's newly finished showroom. A man on a ladder and a woman supervising had apparently just installed it.
Suddenly enraptured in a personal fantasy moment as I drove by this large, soft, monochromatic composition on an outdoor wall, I had to pull the van off the street. Kathy bore with me as I gradually realized it was not really art exactly, more like advertising for the clear stuff in the bottles. But it's an appropriate enough image to transition to the somewhat different community showing at Boyd Gallery.
Boyd's thing is showing the fine art work of professional commercial and graphic artists represented by the gallery's staff in their other jobs. They've brought a lot of differnt kinds of art by individuals to our attention. But this was a group show, slightly presaging the Thanksgiving / Christmas group show phenomena.
un and funky aptly describes the Boyd gallery's Mirror Image group show just up Elm Street into Deep Elm proper.
Brandon Murphy's 3 x 3-feet Bad Hair Day, Good Hair Day ( above ), reminded me what happens when photographers shoot flashes into mirrors, whose partially silvered surfaces over-abounded at this self revelatory show.
Usually Boyd is more circumspect about hyping their artists and those artists' day jobs in the ad biz, but the accompanying i.d. sheets in this show -- though funkily presented in an informal, almost hand scribbled font -- were puffily hypish of those artist's occupations and preoccupations.
Some of the work there, however, really stood out.
Anita Horton's We Don't Need Mirrors to Remind Ourselves Who We Are was one of only a handful of artists who responded to the mirrored theme without the obvious cliché of planting a mirror in the big middle of the piece.
We did not decipher the complexity of symbolism -- somewhere between a high school yearbook, science project and multi- beverage dispenser taps -- in this simply presented yet busy little piece, but we admired its sparing color and spatial and shape sensibilities immensely.
Here's that name again -- James Michael Starr's Managing God used an ancient, mirroring glass, but reflected images were appropriately distorted by the ancient, bubbling glass. His work is often about continuing images on different planes, forms and mediums, as the central portrait continues below the observatory's brown night sky as tiny blood red veins.
We especially liked this simple gem, which seems to show our place in the universe, and our basic composition of blood and flesh and spirit.
But it was Robert Bellamy's assemblage, of such disparate objects as the yawning upper plate ( grandma's teeth ) that forms the top of the crown in this unmirroring cruciform, that took our breath away.
When we voiced our admiration, they turned out the lights, so we could view this particularly funky work lit up from within -- the doll's eyes glowed eerily.
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