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Billy Hassell - The Wind River Paintings: The Yukon Territory, and recent sculpture and drawings by Martin Delabano at Conduit through January 4, 2003

Bill Hassell + Martin Delabano

Martin Delabano - Cubist Couple (detail), 2002
mixed media - 65.5 x 24 x 13 inches


It'd been too long a while since we last looked at and wrote about art, and we wanted to check out a couple of shows we'd missed the openings of, while we were busy with Tranquilla. So, after all the Christmas and family CPs and BS, we headed out on a warm, sun shiny, early winter Saturday afternoon to see some art by friends at Conduit.

Martin Delabano - Cubist Couple, 2002
paper, charcoal, acrylic and gesso - 46 x 36 inches


I already slightly dreaded seeing Billy Hassell's show at Conduit, a gallery I've long admired for its owner's predilection for bright colors. Much as I almost always like his work, the picture of his work on the invitation did not look promising, and I really did not want to see less than stellar work by a friend.

I've been watching Martin Delabano's work since the mid 70s when we were both at East Texas State U (well before it became A&M East), and his art has always been amazing, but I was still curious what he's been up to lately.


Martin Delabano
There Will Be More Weeping
, 2002
wood, paint and leather, 94 x 36 x 28 inches


Delabano did not disappoint. Both sculpture and drawings here are alive, visually striking and memorable. The meanings are less elusive than his usually are, and the figures more human, humane and even vulnerable. Writing this and looking at these pictures makes me aware that our visit was too short. I need to go back and absorb the pieces our cursory visit glossed over.

Marty's Guernica-like screamer, There Will be More Weeping, whose face is anxiously distorted and arms grieving upward toward a shadow bomber trailing a dark arc of bombs, was difficult to view against the gallery's busy ceiling, so I've separated it out in this photograph. Seeing the crying figure isolated makes her seem much more emotional, and the image tends to linger in my mind.

I didn't photo it there, but my memory also reminds me now, of the direct austerity of a square-edged, wood, paint and gold leaf, two foot high Halo rising off the floor. There was no doubt what it was; what it stood for; and how damned little of that there is anymore. Not surprising that the saint that once would have supported it, was missing.


Martin Delabano - Spike, 2002
paper, charcoal, acrylic and gesso, 36 x 39 inches


The couple is my show favorite, but I also spent long minutes appreciating a piece of which both a drawing and a three dimensional sculpture in a scenario unfortunately stashed in a shadowed corner of Conduit's front gallery appear in this show.

Either the dog drawing is nearly perfectly realized in the 18 inch high sculpture, or the 3-D piece came first, and the drawing is a flawless copy — I can't decide which. Either way, Spike is another funky Delabano figure pared to its elegant — most fundamentals.

Billy Hassell - Out of Bear Valley
oil on canvas - 62 x 74 inches


Since 1986, when I interviewed Billy Hassell for a story in The New Art Examiner, I've gathered a precious stack of Hassell postcard invitations (which I love getting, Billy, hint-hint), and I've grown to expect a progression of brilliantly colored birds and animals on more and increasingly intricate and colorful, patterned landscapes. I've watched the birds grow in size and importance and the fields complexify.

Imagine my disappointment then, with the rather ordinary landscapes in dense, rich colors from a trip to the Yukon. It's obviously a beautiful and awesome place — and Kathy and I both loved sneaking the sketchbook from the trip out of its wired down position and paging through the many detailed studies, but while these vivid paintings are more than competent, they just don't seem inspired.

There's a moose standing near dead center in one, but none have anything lively going on. There's no center of attention except the landscape itself. I guess I want some bright hued birds to swoop in over the horizon and save my expectations.

Instead, these paintings look more like a transitional phase toward something yet unseen. Certainly they are a departure from the detail of past work.

That's the trouble with painters. Soon as I get used to them doing what they've been doing long enough to capture my attention, then move on to doing something that requires rethinking...

We did, however, find two, Hassell paintings leaning against walls in the back gallery that were not part of Conduit's official exhibition. They're both beautiful, and the first one still blows me away, making me wish I could afford one.


Billy Hassell - The Visitation, 2002
oil on canvas


Our favorite is a crimson Cardinal on a bright green, red, orange, blue and purple, Christmas wrapping paper-like, complexly patterned plant, itself set against a deep, night sky of random, dotted stars.

We admired its audacious scale, startling colors, brash composition and amazing detail. I love the flowers, the night sky that reminds us where we all are, after all — and the fierce, determination in the bird's eye.

Another, slightly less colorful, yet similarly scaled bird, flying on a darker, berried ground against another night sky also grabbed our attention, although we failed to identify it — by species, title or size. -JR Compton


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