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Little Red Lights,
Cute Furry Animals,
Dreamies, Floaties & Deadly Gleam
A Story of Recent Dallas Art
by J R Compton
Photos by J R Compton + Anna Palmer
irst stop Conduit, and I only vaguely knew what to expect. I've been careful to update the calendar soon as I get new info this year, but except to get it right (sometimes), I rarely read that stuff, so what's happening is often a surprise.
On the afternoon of gallery nights I do a date search, list events, mark places and times, and we go. Conduit first, because it's just off the highway. We could have found a space a couple blocks down and walked in the cool night but had the feeling we feel when we'll find a space next to the door, and we did.
I like that feeling; I get it about art sometimes. Had it that night or we wouldn't have gone out. I usually prefer to visit art later, in the quiet after the crowds.
Inside was crammed with people. Big pop poster art like pulp detective covers out front. More black people this gallery night than I've seen in years.
In the big gallery a close grid of red LEDs on the wall, and in the space dark people interacting. They were the art, the subject; the lights the field. Without us, it was a techy gimmick.
A quick 180 out the busy lot, around and down Dragon Street, high to low addresses and scarcer parking karma. At Also I remember walls of people, me-too dreamies in the back room and sketchy drawn prints all around.
Hard to see the art till I remembered elbows and broken field walking. My lasting lesson from high school was getting through a packed hallway fast, efficient, with little notice. A crooked, arcing line through a crowded space.
ot so many people at Holly Johnson, and not much art I needed interacting with. Except three new, if only to me, big black on white X drawings and a painting of flames I thought I'd seen before around a corner.
I miss following former Dallas artist Frank X Tollbert's latest ideas splayed out in white and black. These had nearly seis años already, hardly his latest and greatest, but familiar movements with unfamiliar shadow smudges moving big and bold lines. The rabbit a familiar beast in X mythos, the silhouetted go-go less so.
Sometimes when I make photographs I make myself invisible. In galleries it's like that at openings. I stand at the edge and lean into a klatch of people who are talking loud and ignoring the art. Slowly, without pushing, they move, not noticing they've been displaced.
I prefer looking at art fast. Unless I encounter something, some one or some art that stuns, I am easily claustrophobed and only want get out where air is and crowds fade. I beeline around the walls, clocking histories, categories and comparisons; whos, whats and whys flipping by like pages till something, sometimes anything, catches my attention.
expected blisses momentary and extended at Craighead-Green. Kenda North's time- and gravity-suspended pool scenes do that, and I hoped for maybe a Kary we hadn't seen. Got both, and a nonchalant rat, to boot.
Didn't care for Kenda's guys in wet suits — a gender thing I'm sure, but her flimsy feminine fabrics buoyed in pools of refracted light suspend my disbelief.
New is her tryout of type. A couple dancing — really rocking out — underwater, of course, "with her" in type warping through the action backward, works. The type extends the message, leans into and through the hub of motion. Takes us with it.
Another, too literal posed piece stars a redhead looking back, over bared shoulders through big, block all cap letters proclaiming, "she turned and looked at him" just seemed wrong, redundant, forced.
I watched this big glimmering floaty while we talked with friends. I kept my mouth in the conversation, but my eyes and mind never left the submerged blue haze, glittery flesh, splendid splattered light and rippling reflections. I was entranced.
Isaac's fantasy realities out front were worth pause, his work colorful and, like Kary, fantastical. Both are artists inherited from Edith Baker through Cidnee Patrick Dead Dallas Galleries (a DallasArtsRevue feature Norman photographed many years ago). But the quite different 3-D artists differ in scale. Isaac's bright life-size zoo is a special kind of wonder. Kary's wonderments stay miniature.
We didn't think they'd let us in at the Nasher in our jeans, but we were keen to see Scott Barber's paper work at Barry Whistler, where we caught glimpses of a gallery moving in next door at 2917 Canton.
nside Barry's ever clean white abstraction were the late Dallas artist's elegant sylphs of color shape evanescing on white paper on white walls. The lighter side of the killer cancer cells metastasizing Scotty's self.
The paper pieces are pristine — nearly every one around the big gallery at Barry's had an accompanying red dot when I revisited later — but a lot of Scotty's work comprised some pretty nasty, killer chemicals, and Scotty never messed with respirators or venting fans in his fervent quest for that oil-slick sheen he so prized.
Oddly, he'd already been interpreting cellular imagery, astronomical and biological. Quoted in an Artist's Statement at Barry's, Scotty talked about his internet introduction to a lymphoma cell.
"I was immediately drawn to the image. In fact I had a sort of visceral reaction to it... [I felt] a strange quiver run through my body. Stunned, I knew that I needed to deal with this image. I was uneasy with the context and meaning of 'cancer' as a subtext for my work, but felt that I needed to deal with it because of my intuitive response."
All that before he learned he had Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma. After the diagnosis, he delved deeper into the visual manifestations of his disease, copying slides at his pathologist's lab and manipulating the usually monochromatic images into work ...
"that is compelling visually but also relates to my personal vision.... My work transforms external reality and transfigures it into explorations of the interior self. The process is an act of reduction of objects to patterns and silhouettes and has stark affinities with the Symbolists. If beauty is a pattern that can reassure and provoke honesty and trust, then this is the goal of my work."
A friend substitute taught for Scott at St. Mark's, so I knew when his chemos were and when in the big middle of those awesome jolts he got booted out of his subsidized South Side studio when they suddenly switched policies.
We called him Little Scotty behind his back. He wasn't a big guy, but for his students, he was giant, and his art was amassing important attention. I only talked with him a couple of times. But I was impressed. By his art and his self-assured, friendly, open, real-people self.
First time I saw the big works at The MAC they seemed deadly dark, gloomy. Something in there made me flee, and for a change it wasn't the crowd. Cells that big should scare a body, but the paper work at Barry's were transcendent, eloquently placed and alive.
We missed The MAC's next-night hoopdedoo of talkers and presenters and its food and photo documentation. We talked to old friend and photog Andy Hanson on his way out and ours in, and he told us we'd missed it, but we didn't want to stray there long anyway.
Anna liked Lance Jones' wax toys in the mac's project room, but I wasn't all that impressed with the paintings that I liked so much at the Texas Biennial last spring — until I came back and spent some time.
The only change I finally figured was that Jones is using darker colors. Odd that would throw me, but the lighter tones lofted, gave his work an airily intellectual field, like those past liquid, evaporating shapes floated. In darker colors they're up, or down, to something else, anchored.
The visual parity of the painters Scott Barber and Lance Jones' work plays well together, and their sculpture isn't all that far off, either. But Jones' paraffin plush toys still seem an odd endeavor, though toys have been the rage awhile, I suppose.
Bambi and the bunch that Disney, Kellogg and the rest of TV co-opted are ripe for visual reinterpretation as the Boomers and Xers age, as all those too-familiar characters merge and remerge in our consciousness.
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