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Of Wallpaper & Other Repeating Patterns

Polly Perez at MFA

Polly Perez - Evening, When You're Sleeping - $450

Something about a night of art after not watching it awhile lets us see the big picture a little better. More objective a view, if I can even use that word. Going at it every week, the mass of art becomes so obvious and accepted it's almost invisible. Being in with the flow of it sometimes gets us too close.

"The force that through the green fuse drives the flower"ing of current, this month, year, whatever, contemporary art, to borrow poet Dylan Thomas' memorable words. The operating principles behind so much art we hardly notice after awhile. An ism without a memorable name. Yet. Calling it wallpaper is crude but provides a key to understanding this odd realm.

We attended in rapid succession: Mighty Fine Arts, Haley-Henman, 500X and Kettle galleries stringing ourselves across the central portions of downtown Dallas and lower Oak Cliff. We liked some thing or things every where, but thought MFA and HH bests of the bunch in their sums. We didn't care much for 500X after our first run through, but I came back to collect further impressions of the driving notions of this short-term history with perhaps slightly longer-term implications.


Nancy Brown - untitled - $475

MFA's visual theme seemed subtle, soft and a little gooey, with lilting colors, transubstantiating textures and an arcing mathematic or geometric certainty. An extension in many ways of the flattened, sometimes subtly screened visions where what's really going on is not so much hidden as hiding. Obscure as verb, as well as object.


Nancy Brown - untitled - $175

Note the similarities with Deri Oldham's Dollie Organism below.

A Group Show at Haley-Henman was beautifully designed. Like they'd spent weeks finding just the right place for every piece. From outside waiting for their official opening, that long rectangular white building seemed a glowing jewel box of vivid colors, contrasting shapes and stabilizing metallic asterisks.

la big

Laura Abrams - Tattered Blossom - steel
6 feet, 4 inches x 7 feet, 10 inches - $11,000

Always it's fulfilling a feeling to see art by an artist we've been championing stand tall in a strong group show. Laura Abram's work here, and similar shapes reverberating from husband Brad Abrams' work we'd seen shining at the Bath House not long ago, was powerful seeing.



Laura Abrams - Alive! - steel with carved wood base
7 feet, 7 inches x 4 feet, 3 inches - $6,500

Looking a little like early Surls, Laura's floating asterisks set off the group show like exclamation points floating in an electric — and eclectic — breeze. More, smaller shapes, like her blue mantas we've admired for years swam in schools up a nearby wall.


Beth Mahy - Wintergale
oil on porcelain box - 5 x 5 inches

While so many repeating patterns caught our eyes this evening, something without those, even something this small (bigger than life above) stands out. Though there are patterns here, and some of them repeat, it's its own contrapuntal song in tonight's repeating chorus.


500 won't send us notices, but someone along the circuit told us of their opening tonight, so we attended. They always have interesting stuff.

Kathryn Kelly - Sucking Is Continuous

Kathryn Kelly - Sucking Is Continuous, 2007
tire remnants, tubes, bailing wire

Overlooking the front stairway five dark tire creatures command the space. Spooky dark rubber animal snouts like plootchy misshapen forms disintegrating back into dark matter, darker than they look here. Armadillish, bearish and stranger shapes lining the wall like low trophies, mysterious protrusions reminiscent of Frances Bagley's draped animals.

On our crowded opening-night first run-through of this annual juried show, except this startling example — and there's some wallish repetitions there, too — 500X seemed a repository of ideas no longer over edges, certainly not bleeding, which is probably the norm for juried shows.

Showing member's recent work as they do in the members' or Project Room spaces downstairs is a dynamic and direct exercise, likely to push the edges way more than the results of the lengthy process of entering the past year's best in the distant hope of getting juried into a prestigious exhibition.

I saw a lingering sense of sameness rattling around in the cavernous 500X space that first visit, but sensed more to it than that, so I came back the next afternoon, took more time and photographs to figure out what I so disliked I nearly dismissed it, and discovered piece-by-piece a whole new exhibition, brimming with repeating forms.


Brian Row - Sisterhood

Brian Row - Sisterhood, 2006
ink, hydrocal, clayboard - $350

Last time I attended 500's juried show I found A Heavy Graphic Arts Sensibility. This time it's a wallpaper extravaganza of repeating patterns. Subtle or not-so patterning that blends into itself and does and doesn't fade. Busy blending and contrasting and creating an interactive color and ground existence, and not just in two dimensional work.

Clayton Hurt - Alter Ego

Clayton Hurt - Alter Ego, 2007
mixed media

3-D patterning with head exceptions reminds of my friend Richard Crowe's early 70s explorations exchanging heads on similar scaled religious and other figures. Here's a wallpaper lineup of three-dimensional same-same Sacred Heart of Jesus figures with various head-like forms protruding and extrapolating from a line-up of patterned, repeated shapes.

Clayton Hurt - Alter Ego (detail)

Clayton Hurt - Alter Ego (detail)

Note also another, very different Clayton Hurt image near the bottom of this page.

Terry Shuck - Midway Sign

Terry Shuck - Midway Sign, 2007
color photograph - $125

Long a staple of photography, Terry Shuck's simple complexity of repeating color and lines blending into real and implied shape does it right, combining thee and two dimensions into a direct statement that's sharper than this photo of it shows.


Kelly Berry - Train Detail

Kelly Berry - Train Detail, 2007

Berry's rivet and bolt landscape wallpapered around an implied dimensional warp renders the real and almost ordinary into a close-up vertical landscape.

Barbara Pfaffenberger

Barbara Pfaffenberger - Game, 2006
porcelain, glaze, wood - $800

While Barbara Pfaffenberger's tablescape of similarly simplified bright, dimensional cookie-cutter lumps, lines and stacks a formal statement of shape and color.

Sean Ibanez - Rhino Maw

Sean Ibanez - Rhino Maw, 2007
paper, sugar - $600

Wrapping paper oragamied into a pointy container of sugar. Art. Tiny, but placed prestigiously in the pit, its shadow as important as its strangely complementary component elements, repeating floral textures, its own self-contained landscape of shape and depth.

Josh Fletcher

Josh Fletcher - I Could Never Be Johnny and We Were There Also, both 2007
acrylic on canvas  $650 and $600

Thanks for the comic narratives in this pair of cutesy worldly figures on acid trip color grounds, comprising a more literal wallpaper.

Rosane Volchan O'Conor - Narrative II

Rosane Volchan O'Conor - Narrative II, 2007
monoprint - $2,800

More wallpaper. This time crayoned on and scribbled into a narrative landscape. "My kid could do that." As if.


Havi Frost - Breathe

Havi Frost - Breathe, 2007
color photograph - $260

Here it's text repeated, same word but writ different, another scribblish continuity. A pattern in a different dimension in the essentially three-dimensional format of photography, except not much else is going on here. No connection between the repetitive element and any other meaning. We've seen Frost's scribed hand-blocked portraits before but the extended metaphor's wearing thin.

Keri Oldham - Dollie Organism I

Deri Oldham - Dollie Organism I, 2007
watercolor, paper - $300

Dollies and dollie-like textured Frisbees did not used to be art. Now they're everywhere, and everybody seems to think they're new and different and exciting, and to an extent of dimension or two, they are. That barest essence of the third D gives shape without venturing far from the long-trusted first plane. They are inordinately popular among artists grasping for pattern.

Lori Brennan - untitled

Lori Brennan - I Am, 2006
screen print - $300

For extensive (both puns apply) multi-dimensionality and recursive fortification, I Am wins the prize. I already know it's which of all these will lead this story from the cover, because it's strong, three kinds of graphic, holds its own and draws into itself for ever more detail and meaning and will lead readers ideally into the depths of a story about repeating patterns.

With contrasting red and brown and green circuits, mathematical sine wave and its own, self-contained labyrinth, Lori Brennan repeats patterns while repeating declarative sentences declaring,

"I am not who you think I am.
I am not who you wish me to be.
I am not who you thought I'd become.
I am not what you have decided I am.
I am not who others tell you I am.
I am."


Ryder Richards - Superhero Crisis

Ryder Richards - Superhero Crisis, 2007
wood, paper, plaster, acrylic - $2,200

Ten smallish framed pieces comprising a single entry also neatly qualifies as a kind of its own wallpaper — as well as a strip — of contrasting superhero characters, all in dynamic, dimensioned, comic-like colored drawings.

Ryder Richards - Superhero Crisis

Ryder Richards - Superhero Crisis, 2007 (detail)
wood, paper, plastic, acrylic
one of 10 frames - $2,200

A not-so gentle reminder not to mount work in deep dish frames for shows in limited lighting galleries.

Bryan Gooding - Drift

Bryan Gooding - Drift, 2007
assemblage - $6,200
photographed at the Bath House last year

We liked this at the bath house last year, where it presented colorful, fantastic and millimeters into the third dimension. Maybe it was the lighting on this miserable, midway-down the downstairs back hallway positioning, but at 500 it seems drab and nowhere, disappointing that its inherent colors don't come through. Someone at 500 must hate it and its repeating textures and writhing, swimming shapes and sub-marine characters.

Clayton Hurt - Monkey Suit

Clayton Hurt - Monkey Suit, 2007
oil on canvas

After awhile, any deviation from the repeating-pattern patterns brought relief. Comic as good as any.

Andrew Grimes - untitled I

Andrew Grimes - untitled I, 2007
acrylic, canvas, Mylar - $550

Not wallpaper, not repeating and not much pattern, except in a fill-in-the-lines with a generalized graduated color screen with a little flattening play and bare walls dimensionality in a world where wallpaper's king.

Will the last person out of the gallery, please turn off the light?


We also attended Kettle Art's photography show by photo editors at the Fort Worth Startlegram and Dallas Morning News that looked like a first fine art attempt by classically trained news photographers just twisting into fine art. Nice but this decisive moment is too early in their thrust to wrap minds and graphs around a new continuity. Glass-covered photos are almost impossible to rephotograph, so no pictures here. Nearly nothing funky about it in a gallery known for funk and fun.

Small steps outside each of their own repetitive patterns.


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