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“The Rockwall National”

Marie Van Arsdale

Marie Van Arsdale - Cabbage Rose with Bug - digital photograph


This Page: Review of Rockwall Arts Aspirations   Review of Work    Feedback

Other Page: Paul Rogers Harris' Juror's Statement

ART 2004 - National Juried Art Exhibit juried by Paul Rogers Harris with work by mostly Texas and some national artists, including Paul Abbott, Gary Bachers, Lauren Baker, Karyl Barbosa, Batsy Daves Bass, Diana Behannessey, Mary Alice Binion, Phyllis Brooks, Michael Cassidy, Jeanne Charles, Helen Comeau, Camilla Cowan, Sally Dill, David Michael Dillard, Roy Drasites, Chapin, Laurieann Lepper Dygowski, Lena Marie Echelle, Monica A. Elley Anne Gaines, Carole Greer, R. Sterling Heraty, Marilynn Hensley, John F. Hodgson II, Ann Huey, Edwin Jager, Wendy Johnson, Kay Kelly, Sonia King, Berry Klingman, James Lasson, Tamera Davis Lee, David Dodge Lewis, Vikki J. Martin, Mozelle Massey, Gwendlyn Norton, Ken O'Toole, Denny Pickett, Wanda Lou Raymond, Elisabeth Schalij, Carol Vystrcil Scott, Rusty Scruby, Glenda Smith, Jane Cornish Smith, Hadar Sobol, Ann Marcella Stasa, David Stiegler, Cecelia Thurman, Marie Van Arsdale, John Wathne, Alan Wentworth and Doris & Morris Yanger from Rockwall, at The Center at Rockwall City Place, 108 E Washington, in Rockwall, Texas, through November 23, 2004

Story + Photographs
by J R Compton

There's a lot about Marie Van Arsdale's photograph that is thematic of the Art 2004 — The Fourth Annual National Juried Art Exhibition in Rockwall, Texas. At first everything looks real. Gradually it sifts in that this is a digital print, the image is manipulated, and nothing we see is quite real, except maybe the bug.

Her print makes the best of a new medium, holding to traditional values, while twisting and rippling the white blob we think of as flower — there's an insect crawling in it and green stuff populates the background. This untraditional light graph has depth, color and composition. Everything seems so solidly traditional. A flower picture. It all fits. Only slowly it dawns that it's more manipulation than reality, although it may have begun there.

A simple seeming, beautiful, strong think piece that invites us to consider and reconsider, subtly startling us into new understandings. Like in real life, where reality lets off and alteration begins is difficult to discern.

Tamera Davis Lee - Kyros

Tamera Davis Lee - Kyros
latex on canvas


Tamera Lee's artist's statement says she set out to create "something never seen before." I kinda wish I hadn't read that, especially since, though she may not realize it, she failed. I was happier enjoying her art, not knowing the details of her aspiration.

This crunched Kyros has its own beauty and, in its not altogether new (I keep remembering Dallas artist Heather Marcus' work, among others), different or unique manner, its own quality. I tried to walk away without photographing it. But it was too attractive, its beauty repeatedly drew me in.

The visual similarities to Van Arsdale's work are obvious — not to mention countless artists who've wadded up their canvas and pitched it, pretty wrinkly textures, pigment and all. The piece is about two feet high but looks smaller here, since I digitally smoothed the corduroyed gray fiber covering the temporary wall it's on. Both Lee and Van Arsdale's work is manipulated, distorted and crumpled. One digitally, the other physically.


James Lassen - Deal

James Lassen - Deal
latex house paint on canvas


I like James Lassen's Deal because it's obvious in its impressionism and because he used house paint. Blatant Leroy Nieman textures and paint-by-numbers color make it more alluring, although it's a shame to show it here so small.

Full size this bigger-than-life painting shouts of shapes congealing into the normalcy of a passing moment, not sports heroes or flashy ads. My knowledge of Impressionism and art history assures this is how reality presents itself. All in splatters of amazing color. My eyes believe different.

This sensible cellular combat; this intellectual game of understanding what I see and how I see it; this blatant ugly beauty endears me to this ungentle mix. It stands out on its own, while colorfully and depthly reminding of Lee's wadded paint.

Edwin Jager - Book Implosion (Strength of Materials)

Edwin Jager - Book Implosion (Strength of Materials)
round books, hose clamps


Edwin Jager's tight sculptural rendition — another compressed, wadded extrapolation — of book holds another smart similarity of materials. If we understand manipulate to mean to control by skillful use of the hands, all art is manipulated, even if the artist doesn't touch the work, or bends it beyond breaking.

I like this book, because it simplifies a complexity, transubstantiates the obvious; yet opens our minds to what it was and what that means and what it is, implying a progression, which, because it is art, it is.

Down this page we find: a flat photo with digital depth; a dimensionally crumpled painting hung on a wall with actual third dimension; an analog painting with digital colors; and a round, walk-around 3-D sculpture comprising a bound, once-flat brick of fiber and pulp.


Wanda Lou Raymond - Five Thirty PM

Wanda Lou Raymond - Five Thirty PM - acrylic

Now comes Wanda Lou Raymond's ordinary painting, likely from a photograph, looking down on a near-by big city into evening's vertical cross shadow contrasts, gray shade below and beyond into the dark of the great metropolis just 20 miles from this exhibition. Another strong composition, realistic colors, yet comprising an abstract we understand and acknowledge. A beautiful thing.

Grand Delusions vs. Honoring the Art

Photograph not in the show, just on the way. Greater Dallas
invisible on the foggy far horizon from Rockwall.


I'd held back from entering this show all four years, prize-money notwithstanding, for fear of pretty much what I found on my journey 20 miles out from the big city.

Ambition is a needful thing. I'm glad Rockwall wants to grow its Annual National Juried Art Exhibition into a serious, national, competition. But this generic-named show has not yet landed.

They've got the want-to. What's absent is an obvious respect for the art and comittment to do it right, though there's lip-service aplenty.

The big Lone Star Room in The Center at Rockwall City Place is a multipurpose facility, which only partially explains why this show is crowded into two dark partitions on either side along the length of the big, 4,350 square feet, otherwise wide open space.



Note the jumble of art in a jumble of portable
walls stashed into the edges of the wide expanse.

Sometime into the onstage yakfest after the high school show awards, in the embarassing big middle of smalltown civic boosterism and a man reading a long dull speech from 3x5 cards, I heard a very sincere female voice proclaim that soon, the name Rockwall would be "synonymous with great art."

I shuddered.

Thanks to money prizes, publicity and strong, mostly Dallas jurors, this not-so-distant city still in the shadow of the Dallas skyline is getting good — if not the altogether great — art.

But as long as art's status remains a second-class citizen in the city's civic center, big-time, professional art standing will elude this suburban event.


What to do?

Unclutter the entrance. Move the confusion of local high school art to its own space, on eye-level walls, not clunky metal risers, and definitely not me-tooing into the doorway of the national exhibition.

"What? Oh, no. It's gotta be better than this," I worried, picking my way among that amateurish melange. "Am I even in the right place?" I didn't see any signs.

Signage might help. Banners on front and back exteriors and another over the door into the big room might lend needed presence. At least visitors would know they were in the right place.

If you can't trade the temporary walls for something wider, lighter, taller and more open, at least honor the art with sufficient space around each piece.

Snake the walls out into the big empty middle during the opening ceremonies, even if banquets and group events later crowd the art back toward the periphery.


Honor the art.

Give each piece room to breath and viewers space to ponder. And gather. As is, two people viewing one piece is a crowd in the crowded cubicles — despite acres of space all around and between the two dark clots of art along the edges of the giant room.

Pull the porta-walls out from the perimeters and spread the art — and its viewers — onto both sides of the dark gray walls. Pretend the national juried exhibition is the main event, not some temporary deal adrift along the edges.

And ditch the artist's statements cluttering every piece. Small I.D labels are sufficient. Avoid verbiage. Serious art shows let art speak for itself.

A clatter of artist's statements is as sure a sign of amateurism as a business card notched in a frame, one of which I noted in the building's foyer.

A real art show keeps its artists' statements in a notebook on a table somewhere accessible, with CVs, exhibition lists and noisy other PR. Art doesn't need explaination, but it's nice to be able to see it without bumping into three other people.

Flea-market spacing and little dark walls that fold in on themselves cheapen. Trust viewers. Give them space between to let their eyes and thoughts wander.

Telling viewers what to think honors neither the art, artists nor viewers. And if that suburban city seeks identification with art of whatever ilk, put Rockwall in the show's title.



March 18, 2005

I have been reading your site for awhile and find a great deal of energy in your work. I first came upon it when you wrote about the Rockwall Art Show in December. My husband was in that show and you expressed my feelings exactly!

Gabrielle Bachers
New Boston, Texas

March 13, 2005

Dear JR:

Jeff came across your page on the Rockwall National Show.

Wow, you hit it on the nose. I had been accepted two years in a row, and consider it an honor, especially by Ted Pillsbury, and I was just aghast, surprised, dissappointed — oh use any of those descriptives, in how the show was hung! And so were many other artists I spoke to.

My two pieces were about 10 inches from the foor, and people had to bend down to view mine and other artists work who got theirs stuck at the bottom.

I sent a link to the page to Betty Foster. She is not only the new President for Rockwall, but also a member of A.R.T. If she had not taken the position, I hear, the group would have, might have slowly died in a short time. I think your comments will be helpful to her for the next National show in Rockwall.

I know you have attended many art shows, and review many in Dallas. I don't take what you say as gospel, until I have seen the show myself, but I respect your opinion because of your experience.

I especially liked the suggestion for the Rockwall Show to not have artists comments. Thank you very much. The art should speak for itself.

Best regards,

November 30, 2005

Dear Ms. Holt and Colleagues,

I recently read J R Compton's article about the Rockwall National, posted under the heading, "Grand Delusions vs. Honoring the Art," on his website. I agree with almost all of what J R has written there. And, yes, despite not even having attended the show.

As a full-time artist committed to his career and to making wise decisions to advance it, I have made the choice to avoid juried exhibitions hosted by suburban or outlying arts clubs, no matter who the juror is; and the recognizable names among your selected artists notwithstanding, I think you'll find that I am joined in that policy by many well-established artists, who might submit work to similar exhibitions when hosted by other venues or organizations. (I even passed when the National was jurored by Nancy Whitenack, whom I highly respect and who shows my work at her Conduit Gallery, here in Dallas.)

Admittedly, we have a decided prejudice against shows mounted by organizations such as yours. But it's a well-earned one, and, at the same time, one that is not beyond overcoming. Too often I think, smaller organizations seem to disregard the wealth of available knowledge about hosting such an event, which they might otherwise gather from galleries, museums and other respected art venues. It may be because of what JR calls "smalltown civic boosterism", a myopic chamber-of-commerce or any of a number of other motivations. It may be because the real underlying motivation is to make money, which you'll always be able to do where approval-hungry artists are involved. But whatever the source, they are misdirections that will ultimately interfere with and derail the sincere desire to make a city "synonymous with great art."

I only hope that you'll take JR's advice (and my endorsement of it) seriously. You certainly won't be faulted by many if you take it as sniping criticism, but I think you'll fall short of accomplishing what
you say you really want to accomplish if you ignore it.

Best wishes,
James Michael Starr


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