Visual Arts > Visual Arts
Carefully drawn conclusions
A retrospective of Texas's handy men and women
In “Confounded,” Corpus Christi artist Jimmy Pena seamlessly joins, at the mid-section, an upside-down male torso with the right-side-up torso of a female, forging a headless, two-bodied figure with polar-opposite genitals. The skin of this entity is plastered with headlines about last fall’s economic meltdown, in a maddening metaphor for our financial consternation. This is no multimedia installation or sculpture assemblage; Pena, despite having arthritis in his hands, drew this image.
Which proves a point: Putting pencil to paper remains the simplest way to tap into the subconscious. Strange, then, that drawing is so often overlooked in contemporary Texas art. The Southwest School of Art & Craft aims to change this state of affairs, having inaugurated Texas Draws, a group exhibition that serves as a statewide survey of drawing by 13 Lone Star artists. The exhibit is planned as an annual event, and curator Kathy Armstrong affirms that a lot of research went into selecting this inaugural round of artists, who employ a variety of techniques (you’ll find some startlingly realistic images, though usually in surrealist or abstract contexts) with an emphasis on content.
Texas Draws is threaded through with Lone Star iconography rendered less monolithic than violated and deeply fragile; Mona Marshal scratched into black encaustic (and into the Texas mythos) to create solitary oil wells surrounded by a tar-like lake in “Oil Field.” Then, taking on a reverse palette, using black ink on white encaustic, she drew images of suited men going about their business in a looming terrorist target, “The Tower.” Star fields, an atomic bomb crater, an exploding space station, and quaint 18th-century society images converge in Austin artist Eric Zimmerman’s giant panels, hinting that human frailty and ignorance lead to more technological disaster than success.
Jayne Lawrence’s fusions of body parts with bits of insects, birds, flowers, and other organic forms, all drawn with exceptional grace and clarity, may provide a vision of the excesses of genetic engineering. Or, perhaps a symbol of our oneness with nature, which inspired some of the most complex and expressive drawings in the show. Jules Buck Jones, a sort of off-kilter neotraditionalist, a 21st century Audubon, wraps his taxonomy chart of the family tree of birds of prey around the outside and inside of the gallery. But his abstract slashes and broad streaks undermine the scientific exactness of the chart, showing that trying to name and classify all the animal species is as much art as science. In contrast, El Paso artist Suzi Davidoff’s abstracted silhouettes of leaves in translucent layers possess a Zen-like serenity. San Antonio artist Katie Pell would like to drape her viewers in tangled vines and cuddly forest creatures. Her giant drawings come off the wall in spirals of tears from the eyes of a goddess embedded in jungle-like flora populated by big-eyed deer, rabbits, raccoons, songbirds, and the occasional rat; like the natural world witnessed by a particularly observant child, full of prelapsarian longing. Is this the Garden from which we Texans have fallen?
The figure frequently comes to the fore in Texas Draws. Regis Shephard examines the burdens of mortality and the dubious kingdom of the body in his autobiographical drawings, which depict a black man and a white skeleton dripping with ink — a response to his bout with a potentially fatal disease. In a mural-size drawing, Bonnie Young drolly documents Us, the American consumers — unruly children, a gaunt cowboy, and an obese couple. More baldly political still is Alice Leora Briggs, who draws on the tradition of Mexican journalistic printmaking to document the deadly Juarez cartel with rich detail in her grim series, including “Death of a Virgin” which shows a man aiming an automatic rifle at the upended image of a saint.
Pushing the boundaries of drawing beyond the paper plane, artist collective Electric Dirt used drawings as the “score” for performing on slightly amplified sound boxes made of guitar wood during the opening reception. A pencil moving across paper on a wooden surface is becoming a rare sound, said Marfa Electric Dirt artist Christine Olejniczak, who performs with Alex Garza and Ray Freese. On view is “AK-47 Concussion,” which captures the motion of the airwaves caused by a gun blast. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but for artists the charcoal pencil packs the metaphorical punch of an IED.
Taken as an aggregate, it would seem that the State of Texas drawing is preoccupied with the same things as Texas printmaking, Texas video art, and Texas photography: tensions between anxious economic/ecologic realities and an elegiac past; the body as battleground and endangered species; and coming to terms with political injustice that implicates every one of us. Drawing accomplishes this in the most human-scale and intimate way possible, creeping far into the viewer through the simplest means.
Carefully drawn conclusions : A retrospective of Texas's handy men and women 7/8/2009