Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Earl Staley's Big Rock Candy Mountain

by Robert  Boyd

Earl Staley has gone through a lot of changes in the past few years, as I outlined in a recent post. He got divorced, lost his eyepatch, gained a gallery (New Gallery, in a new location). And for the first time in a while, he is having a museum show. The museum is Spring's Pearl Fincher Museum, and the show is modest--five paintings. It's part of the Pearl Fincher series of exhibits of work by the Lone Star College art professors. Staley teaches painting at LCS-Tomball (where there are a group of women who take his class over and over, and who call themselves Earl's Girls).

Earl Staley, Breaking Storm, acrylic on canvas, 2009

The first thing I noticed was that there were no collage paintings here. They were all landscapes, mostly pretty realistic, although in some cases the color was pushed into a level that was more intense than nature usually delivers. But there was nothing here that would confuse or confound the good burghers of Champions. Staley implied to me that this was intentional.

Earl Staley, Headland, acrylic on canvas, 2010

But he told me that the key to these works was that they were painted as he was getting divorced. The island was a place to escape to, the storm breaking was the end of the process, etc.

Earl Staley, What Was Revealed, acrylic on canvas, 2012

And the key painting for me is this rocky bit of  surrealism. This colorful shape, emerging out of a realistically rendered rock outcropping, stopped me in my tracks. This dreamscape struck me as an act of magic. The colors of the shapes on top seem to distill the sunset colors in the desert (Staley visits Big Bend and lived in New Mexico, so these colors are present in his mind). But they are unmoored from the thingness of the desert. You can see these colors in kitsch souvenir paintings and postcards of desert beauty spots, but this is different. Staley is reintroducing the viewer to the sheer strangeness of the desert.


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