The Big Show, Lawndale Art Center’s annual juried exhibition, is a platform to showcase some of the year’s most exciting and innovative work coming from artists residing in or near the Houston area. Duncan MacKenzie, writer and co-founder of Bad at Sports out of Chicago, IL, was this year’s juror. His selections had an over-arching tone of irony—a way of thinking about art and curating that, quite frankly, I find to be played out and irritating. But to be fair, this is coming from someone who hasn’t seen all the submissions (although I believe we will all be able to soon at BLUEorange Gallery). Thematics aside, out of the eighty-three works by sixty-seven artists, there was a broad spectrum of media and subject matter, making it easy to find a handful of work that was exceptional. With that being said, here are my top five picks.
Kari Breitigam, Horn Head, 2012, Stretched embroidery, 12 x 24 inches
5. Kari Breitigam, Horn Head (2012)
As I ascended the stairs, I noticed at the top a spritely, youngish embroidered man floating mid-canvas, although we are led to believe he is firmly lying on top of something. With a bright orange shirt and appropriately titled conical head, this piece is obviously whimsical. But the refreshingly rigid line work gives the character a strange feel, as if Breitigam ripped him out of some fantastical instruction manual. His candy-colored horn head falls somewhere between a hardened weapon and TCBY soft serve, conjuring an image that lies in the transitory phase of fantasy to nightmare. Yet there’s something all-American and trusty about this guy: after a long day of swimming, hiking, and horseback riding, he’s the man a tampon ad girl’s dreams are made of. He looks like a Jeff.
Melinda Laszczynski, Hold On, 2013, Watercolor, acrylic, tape, wax, beads, 16 x 16 inches
4. Melinda Laszczynski, Hold On (2013)
Melinda Laszczynski clearly follows the mantra “less is more” in her piece Hold On. A framed work on paper, there isn’t much going on with the surface except in the bottom right corner, where she abstractly applied watercolor, acrylic, and glitter, to name a few materials. But for all of its abstraction, the work is surprisingly narrative-driven. The lava-esque pool of watercolor bumping up against the lower edge of the frame reeks of isolation, like a tectonic plate floating off into oblivion. Laszczynski cleverly uses blue painter’s tape to clamp what appears to be a peeled off scrap of glitter-laden acrylic to the right edge of the paper—a quiet gesture that transforms a potentially glazed-over two-dimensional work to a striking three-dimensional object. The sharp reds and decadent glitter read as a material hangover, shamefully trying to hide itself as it desperately clings to the side.
Eva Martinez, Shapeshifter, 2012, Fabric, stuffing, and plastic notion, 9 x 15 x 9 inches
3. Eva Martinez, Shapeshifter (2012)
I would hate to be Eva Martinez’s child. I could see her sneaking into my bedroom at night, stealing my teddy bear (creatively named Teddy), and restitching it into a figure that’s completely drained of all of its anthropomorphic qualities. But it’s this kind of perverse removal (except the eyes) that makes the piece as compelling as it is. The title Shapeshifter may be a little dramatic, but there is something oddly sinister about the unassuming figure. And on the other hand, it somehow feels wildly optimistic—as if Martinez is advocating for the tactility of the material—instead of hitting us over the head with the personified facial features that typically come along with a stuffed animal.
Bryan Forrester, Imogene, 2012, C-print, 24 x 36 inches (courtesy Lawndale Art Center)
2. Bryan Forrester, Imogene (2012)
There’s a reason Bryan Forrester was one of three to win the Big Show juror’s award: the work is excellent. Imogene is a fairly straightforward image of a run-of-the-mill Heights or Montrose area bungalow kitchen. But the framing of the shot enhances the kitchen to a narrow, claustrophobic corridor, and the lighting makes every banal object in the shot seem dense and luxurious. Unless Forrester can vomit on cue and is quick with the camera, the shot is clearly staged. Nevertheless, between his vulnerability and girlfriend/wife/overly comfortable roommate Kerry’s tenderness, the image feels overwhelmingly sincere. The butterflies are heavy-handed, and I wish they would return to the springtime floral wonderland from whence they came. Regardless, this is a photograph I could stare at for hours, although I might feel a little pervy for doing so.
Chantal M. Wnuk, The Six Pound Weight in the Pit of My Stomach, 2012, Charcoal, graphite, and colored pencil on paper, 22 x 30 inches
1. Chantal M. Wnuk, The Six Pound Weight in the Pit of My Stomach (2012)
Ambling clumsily through the dense and increasingly drunken crowd opening night, I was immediately magnetized to this charcoal drawing hanging near the base of the stairs in the John M. O’Quinn Gallery. The loose gestural lines of charcoal coalesce centrally into a ghastly, aggressively scrawled face. The smeared ball of fleshy Pepto Bismol hue wholly embodies the sense of dread and anxiety that the title probably too literally explains. While the date written somewhere near the top right of the blob seems redundant and unnecessary, the tight graphite drawings interwoven with the charcoal are formally dynamic and incredibly satisfying to look at. They read as abstracted ears and stubby fingers, simultaneously being ripped off in a whirlwind and compressing the head into unbearable density.