Saturday, July 20, 2013

More from the Big Show

Betsy Huete, Dean Liscum and Robert Boyd

I couldn't settle on just five pieces to write about from the Big Show, so I arbitrarily decided that I'd create an "honorable mention" post and forced my co-writers to contribute. Betsy, Dean and I chose five, and then chose a bunch more that we liked. And here they are.

Carrie Green Markello, King , 2013, Acrylic on board, 24 x 18 inches

Why does this boy, held captive in "glamour shot" pose, look so mischievous? What is he up to, and why is he enveloped in a black void? No one knows except Markello, but there is something memorably radioactive about the entire painting.--BH

Chadwick + Spector, Judith with the Head of Holofernes (after Lucas Cranach), 2011, cibachrome print, 45 x 29.5 inches

Getting freaky with it. Hieronymus Bosch-inspired but instead of using fruit, these artists use humans. Look closely.--DL

David McClain, Verlaine & Rimbaud, 2013, Acrylic and pencil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches

I'm not sure which is Verlaine and which is Rimbaud but their love child lives in Austin. Kidding aside, the comics interfere with the brilliant execution.--DL

All those museumgoers that scoff at a Pollock or a Kline, mumbling, “My three year old could do that,” are completely unaware of just how talented three-year-olds can be. In Verlaine & Rimbaud, David McClain convincingly melds an innocent primitivism and severe aggression in a way that exemplifies the poets’ passionate and tumultuous relationship.--BH

Camille Warmington, Unsee, 2013, pencil and polycolor pencil on board, 12 x 12 inches

Camille Warmington's Unsee seems the more conventional of her two paintings (ironically, since Unsee is abstract and her other painting, Setting Yourself Adrift, is a painting of a house). But I love her acidic colors, her handling of paint, and the modest size. It reminds me a little of Howard Hodgkin, but without the comfy feeling of domesticity one finds in Hodgkin.--RB

Jorge Imperio, Elegant #2, 2013, C-print, 13.5 x 13.5 inches

I’m assuming Imperio’s title was tongue-in-cheek, but there is something elegant about this image after all. Situated under an empty, large gaudy frame, it’s the most lavish sick bed I’ve ever seen. Everything in the shot feels completely out of place yet legitimately believable--BH

Galina Kurlat, Deborah, 2012, archival pigment print, 18 x 24 inches

Galina Kurlat recently had a powerful show at the Emergency Room, so I was pleased to see her work here. Deborah is from her portrait series Safe Distance. These photos involve some manipulation of the negative process and deliberate degradation, which can clearly be see here. Knowing nothing about the actual "Deborah," this image, combining the subject's calm demeanor and the intentionally damaged print, suggest some past trauma. The meaning is not in the image, but in the process.

Galina Kurlat, Sanctuary (untitled) 1, 2011, C-print, 16 x 20 inches

Galina didn't create this surrealistic monument, but she had the good sense to photograph it.--DL

Sanctuary comes from a series of the same name showing isolated trees in seemingly harsh and unforgiving landscapes. It's hard to imaging a more unforgiving environment than a beached barge, and yet this one has a tree growing out of it. The image is a large-scale black and white Polaroid, made with a kind of film that is no longer manufactured. One of the appealing aspects of Kurlat's photography is this sense of antiquity. Her photographs look like they were made long ago and survived many vicissitudes before being discovered by viewers in the present. Of course, this is a carefully wrought illusion, but a beautiful one.--RB

Happy Valentine, Code Blue, 2013, Diagnostic images and original music, 1 minute 9 second video

I have no idea what's actually occurring in this video. It's a brain scan of some electromagnetic lobotomy? Your brain on drugs? Your brain under the influence of a political ad, a Reality TV show, an orgasm? The ambiguity makes it more haunting, more beautiful, and only a little scary.--DL

Kay Sarver, Pollinate Me, 2013, oil on wood, 48 x 32 x 3 inches

Kay Sarver created a painting that is half Alphonse Mucha and half organic honey product label. The nude woman has a circle of bees flying around her head and is pregnant with a beehive full of honey.  She kneels in a field of sunflowers, surrounded by a turtle, squirrel and rabbit. Green and pink predominate. And the title, Pollinate Me, adds a jocose element of sexuality. The image is so over-the-top that my love for it crosses to the other side of my defensive mountain of cynicism and irony. I don't "love" this crazy painting--I just plain love it.

Luna Bella Gajdos, Carnivore, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

There’s something anxious about this painting, as if the irreverent gestures stand on a precipice of falling into complete chaos, held together by a few contour lines. While I normally think signatures on work should be relegated to Etsy and old women painting kittens and lamps, it really works here; it’s situated like a thought bubble coming out of the dinosaur’s mouth, as if it is speaking directly to the artist. Or maybe it’s a self-portrait and Gajdos is introducing herself.--BH

When I saw Luna Gajdos's Carnivore, I really dug the deliberately crude, childlike drawing. When I read that Gajdos is only seven years old, I dug it even more.--RB

Jennifer Ellison, Antique Figurine & the Machine That Made It, 2013, mixed media assemblage, 115 x 23 x 18 inches

Antique Figurine & the Machine That Made It by Jennifer Ellison has the folklore-science-fiction feel that makes it a little crafty, a little quirky, a little cute. I'm willing to bet she's Joseph Cornell and Dominique De Menil's long lost love child.--DL

Kia Neill, Fossilization, Erosion, and Evolution No. 2, 2013, graphite, acrylic, ink and gouache on Yupo, 29 x 40 inches

The amoeba from which I descended (and pretty much controls my brain) just lights up when it sees Neill's work.--DL

Ellen Phillips, Tidal Ice, 2013, acrylic and graphite on paper, 24 x 18 inches

In a show like the Big Show, it's hard to even notice quiet works like Ellen Phillips' Tidal Ice. Phillips is another artist about whom I know nothing (and Google is not helping me out). Which is to say that I know just as much about her as juror Duncan MacKenzie did. What's left are a few pencil scrawls and white brush strokes on a yellowish piece of paper. So what did I like about it? I guess the cool grey against the warm paper appealed to me and the quality of "not drawing" in the pencil marks. It's a work I can just look at and feel pleasure in looking.--RB

John Slaby, The Commander, 2012, oil on paper, 7 x 14 inches

John Slaby's The Commander is the artistic representation of my management and parenting philosophy. It's also really well-balanced, with a lovely color palette...for a psychopath.--DL

Leo Medrano, Strange Friends (left), 2013, architectural scale model pieces, ballast, acrylic, glass, 5 x 3 x 3 inches, and End of the Road (right), 2013, architectural scale model pieces, ballast, acrylic, glass, 11 x 3 x 3 inches

Leo Medrano, Strange Friends, 2013, architectural scale model pieces, ballast, acrylic, glass, 5 x 3 x 3 inches

Leo Medrano, Strange Friends, 2013, architectural scale model pieces, ballast, acrylic, glass, 5 x 3 x 3 inches

Medrano brings kitsch and fear together in a way that my grandmother would snicker at and then use as an object lesson. "Listen here. If a large hairy beast tries to befriend you in the woods..."--DL

Leo Medrano, End of the Road (detail), 2013, architectural scale model pieces, ballast, acrylic, glass, 11 x 3 x 3 inches

Leo Medrano, End of the Road (detail), 2013, architectural scale model pieces, ballast, acrylic, glass, 11 x 3 x 3 inches

I know Leo Medrano as a magazine publisher (Role A|F|M) first and an artist second. What I had seen of his art was painted under the name "Leosapien" and seemed like a mixture of street art and pop surrealism/low brow art. I can't say it ever made much of an impression on me. End of the Road and Strange Friends, however, really impressed me. They seem utterly different from his earlier artistic output.

End of the Road is a tiny sculptural tableau depicting a Hollywood movie-style standoff. A man standing beside a VW Bug is holding a gun to a woman's head and is being confronted by another man holding a rifle. The sculpture is tiny--the figures are less than an inch high. The whole thing is encased in glass. It reminds me of the ship in a bottle sculptures people make. The description says that it is made of architectural scale model pieces, but Medrano must have altered them. I assume you can't get a 1/32 scale model of a guy with a gun to a woman's head off the shelf.

By placing it under glass, Medrano is suggesting a frozen moment in time to be studied, something to be preserved, something fragile. Obviously the image of a ship in a bottle comes to mind, as does the shrunken Kryptonian city of Kandor (and Mike Kelley's many Kandor sculptures). There is something mad-scientist-like about examining these scenes in a glass container, a giant test-tube. The dispassionate presentation of the scene, as if they are specimens under glass, is disquieting.--RB

Susannah Mira, Minature Black Cloud, 2012neoprene foam and wire, dimensions variable

Susannah Mira's "cloud" is simple, repetitive, unobtrusive, but lasting. It hung in my mind through out the duration of my visit and long after.--DL

John Adelman, 32,173 Stitch, 2012, gel, ink on paper mounted on panel, 35 x 48 inches

John Adelman's obsessive-compulsive aesthetic style always connects with that OCD portion of my personality. His work will probably never really change and my enjoyment of it also will probably never wane.--DL

John Adelman's work is the result of an obsessive process. 32,173 Stitch looks like a blue and black shape from a distance, forming a ragged angle at the top and dissolving along the bottom. But when you get close, you see a series of irregular black marks of various sizes with the word "stitch" in blue next to each one. Based on what I know of his previous work, I'm going to guess that those black marks represent some actual thing--perhaps little bits of thread?--that he has carefully drawn. Whatever this thing is, he has drawn 32,173 of them and written the word stitch that many times. And I assume that the process was figured out before he put a single mark on the paper. I've written about Adelman in the past, and what I said then applies to this piece as well. His work is fascinating, rigorous and yet strangely beautiful--RB

John Adelman, 32,173 Stitch (detail), 2012, gel, ink on paper mounted on panel, 35 x 48 inches

Felipe Contreras, Nice Cliff, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches

Felipe Contreras also goes by the name Furm. You can see some more of his work under the name Furm at Peveto in its Funkmotor exhibit. Nice Cliff and the pieces in Funkmotor all share a common feature--the white and orange diagonal stripes, the type one sees on roadblocks used by police or road construction crews. It's a simple yet powerful symbol, and Contreras' use of it is playful. In Nice Cliff, he has taken an image of a majestic mountain and rendered it in a faded-back duotone, layering the orange and white caution stripes over it. The Ruscha-like type, written as a hole in the image, adds a flippant irony to the proceedings.--RB

Terry Crump, Lucky Day, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches

In Crump, I think I've found one of Paul Gauguin's direct descendants. I want to vacation in Crump's aesthetic.--DL

Terry Crump's Lucky Day includes images associated with luck (good and bad)--cards and dice--but central to it is a large pacing tiger in profile, turning its head to look at us. It (and the other figures in the painting--a rabbit, a frog, a bird) are drawn with a black outline and appear somewhat tarnsparent against a background of splashy, riotous color. It's the color that attracted me to this curious painting. Intense and painterly, I suspect Matisse is an influence. The way the color is laid down behind a line drawing, for example, reminds me of The Red Studio. The large size of the canvas is an important factor in what makes Lucky Day work--it forces the viewer to step back to take in the totality of the image. Crump is one of those people that I love to find at The Big Show--a very interesting Houston-area artist who I have never heard of before. After four years of writing this blog, you wouldn't think there'd be any left, but I'm constantly surprised.--RB



  1. Ellen Phillips' art work is subtle, sublime and thoughtful. Check out her website: