Saturday, July 20, 2013

Robert Boyd: Five Pieces from the Big Show

Robert Boyd

Dean Liscum, Betsy Huete and I all agreed to pick five pieces from the Big Show at Lawndale to write about. I found the choice hard to make. I liked a lot of the pieces this year. My first sweep, I narrowed it down to 28 choices. I made another sweep of the show, spending extra time with the ones I liked, drawing stars on the ones I found the most compelling, 15 in all. And that's where I am as I write these words. The final five will be decided in a Benthamite way by paying close attention to my own pleasure--specifically, the five I find most enjoyable to write about will be my final choices.

Avril Falgout, Black Veil Brides, 2013, paper maché, 75 x 50 x 105 inches

I like discovering new artists at the Big Show. And by "new," I mean artists whose work I've never seen before. I hadn't heard of Avril Falgout before, but I guess that's understandable--the Beaumont artist is only 15 years old.  The Black Veil Brides she depicts in her life-size figure group is a Los Angeles metal band. When I saw this, I immediately thought of "Expectations," the (highly un-metal) song by Belle & Sebastian. It includes the following lyric:
And the head said that you always were a queer one from the start
For careers you say you want to be remembered for your art
Your obsessions get you known throughout the school for being strange
Making life-size models of The Velvet Underground in clay
I recall when I was in art class in high school (I was the "brain" in a class full of "heads") in 1980, a girl named Annette made a brilliant scratchboard portrait of Jerry Garcia.  Depicting your musical idols is something that teenage artists do. But few do it with the level of ambition shown by Falgout. This group has incredible presence in the room--they demand your attention. Falgout was one of the juror's award winners. No one can predict how her life as an artist will unfold, but winning a juror prize at the Big Show when you're 15 is one hell of a start.

Sandra A. Jacobs, Spring Dance, 2013, old photograph, black pencil and black watercolor pencil, 10 x 8 inches

Sandra A. Jacobs is another artist about whom I know nothing. A Google search turns up a Sandra Jacobs who is a teaching artist at the MFAH, but I don't know if Spring Dance is by that Sandra Jacobs. This piece takes a found photograph--it appears to be a professionally made studio photo--and adds two simple drawn elements. This photo of a young girl in a bob hairdo appears to date from the 20s or 30s. One of the black circles partially obscures her face and the other looms in the negative space formed by her sitting body. I don't know why, but I feel a slight sense of dread in this photo with its two obliterating periods. It's as if this girl is being attacked by Suprematism. The obliterating dots are in the process of making her an unperson. The anti-humanist history of the 20th century is weirdly wrapped up in this seemingly simple piece.

Julon Pinkston, Shirtless, Young and Catching Flesh, 2013, acrylic on wood panel, 10 x 7 x 2 inches

I can't be objective about Julon Pinkston's paintings like Shirtless, Young and Catching Flesh. When I saw a show of work in this series at Zoya Tommy Gallery, I was so bowled over that I ended up buying two of them. I'm looking at them right now. I'm totally conflicted to be writing about this, but I like what I like, and I love this painting. Shirtless, Young and Catching Flesh is different from the pieces I bought in the intensity of the color. The blue, green, pink and gray shoot it out from the wall, which compensates for its small size (the size is fine, but in a crowded gallery full of dozens of other works, small pieces can get lost).

Pinkston likes tape and stickers, but instead of just using tape and stickers in his paintings, he actually makes the tape and stickers himself. The strips of blue, green and gray tape in Shirtless, Young and Catching Flesh are actually strips of acrylic paint that Pinkston made on glass. These paintings push the medium of acrylic paint to the limit. He uses in plastic quality (in both sense of the word) of acrylic paint in every way he can think of. The results have a gooey tangibility that I love.

Earl Staley, Bouquet 29, 2013, acrylic collage, 36 x 36 inches

Having an Earl Staley in the Big Show feels like overkill. Here's a little local show, showing mostly work by young emerging artists--and along comes a piece by an artist who was in the American Pavilion of the 1984 Venice Biennale. But what's awesome about Bouquet is that Staley is still daring you to like his work. He combines two despised genres here. Flower paintings, long the domain of watercolor societies, have had little place in contemporary art (although there are exceptions--Andy Warhol, for example). But he goes one further by adding what I take to be a clown face on top. I can't help but think of Bruce Naumann's Clown Torture, and looking at this painting is a kind of torture--it's so aggressive, the colors are so piercing. But it has intensity, humor, and a powerful presence. Ultimately, I fell in love with Bouquet because of its sheer craziness.

Camille Warmington, Setting Yourself Adrift, 2013, pencil and acrylic on board, 12 x 12 inches

Camille Warmington is another artist with whom I was not familiar when I encountered her two paintings at the Big Show. What appealed to me about Setting Yourself Adrift was the muted palette, which suggests a faded photograph (as does the "1969" on the right margin) and the handling of the paint. I assume this is painted straight from an old photo of folks sitting on the front porch of an old house. The deliberate vagueness of the image reinforces the feeling of distance and memory.

The painting looks like a "paint by numbers" painting--flat colors laid out in a kind of speckled pattern. But the watery brushstrokes are completely visible, which makes it look "deskilled" and amateurish. I realize as I write this that it sounds like an insult or a criticism. To avoid any Bill Davenport-style misunderstanding, I love the quality painting here. It totally undercuts what we expect from this kind of subject matter. Those blotchy flat areas of watery brushstrokes are beautiful and fascinating. Warmington undoes her subject while somehow sinking the viewer into a memory.



  1. Wow
    So excited to be selected in the show and by you.
    I submitted two painterly abstract landscapes which were rejected and added the Bouquet which is part of a series of work done on fabrics. In this case a scarf bought on Harwin Dr.
    It is good to take a chance and enter the Big Show.

  2. I will forego comments about this review except by way of this comment. Entering the eight decade, I am more tight ass than ever before. Cheers for all that entered and Bravo for the winners and your selections, Robert. Way to go, Earl.

  3. Love that Earl is still challenging those in the art world with his sheer craziness. Congrats, Earl!

  4. Sandra A. Jacobs is the same Sandra Jacobs that is a teaching artist at the MFAH, a very talented artist & an awesome person. I believe this is her 4th time being selected for this show & she inspires me as an artist, co-worker & friend. It's nice to see the comments from HJ & DeeDee who have also been life long inspirations. :)

  5. Pinching myself to be in the same write-up as Earl Staley. That's enough for me.