Sunday, October 27, 2013

It's Nice to Share: LaBier, Gendel and Lokiec at the Brandon

Robert Boyd

Houston Galeria watercolors by Jacqueline Gendel, Peter LaBier and Tim Lokiec

Jacqueline Gendel, Peter LaBier and Tim Lokiec have studios in the same building. Individually, they have had some art world success. Jacqueline Gendel has a pretty long history of exhibiting in Houston. She has shown at Bryan Miller Gallery in 2011 and Mixture Contemporary in 2002 and 2004. (I was intrigued when I read about her shows at Mixture because I had never heard of that gallery. It apparently came and went while I was living away from Houston. So I googled it, and it was a gallery owned by Dan Fergus, who owns the Brandon and Brasil, and run by Lisa Cooley, who now runs one of the hippest galleries in New York.) Tim Lokiec seems to have peaked early in the artworld's fame game--his first solo show in 2003 was reviewed by Roberta Smith and at one point he was represented by Zach Feuer Gallery. He was included in a group show at McClain Gallery in 2005. But this kind of "success" has little to do with the art itself. Peter LaBier is the only "Houston virgin" of the group.

Houston Galeria at The Brandon Contemporary is a collaborative show by these artists. "Collaborative" is a loaded word. In this case, the collaboration is described as "three artists sitting on the floor of a studio passing around paper, listening to music or books on audible, making individual easel paintings based on their collective works on paper." This is collaboration as game playing. These kinds of games are often used to pull artists out of their habitual practices, but often they're  just played for the fun of it.

The wall of watercolors and drawings above represent the first step of the collaboration. These are the drawings on which the paintings in show are based. For example, the watercolor drawing Houston Galeria 18 is the source for two paintings.

Jacqueline Gendel and Peter LaBier, Houston Galleria 18, 2013, mixed media 17.5 x 12.5 inches

Peter LaBier, Houston Galleria 75, 2013, oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches

The general composition is retained and the color scheme is approximately the same. But LaBier's Houston Galleria 75 has more detail and includes some complimentary colors and additional compositional elements.

The drawings/watercolors are themselves often based on existing images, some art historical, some from advertisements or pop culture.

Peter LaBier, Houston Galeria 1, 2013, mixed media, 14 x 11 inches

Tim Lokiec, Houston Galleria 52, 2013, mixed media, 12.5 x 9.5 inches

Some look like they are pastiches of other contemporary artists. Houston Galeria 30 looks like a Joshua Abelow drawing, for example.

Jacqueline Gendel and Peter LaBier, Houston Galeria 30, 2013, mixed media, 15.5 x 14.5 inches

Houston Galeria 30 is drastically transformed however when it is turned into a painting.

Peter LaBier, Houston Galeria 80, 2013, oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches

The addition of the dog's tongue adds a touch of perversity to this already ridiculous image, but as silly as it seems, I see something unexpected here. LaBier is playing with Matisse. Compare it to Tabac Royal, for example.

Henri Matisse, Tabac Royal, 1943, Oil on canvas

The intense colors and patterned, flattened ground reminds me so much of Matisse--Matisse minus the elegance! But it the more I think about it, the more this kind of approach to painting is a common practice these days. I see a lot of painting that addresses classical modernism in one way or another while wearing its dumbness on its sleeve.  When Roberta Smith reviewed Tom Lokiec, she casually dropped in a reference to "bad painting," the kind of painting that had been the subject of an exhibit at the New Museum in 1978. This show was full of painters doing subjects and techniques that just seemed dumb. So after neo-expressionism and neo-geo and street art and all the other painting movements and trends, somehow "bad painting" has survived 35 years. The thing is, it works for me. I am simultaneously repelled by and drawn to Houston Galeria 80. A work of art that both pulls and pushes me is one that I find interesting. (It should be noted also that while Houston Galeria 30 looks like a Joshua Abelow, Houston Galeria 80 has been so transformed that it looks nothing like an Abelow.)

Peter LaBier, Houston Galeria 84, 2013, oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches

 LaBier has other Matisse-esque pieces. The colors and the leaf shapes in Houston Galeria 84 seem unmistakably derived from Matisse, for example.

Peter LaBier, Houston Galeria 77, 2013, oil on canvas, 24 x 18 inches

The same is true for Houston Galeria 77. When you look at the pieces on LaBier's website, they don't look very Matisse-like compared to the ones in this show. But there is one earlier piece there that is directly based on a Matisse, and others that are based on other well-known Modernist images. It seems like Matisse is on his mind.

Jacqueline Gendel, Houston Galeria 83, 2013, oil on linen, 24 x 30 inches

 Jacqueline Gendel gets her Matisse on in a few paintings, not so much referencing Matisse's palette as his subject matters and flatness. 

Jacqueline Gendel and Tim Lokiec, Houston Galeria 86, oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches

In Houston Galeria 86, Gendel collaborates with Tim Lokiec to create a scene of an artist painting an easel painting. The painter and the setting are in a kind of Matisse like space (maybe with a hint of Arshile Gorky), but the painting is grey and white. Maybe the painting is meant to be an inverted version of the world of the painter--grey where the painter's world is vibrant.

Jacqueline Gendel, Peter Labier and Tim Lokiec, Houston Galeria 85, 2013, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches

When I heard about this show and heard about the collaborative techniques, I was expecting something quite different than what I ultimately found. I guess I was expecting something brainier and less visual. Instead I was surprised with these explosions of paint. The collaboration was playful, and the painters seemed eager to pay homage to modernist forbears, particularly Matisse. His influence is almost overwhelming. Only a certain level of adolescent doodle "dumbness" keeps some of the pieces from being out-and-out pastiches. Instead what we have is a show that is making contradictory statements while pretending not to make any statement at all. It is casually compelling.



  1. Being in a show titled Bad Painting always bothered me. I considered my paintings to be very good. I thought OK.... Bad means Realllly Good! I knew they were unlike anything being done in NY. I thought that color field and minimalism were boring. My pictures came out of the folk art tradition and had Texas roots. They told a story. They were based on classical prototypes etc. They were aggressive as were their subjects. I never sought to play the Dumb card. Each had preliminary studies, drawings, watercolors and small paintings. I accept the label. Perhaps viewers still think I am a bad painter. Actually I am a Very Bad (Good) Painter.

    1. Obviously I wasn't there at the time (being preoccupied with my freshman year of high school) and I certainly can't speak to what Marsha Tucker was thinking, but I always took "bad" as being about a kind of ignoring of rules of composition, technique and/or subject matter that would qualify a painting as "tasteful" or "sophisticated." To me, that works in thinking of your work or CPLY's work. Like your Indian profiles--they seem kind of "dumb," but your repeated examination of the same subject, drawn so many ways, ends up giving it a kind of talismanic quality. Painting that is based on some kind of theory can come of as intellectual, for good or ill. But your painting (and these artists') don't feel that way at all. I don't feel like I'm being "instructed" when I look at them, whether that instruction is a matter of theory or a matter of good taste. So maybe that's how I would describe "dumb." I acknowledge that it's hard for it not to come off as an insult. It's not meant to be!

  2. just another form of art schoolish copying before an artist finds his or her voice. whatever.