Saturday, March 29, 2014

Waxahachie Postscript

Robert Boyd

After Friday and Saturday in Dallas looking at art, you would think I'd be satiated. Wrong. I found out that a gallery I had heard good things about was open on Sunday. This was the Webb Gallery in Waxahachie, which is between DFW and Houston. So I programmed my car's navigation and headed there.


Ellis County courthouse

Waxahachie is the country seat of Ellis County and has a beautiful courthouse. (I kind of goosed up the "haunted house" look by adding an Instagram filter.) The town is pretty rural and has a population of a little over 21,000. The downtown is quite beautiful, but unfortunately it seems like most of the commerce takes place on highways in big box stores. Still, there were plenty of small businesses downtown. I ate at a nice Mexican family restaurant there. And then there's the Webb Gallery.


The Webb Gallery

Many small towns have antique stores and junk shops, and from the outside that's what Webb Gallery looks like. But it is something altogether different on the inside. The objects they have inside include outsider art, folk art, super-weird items picked up in flea markets, unclassifiable art by contemporary artists, lowbrow art, carnival art, etc. It is similar in some ways to Yard Dog in Austin, but much bigger (real estate in Waxahachie must be cheaper than on S. Congress Street). And the size of the gallery permits it to show some amazing large pieces.


The Webb Gallery interior

As befitting its merchandise, the Webb Gallery eschews the standard "white cube" model. It goes for clutter, and clutter encourages browsing and discovery. The gallery is owned by Bruce and Julie Webb, but unfortunately they were in Fort Worth for the day. Manning the store was Brian K. Scott, an artist from Dallas who worked part time here. He showed me some linoleum blocks (for printing) he had done that look incredible! I can't wait to see them printed.


Brian K. Scott and his linoleum blocks

Obviously Webb Gallery doesn't depend solely on the good people of Waxahachie for income. It needs collectors from Dallas and Fort Worth (and the occasional Houstonian like me) to make the trip. I assume that's why they are open on Sunday so they can catch these weekend day-trippers.


Webb Gallery interior

The current exhibit is called Big Hair and Sparkly Pants, a Texas-oriented group show. The contents ranged from Stanley Mouse rock posters for the 13th Floor Elevators to somewhat conceptual sculptures by great Texas songwriter/musician Joe Ely.


Joe Ely, The Songwriter

I also liked Ike E. Morgan's paintings of Sam Houston, which were displayed underneath his huge portraits of George Washington.


Ike E. Morgan, Sam Houston and George Washington

What made them work was not just the crude, Dubuffet-like paint handling (which is what caught my eye first) but the repetition. Morgan seems to fit the classical definition of "outsider" artist--self-taught and socially isolated (because of his mental illness). In this way, he resembles Adolf W├Âlfli or Martin Ramirez. I think there are a lot of problems with this definition of "outsider," and it's hard not to feel a whiff of exploitation with such artists. On the other hand, these paintings are great and Morgan appears to love doing them. The repetition of images may suggest some kind of OCD, but to me they seem completely congruent with how we actually view presidents and leaders like Washington and Sam Houston. Their images, by being repeated, turn them from people into icons. Andy Warhol certainly recognized this fact--why shouldn't Ike Morgan? (Intuitive Eye has a really good account of how performance artist Jim Pirtle first encountered Morgan and his art while working at the Austin State Hospital.)

Another artist included in the exhibit was Campbell Bosworth. Webb Gallery had several pieces by the Marfa woodcarver. I had a small piece by Bosworth already--a stack of drug money carved in soft wood and painted. But I had just gotten a bonus from my company and saw a Bosworth sculpture that was making me thirsty:


Campbell Bosworth, Thunderbird, the American Classic, 2012, carved wood

So I bought it. But I wasn't through browsing--as I said above, the cluttered nature of the gallery encourages searching through its nooks and crannies. I had noticed the large Charlie Stagg sculpture (see below).


Charlie Stagg sculpture

The price tag was a little rich for my blood, alas. And even if I could afford it, where would I display it? It's significantly taller than my ceiling. But as I continued to nose around the shelves, I came across this piece:


Charlie Stagg, small blue sculpture

This tiny desk-top sculpture used Stagg's standard triangular helix construction and then added an extra twist in on itself. Stagg (1940-2012) unlike Morgan could not be considered an outsider artist. He had a MFA from an elite art school (the Tyler School of Art at Temple University), taught art, was represented by East Coast galleries, etc. But in 1981, he moved back to his hometown of Vidor, Texas and started producing works like these as well as building his visionary art environment on a large wooded property his family owned. I had seen some of Stagg's work at AMSET, but was astonished to find it for sale in Waxahachie. The price couldn't be beat, either. So I ended up buying it, too.

After I bought these two pieces, Brian Scott pulled out the celebratory beers and we spent an hour or so chatting about Charlie Stagg and the art scene in Dallas while playing with the gallery's two dogs, who craved attention.


One of the Webb Gallery's guard dogs

That, I have to say, was the perfect gallery experience. If you're driving to Dallas or Fort Worth, swing by the Webb Gallery on the way. It's well worth the small detour.

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