Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Introducing Exu

Robert Boyd

A few months back, I wrote about my own personal writing crisis. Writing reviews of art shows just wasn't satisfying to me anymore. Obviously I haven't quit writing--I have written nine posts since then, but none have been reviews of art exhibits.

The problem is that I still see art in the galleries and artists spaces and museums that I love. I would like to share this love. I have an impulse to grab people by the lapels (even if they don't have lapels and even though I am opposed in principal to unsolicited lapel grabbing) and say, "Look at this!" People who follow me on Instagram know this. I frequently post photos of art I just seen and liked. (I'm ROBERTWBOYD2020 if you want to follow me there.)

Anyway, I think it was this impulse to share art I like that made me want to do my new project--a tabloid-sized newsprint art magazine called Exu. There are other things I could have done. I could have curated an exhibit, for example. But an exhibit lasts maybe a month, then it comes down, and not that many people see it--particularly if they live someplace else. I could have started a Tumblr. But while I look at images online constantly, there is something not quite satisfying for me about seeing them there. That was always a problem I had with this blog--I tried hard to show as many images as possible, but I wasn't particularly happy with the small, relatively lo-res images I reproduced.

My background is in print publishing. Before I started the job I have now, that was my profession. I still buy lots of physical books, especially books that have a visual component--art books and comics. I could get them on Kindle or another electronic delivery systems, but for the reasons above, I don't find that particularly satisfying. (I read plenty of all-prose books electronically, though. I'm not a luddite.)

So what I wanted to do was to publish something (IRL as they say) that would show the artwork I liked in a large format. I didn't want to do it the way art magazines like Artforum or, locally, Arts+Culture do--a small picture surrounded by type. I wanted the image to be everything. I wanted it to take up the whole page, or as much as it could. If there is a magazine that embodies this concept, I'd say it's Toilet Paper, the art magazine published by Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari--page after page of images with nary a word among them.

I picked the newspaper tabloid format because it's large and because tabloids have a tradition of eye-catching graphics and, well, lapel-grabbing stories. That made me think I wanted there to be narrative content in my magazine. The pictures should tell stories, or at least imply them. So that ruled out abstract images (although in the end, I have one pure abstraction and one word-based image). Then I decided that the narrative could also be prose. I was specifically thinking about literary nonfiction and great magazine writing. So I contacted some writers I know and commissioned some prose. And since we're talking about narrative, the visual printed artistic medium that best exemplifies narrative is comics. I don't know that many Houston cartoonists--it's not a hotbed like of great cartoonists like Seattle or New York. But I contacted the ones I know for a few pages of comics.

The name Exu was inspired by a work of art I saw in Chasity Porter's Dormalou Project (a mobile art gallery). She had a show up of work by Anthony Suber called Archaic Habit. It was a cool show that mixed contemporary African-American pop culture and rootsy African culture seamlessly (and humorously in some cases). One of the works had the word "Eshu" in the title. Eshu is a Yoruban orisha, or deity. I was more familiar with the Portuguese spelling, Exu. In Brazil, Exu is in the pantheon of the syncretic religion of Candomble. He is the god of the crossroads--you invoke him to help you make decisions. I lived in Brazil for a while and I had a statuette of Exu. In Brazil, Exu is identified visually with the Devil. (All the other Orishas are identified with Catholic Saints.) My cheap ceramic statue was a rather old-fashioned representation of the devil--pointy beard, horns, all red.

I realized that Exu looked a lot like Pan. It's said that the modern image of the devil was a result of medieval Italian farmers plowing up old statuettes of Pan, becoming frightened, calling the parish priest who would then associate this horned, goat-footed idol with the devil. I don't know if this story is true, but the resemblance of Pan to images of the devil are undeniable. It pleased me to think that the visual image of Pan migrated to the visual image of the devil who then migrated to Exu, a god that was exported from Nigeria in the holds of Portuguese slave ships. It seemed to me that although Pan and Exu were too very different deities, they had a certain mysterious connection over space and time. (I also liked that they both have three letters in their names.)

A cover idea featuring art by Ike Morgan

So Exu it was. (Exu is pronounced "EY-shoo", by the way). My next task was to pick artists. I knew I wanted the art to be native 2-D art. No three-dimensional art (so no sculpture or installation) and no time-based art (so no film or video or performance). I wanted the transition from artwork to printed page to be as seamless and uncompromised as possible. But the world of 2-D art contains multitudes. The artists I chose had to be familiar to me. It would have been easy for me to simply pick my friends, but I wanted there to be an identifiable editorial vision here. Also, I wanted to pick artists from a variety of genres, styles, schools, media, etc. Many of these artists are unlikely to have ever met one-another, but here in Exu, they can share a space. I want Exu to be a kind of secular artistic sacra conversazione.

So we have street art next to "outsider" art next to MFA art. There's painting, drawing, printmaking and photography. I worked hard at being aware of various artistic traditions and looking at all of them. I'm haunted by the notion that there are great artists out there who I just don't know about. And there were people I wanted to include but for various reasons could not--I couldn't find a way to communicate with them, we couldn't agree on of piece to publish, or most often I just lost the thread as I got busy with other artists.

In the end, here's who is in Exu: Trenton Doyle Hancock, Kelly Alison, Seth Alverson, Debra Barrera, JooYoung Choi, Jamal Cyrus, Bill Daniel, Nicky Davis, Nathaniel Donnett, Matthew Guest, the Amazing Hancock Brothers, Hillerbrand+Magsamen, Perry House, John Hovig, Galina Kurlat, Emily Peacock, Fernando Ramirez, Sophie Roach, Christopher Sperandio, Jason Villegas and InĂ©s Estrada. These are the writers I've included: Great God Pan Is Dead veteran Dean Liscum, Pete Gershon, John Nova Lomax, Jim Pirtle and a piece by the late, great Sig Byrd. And Exu includes the following cartoonists: Mack White, Scott Gilbert, Sarah Welch and Brett Hollis. And the cover is by Ike Morgan. Most of these artists are located in Houston and vicinity, with some from San Antonio, Austin, Waco and DFW (and two expatriate Houstonians in New York).

I'm running an Indiegogo campaign for Exu right now. The purpose is not so much to raise money (even though money is nice!) but to pre-sell copies. Please take a look. And scroll down to see some of the art that will be featured, much larger and in higher resolution, in Exu.

Seth Alverson

Nathaniel Donnett

Fernando Ramirez

Scott Gilbert

the Amazing Hancock Brothers


Galina Kurlat

Ike Morgan

Emily Peacock

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