Texas

Texas

A group exhibition at the newly opened Cranfill Gallery includes two new works by George Green, a Dallas artist, whose handsome constructions and paintings seen last season at A Clean Well Lighted Place were exceptionally clean-cut competent exercises in perspective, when viewed on one level alone: how to present a three-dimensional wall construction as an illusionistic painting, taking into consideration color, value, edge—blurred or sharp, cast shadows, viewing vantage points; and then, how to paint it as two-dimensional, non-illusionistic surface painting, without giving up anything discovered in the constructions essential to painting. It was a methodical way of working, and the paintings turned out to be even more successful, especially remarkable in their symmetrical placements and disarming, unusual colors. Green is now constructing again, and again arriving successfully with the essentials, and a bit more.

One of his new pieces, a bas-relief, and a good semblance of a public men’s room wall fixture, is wood covered with fake-tile linoleum in glossy sweet bathroom green. From its interior wall, curving down to the base, is an unlikely, slowly plummeting adjunct covered with the same surface. The base on which the entire sculpture rests is vinyl floor tile in a duller, darker green. The curves and planes follow the high-relief tradition, holding to a human scale.

Green’s free-standing floor piece, again wood covered with the combination of linoleum and floor tile, is a slickly gross two-part form, bilaterally symmetrical, with distinct matching curves and flat planes. The separate part is a springing arch curving up, lengthwise, the center of the piece, its blocky upper edge providing the single break in the otherwise smooth junctures of surfaces. The dual curved forefront, like the base of a heart, lies flat on the floor, the curves echoed, but with variation, in the side planes of the vertical back prop upon which the attachment rests. The curved portions of the piece are uniformly covered with light yellow “tiled” linoleum, flecked with white, the flat surfaces with a larger checkerboard pattern of alternating yellow and brown vinyl tile, the yellow streaked with the brown and the brown with the yellow—the figure/ground interchange as common to flooring as to paintings, and, in Green’s style, a casual throwaway of a studious art problem. The sculptures maintain their objective solidity, the utilitarian and nonchalant coupling forms with their common surfaces ostensible offerings of homely accommodations.

But of course Green has never been homely, that’s as faked as the tile, as knowingly put-on as the associations. His inherent elegance, an instinct for what is fitting, is transmitted into the funky shapes and Pop materials to meet the requirements of sculpture that is at once delightfully nutty and attuned to the elite by the most keen of formal discriminations.

James Havard is holding his first one-man exhibition of vacuum-formed plexiglass paintings in an exhibition that is all purity and beauty, pretends nothing more, and, taken on its own assumptions,.provides a gentle absurdity in the annals of un-anxiety. The plexiglass has been covered with layers of pearlescent acrylic lacquer in special, lovely mixtures, over an iridescent white ground. The paintings rely on no extra constructive or sculptural devices; with simple, conservative formats, smooth even surfaces, thickness comparable to painting stretcher bars, nothing detracts from the surface. The lacquers are sprayed freely or over hand-held stencils to form fluctuating bands, chevrons, geometric divisions and spaces, with edges diffused and effaced by occasional shimmery drifts, so that patterns, faintly illusive in any case because of the luminosity and the light value range, slip away into a nacreous indeterminacy. The absurdity is the usual, obvious one: that these idealistic diversions should be utterly dependent upon the highly competitive industrial and commercial world for the materials by which we are so easily distracted from it, even to that ultra-refinement of custom car decor to make pollution classier. But the paradigm of opulence confirms it all. Havard is from Galveston, he studied at Sam Houston State College, with Chapman Kelley, and at the Pennsylvania Academy, a long way from the West Coast.

Just when you are on the verge of accepting the stagnation forecasts for mainstream painting, something smashing turns up, such as Pamela Joye’s entries. They have, in fact, such an immediate effect of power that it takes some studied viewing to get their basic intellectuality.

The paint itself, a heavy rubberized pigment, is literally weighty, canvas sags under it, so that the gravitational pull is not difficult to see. Its viscosity, with the consequential slow, flowing configurations of color and the massing and variation of depth, allows both weight and liquidity major roles in effecting the final painting. There is little personal gesture necessary, a point proven in one painting in which an errant sweep of bright green reveals the “painterly” and the hand of the artist with a rather shocking thinness and artificiality across the acceptable and natural lathers of paint. The surface of the paintings is indeed a topological survey of resilient relief, complete with crevasses, wrinkling skins, elastic slippages, that, under strong lighting, shines with the appearance of crumpled plastic.

Joye’s colors are an odd fusion of the “plastic” and the natural; even when confined to simple piebald black and white, the white is nearer ivory, detectable by casual strings of true white left here and there. In the black and white paintings the flow of the paint has a greater velocity and the fluid configurations are freer, quicker. Colors, when employed, are primarily pastels, but “off” clay and flesh tones, not quite ascribable tints between green and blue, with a few extremely dark, intense shades. The color alone could carry, optically, almost any reasonable placement. But Joye poses complex compositional problems with the colors, most apparently in a figure/ground, recession/projection series.

Project S/SW (Younger American Artists) is the introductory exhibition in a series undertaken to show the work of the region and to initiate an apparatus criticus for artists, students, gallery and museum people, and collectors, an admirable and sizable enterprise for the area to be included. An individual rather than a generic selection, the show’s axiom, if one may be at all fairly surmised, might be, only be allusive if your form has an unrealistic cutting edge, don’t be painterly and allusive unless you’re into irony and be careful about that, all right to be “concerned” if you’re involved solely with materials, but remain detached where people figure. Concomitants might include applause for the right to be derivative, to live it up with “bankrupt” styles, recognizing flatly that first is not to be equated with best, that first is still an episode on a time scale and best a quality on a value scale and neither need be confused with virtue; and no further laments about the temerity to be inconsistent—everybody’s free to change his mind and his course, to be, if he chooses, absolutely indifferent to what he happened to be yesterday. In fact, irreconcilable change is as laudable as that time honored trudging step by step and more relevant today in any case; and it’s so essential to be relevant.

Alphabetically then: Barry Buxkamper, Houston; Vernon Fisher, Sherman; Robert Gordy, New Orleans; John Halpin, Austin; Richard Mock, Roswell; Gene Owens, Fort Worth; Jim Roche, Dallas; luergen Strunck, Dallas; Robert Wade, Cedar Hill; Bill Wiman, Commerce.

Barry Buxkamper’s art is about culture: as lack Richardson has written, “. . . art has worn out so many of the details of life. . . .” And nothing’s sacred to such a farceur. He takes on the quasi-sanctimonious in both style and subject; not quite like Lichtenstein, he clarifies style not to criticize an original visual object but to criticize a prevalent notion or commonly ingrained vision of an object. The immediate concept of his irony is of subject (mostly Western, here) given the full stylistic treatment as a means for animating its validity—which likely might be also its most incongruous aspect—stripping it of affectations, with no apostasy intended.

The interior of Radio City Music Hall has been summoned for the disposition of some considerable modern work, but perhaps no artist has appropriated that decor more openly and exuberantly in a painting style than Robert Gordy, whose inclination towards the Grand Foyer is equalled only by his attraction to the gothic, Southern scene. He combines figurative, landscape, and geometric motifs in a manner that might recall Léger’s tubular forms, essential outlines, and equalizing treatment, excepting the palpable volume and physical solidity of Léger, as Gordy’s is a surface style entirely, and therefore, consciously decorative. But his contours are themselves a motif as well as a method—those paralleled, shaded bands reiterating form, circumscribing his disporting figures in increasingly congested space, within and without the forms.

Of all the S/SW artists, Gordy has probably established the widest reputation outside his region, and perhaps, in part, this is why: he takes a very fashionably-timely decorative style, elaborates its qualities with a flair which eventually amounts to a style of style, knowing well that what he has taken has enough going for it to withstand such a barrage, rococo with a vengeance. This same superannuated attention dwells less detectably upon the grotesque—the truncated nudes, the indolent gestures—a narcissistic, effete cachet in which the style, edging towards the degenerate, in this instance is a suitable correlative of that universally accepted affliction of the Deep South. Of course, this is undeniably an ingredient of the lure, both of manner and of subject.

John Halpin is surely dealing with facts, historical and material facts, whatever the labels, and with salutary effects. As anti-theoretical a painter as one could hope to find, he manipulates his materials, churning up a significant amount of possibility in paint handling: soak to slab, shiny to matte, exploring saturations, intensities, the bounce of colors off one another or their slippery co-mingling, the gamut of non-objective, fluid, warm painting. Such slight retardataire tendencies seem an asset, enough so that when so much is anticipated through our Abstract Expressionist conditioning, as surprises occur there is inevitably a sense of satisfaction in their recognition as one of the family, and in their acceptance, because their offerings are truly gratuities. The artist and the viewer seem to be in collusion, sharing old insights in new ways, sliding easily from one formal “problem” to another: thus figure/ground, drawing/color field, edge/space, symmetry/composing present no impediments, and we can relax in the company of issues that appear no longer in demand.

Halpin’s is surely an art that wants to sustain itself through liberating the full arsenal of formal means at hand into a qualitative life of its own, a permissive but substantial art, perhaps even a new romanticism, the arrow this time aimed at an object, the painting, which has become the sole subject.

Richard Mock establishes a minor dialectic between the museum idea of the precious and encased and protected and the consumer’s accessible, packaged commodity, with the improbability in either case, that we are permitted to reach inside, fondle the debris, switch it about—your own meaty fetish or your own disposable, each according to his need. So we have this bit of machismo done up neatly with its overwrought problem: how far can you deviate and still have something acceptable as painting? Mock has resolved that one: his work is no longer painting, and with his settlement goes the theoretical inclination that allowed Dada associations to slink about the earlier, dubious classification. Having taken up the esoteric slack, Mock permits no illusions about what isn’t apparent, and we have the stuff itself with its projection of static visual eminence. Yet he is dealing in such shifty aberrations that what was doubtful as painting still is not quite credible either as theater or object.

His materials include solid, packed chunks so densely permeated with binder and pigment that color itself has become the structure; sheer open netting and impenetrable rubberized films variously skimmed and strafed with color—one a reseau for a kind of splotchy patina, the other the slick patina itself; and tethers. Mock thus delicately tracks a tightrope between color as discrete object and color whose property as substance is lost through cohesion with or absorption into fabric, when, regardless of its flimsiness, the material holds up as structure.

The membranous films and nets are visually anchored to the floor by the separate chunks of clotted pigment or literally riveted by power-lines which reach out succinctly to these chunks. As the lines pull out and down to secure the swag of a dark green tenting piece, partially camouflaged by dabs and streaks of warm color, they reach the clots on the floor, and, grounded, multiply to a dual spreading like quipus across the floor areas, claiming not only those spanned spaces, but the air space between the fixed lines and from the furthest tentacle tip to the wall on which the netting is espaliered. Mock permits crucial misconceptions about distance: here are things that, given the apparatus of informality, seem to invite, to require, proximity and touch, yet that are so tenaciously immobilized, so definitive, that there is a decided hesitation about encroaching on the staked-out ground.

Jim Roche’s Mama Plants sprout neatly from handy pots on tall segmented stalks or from the floor as massive thallophytic forms. Their imperial worth is upheld unerringly by their positions on lushly piled, round bathmats, an artless device that dignifies their innate voluptuousness. The potted Mamas rise on their proud stems, one very dark, striated and sectioned as sugar cane, the other banded with softly blended musky tones, as supports for a cumulative efflorescence of breasts. The floor Mamas are virtually great thighs burgeoning upward, laid across with continual horizontal strips, indented and stumbled with color. Depending upon the Mama, they are separated or constricted by vertical, sinuous bands, superimposed full-length, of lined erogenous furrows poked with slick, bright orifices. The breasts of the floor Mamas, generally less excessive in number, are rendered perhaps even more attentively, whorled with color and finished off with sleek, wheel-turned nipples. These Mamas, even the dumpling of the group, reach a peaked nub at the top, appropriate to lofty cult priestesses of certain Minoan or Ephesian lineage.

Bill Wiman, who has been exhibiting competent sculpture for years, is painting the movement of human form and human features. Avoiding the emotive power of flesh or the metaphysics of personal transformations, distinguished, say, from Bacon in the first instance, and, nearer home, from Hiram Williams, Wiman’s former teacher, in the latter, his is an optical analysis, highly detailed, coolly preconceived. His slow dissolves are actually topological studies. The flesh is gray, a neutral system of values, to steer away from any physiological associations, and the backgrounds are flat artificial green and lavender. Multi-images, a walking girl, a head with glasses turning, flow across the surface as the movement proceeds in an effluence of pattern. The appearance is that of intellectual measurement, movement as it is thought to look.

In a single man’s head one feels Wiman’s strongest grasp, because the motion has been stopped—at the precise oblique angle those who sit next to the wall in fairly wide movie theaters will find most familiar. Like a condensed type-face, compressed within its vertical format, the head provides an instant monosyllabic recognition. There is something irregular, of course, it is wrong, as if peered at, long-wise, through an astigmatic’s glasses, or as if taken in by a quick off-balanced side glance. Wiman mentioned employing certain traditional pictorial elements—illusionistic space, figures on ground, values—and avoiding others—composition, balancing. He mentioned his interest in locating fresh images rather than innovation—“too far from New York” over there in East Texas. That single head justifies his choices. Not simply a solution to a problem about movement, it claims the distinction of a distant distillation of object upon space, of an emblem which, although suppressed, happens also to be a man’s head, an apostrophic icon of formularized anonymity.

Martha Utterback