Even though North Texas had its 70th triple-digit-temperature day in 2011, no one would doubt it will get cooler in no time – not only weatherwise, but also culturally. On the first weekend of September when Dallasites can finally walk leisurely on the street, gallery openings were found everywhere from trendy uptown to Deep Ellum.
The first stop was Nasher Sculpture Garden for the opening of Seeing Things by Tony Craag. It’s the first exhibition by of the artist’s work in decades. Cragg is lauded for his innovative and varied forms, which draw upon the artist’s broad intellectual interests in science and literature, as well as an intuitive and emotional response to form and material.
Ro2 Art gallery had its opening reception for September Group Show on September 8th in West Village. It was not surprising to see hand-made jewelry displayed in the center on the Fashion Night Out day. I was first attracted by an etching by Marian Lefeld. Marian’s view of Venezuela, her homeland, is a gritty image of urban slums so densely packed that the form and space contract into an abstraction while individual shanty is reduced into raging lines of varied width.
Michael Francis’ works were appropriately placed nearby in which colors have been deliberately removed. Yet the two are far apart from the temperament. In Lefeld, the black ink has a disturbing power, while in Francis, both works (Obstructed Window and Washed Out) are painted within a narrow range of grays, nostalgia but serene. Rows of shanties have an unnatural suppressed order that calls for an inescapable disorderly outburst; yet the seemingly graphic lines in Francis’ works play harmoniously in values, directions, widths and solidity, all forming a convincing representation of humanized landscape that nature re-claims.
Obstructed Window challenges viewers to examine the intricate spacial relationship between obstruct and being obstructed. It reveals when colors are removed, the worn nature has its own beauty, in a way like an orderly chaos. There are few green patches, indicating the last leaves. Surprisingly, expressive as it may be, the addition of the only color pushes the picture away from representational.
Eric’s favorite is Daniel Birdsong’s Cream of Mushroom on the opposite side of the wall. Among Daniel’s other works, mostly collaged elements of different media, this small oil painting on board looks whimsically different. Any painter who paints a Campbell soup can could not escape the comparison with Andy Warhol. Here Daniel treated it as a realistic still life, not much different from some other larger-than-real donut paintings in the same show; yet he stripped off surroundings to almost bare. And to further defend his objectivity, he defiantly placed the soup can in the middle and lined the eyes at the can level. For me, the can seems to confront me and ask me the simple question: Will you look at me seriously this time?
On Friday night 500X had its new members’ show in Deep Ellum. The used-to-be warehouse district was dark and quiet at night. The air was hot. The gallery hotter and noisy. It retains a funky atmosphere, attracting a much broader demographic. It was there that we saw Michael Francis’ work again. Frankie’s Tunnel and Safe Passage require a much bigger space that even the gallery unfortunately cannot accommodate. It could either be the giant size or the siren music that the two paintings lack the intimacy that I have enjoyed at Ro2 gallery.
I almost squeezed to the front to see why a group of people trying to see a mirror before I realized that it was a setup by a performing artist, who rigorously faced the mirror during the whole time I was there. But the young crowd moved quickly. Seldom did one stay to watch her, and if one did, that’s through their own camera viewfinders.
Scott Hilton, the president of the 500X gallery, displayed several still life tintypes. What Francis failed in his big canvases seemed to re-ignite in those vintage cabinet-sized photos. It is hard to take photos of plants and flowers in B&W or vintage tone; yet in some photos, the branches and leaves are tangible and look crisp without losing subtlety.
Our last stop is at UT Dallas Centraltrak gallery for the opening reception for Liquid Analog by Houston native El Franco Lee II. El Franco has the talent to pack more drama into canvases than what even Spike Lee can do with a two-hour movie. Some paintings would have to be rated as NR if MPAA stepped in. But the artist is not shamed by the vibrant colors, the showy dress or the violence – many facets associated with African American life. Together with these action packed pictures, one experiences his anger, protest and resignation.
Nasher Sculpture Gallery, Seeing Things- Through January 8
UT Dallas Centraltrak — Liquid Analog, September 10 – Oct0ber 8, 2011
500X Gallery- Annual Member’s Show, September 10 – October 2, 2011
Ro2 Art Gallery – September Group Show, September 5 – September 23, 2011