There are few sidewalks in the Dallas Design District. Pedestrian art lovers mix with slow moving cars as they traverse the industrial buildings during the openings, which occur here every five weeks. That doesn’t bode well for the neighborhood generally, but doesn’t seem to matter during the openings.
Perhaps the most rewarding work on display last evening were paintings by James Zwadlo at Craighead-Green Gallery. On some level the paintings are like episodes of the Dukes of Hazzard, the same story played over and over, a story that somehow never tires. But on canvas, the possibilities are even more numerous. As figures- human, canine and bicycle- are arranged and rearranged against street patterns as seen from above.
Zwadlo says in his artist statement that he paints people represented realistically in an abstract urban space and that the aerial point of view is the point of the painting. The inspiration came from his time living in Manhattan, where the observed street activity is more constant, and the arrangements endless.
Drawing a human figure from above undoubtedly presents its own challenges, but Zwadlo has mastered it. This also seems to be a simple theme that can be repeated indefinitely. How interesting it would be to have a camera in the ceiling of the gallery looking down on art viewers.
A runner up last night was an installation work at Red Arrow Contemporary Fine Art Gallery. Seeing a moving image in the plate glass windows, I wondered if it was intended for me to go inside. It took some time to make sense of it. The video of the back end of a truck moving through a landscape was combined by silhouettes traveling across the storefront. The silhouettes were actually art patrons inside the gallery who unrealizingly become part of the installation as they move in front of the projector.
Like the figures in Zwadlo’s work, in some way, we are helping to create art as we go about our routine.
At Conduit Gallery, Measure by Annabel Daou includes dozens of text based drawings on mending tape. The language, both in English and Arabic, is based on Wheel of Fortune, which anchors our life into four directions: I shall reign, I reign, I have reigned, I am without a kingdom.
Here handwritten text makes up what the paint usually does for a picture. Although there is nothing spectacular about Daou’s calligraphy, she tears, unfurls or scrolls paper strips in a sensual way. To some extent, some drawings are almost like a feather-light sculpture, but reveal more about the process than their meanings. Maybe that is supposed to be. There is nothing wrong to be deliberately elusive, but what is not present is a communicative power that guides the intricate hands-on process into a lucid manifestation of fortune.
At Holly Johnson Gallery, Geoff Hippenstiel’s exhibition Murder Ballad marks the artist’s first solo show in Dallas. Hippenstiel’s abstraction paintings are firmly rooted in reality (such as skeletons, human portraits or landscapes), but what empowers them is the translucent and vibrant paint surface. Granted, any realism artworks, at a microscopic level, would look rather abstract. But Hippenstiel achieves the depth through using an array of unusual materials: wax, enamel, metallic paint, industrial paint and even spray paint in grand gestural movements. The wax, hulking like an ocean wave at some places, still retains its diaphanous quality to reveal the layers below. The gold paint shines with a smothering despair against a pure black.
I was constantly pulled in and out between what is presented as a whole and what is expressed on the surface. Regardless abstract vs. realism, these invigorating pictures please the eyes. And best of all, I don’t have to read.