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I like Lubbock on Top’s generous circle-the-wagons sense of community: if these artists weren’t all in Lubbock, they would never show together.

B. C. Gilbert, Milk and Honey

After loading the 80 pieces of dumb-ass (I mean this in a good way) pseudo-folk art by B.C. Gilbert, Jeff and Bryan Wheeler, and Franklin Ackerley into the fourteen foot Ryder rent-a-truck, there was space left over for 49 more pieces in miscellany of styles from another seven artists. It’s a long drive from Lubbock to Houston, and you don’t want to leave anyone out.

Thus Lubbock on Top neatly falls into two camps: a dreary “Lubbock showcase,” full of unexamined clichés, and the dominant “Lubbock aesthetic”: part dumbass brass, part folk pathos, part self-doubt, part genuine naiveté. It’s a purer strain of the same feisty provincial crudeness that we started with here in Houston, then overlaid with two decades of high falutin’ cosmopolitanizing.

You don’t have to drive to Lubbock to see Tina Fuentes’ tarry, overworked abstractions, full of aimless scrabblings and scufflings; James Porter’s crudely cast plaques, obscuring a mumbo-jumbo mythology behind patina and pockmarks; Sara Waters’ wall of oh-so-delicate rust stains, magically transforming an interesting natural process into a sentimental art gimmick; or Ken Dixon’s portentous, craft-proud altarpieces. Plenty of artists right here at home have fallen into these common pitfalls.

Bryan Wheeler, American Nuclear Family... mixed media on paper

Then there are a couple of odds and ends worth mentioning: the bloated flesh in James W. Johnson’s photoreal pictures has a greasy, tactile grotesqueness. The cute baseball kid in Andrew Martin’s Receiver 2 has the vulnerability of a baby seal asking for a clubbing. Hugh Gibbons’ Self Portraits are handsomely painted collections of curious objects which are suggestive enough to arouse interest, and possibly just deadpan enough to avoid heavy-handed symbolism.

Jeff Wheeler, both straight up and in diluted form as Franklin Ackerley, is the core of the show, embodying a folksy, slacker aesthetic overlaid with regionalisms: Sonic Burger and the virgin of Guadeloupe vie with dusty art historical references to articulate an isolated, introverted monologue, full of bad-boy posturing gnawed from beneath by darker issues. Crammed with low-intensity psychological drama, Wheeler’s apologetic drawings are sketched and colored on plain paper and mounted in an odd collection of thrift store frames which make them seem like art without implying they’re anything special. That’s lucky; because they’re very uneven: studded with cheap shots (Jesus at Macdonald’s) and aimless psychedelic noodling. Underlying Jeff Wheeler’s naive pose is real naiveté, which explains Wheeler’s collaboration with James Porter, under the pseudonym Franklin Ackerley. In each Franklin Ackerley piece a fresh, weird Wheeler work is manhandled and obscured by Porter’s self-consciously grubby charcoal drawing.

Jeffrey Wheeler, Picasso (detail)

Lubbock, as portrayed by Bryan Wheeler, is an empty plain scattered with fast food franchises, cold-war era waitresses, and illustrations from old art history textbooks. Wheeler studied that book well; his abruptly collaged images are a catalog of mid-century shticks: Warhol paint by numbers, Johns targets, Ruscha minimalist gas stations, overlaid with campy tracings of iconic 50’s bikini chicks and military hardware. Yet it’s not about media overload; each of Wheeler’s pictures juxtaposes two basic elements to hint at a shopworn, inarticulate satire. In American Nuclear Family, a man in an isolation suit guards a woman and child. Behind them is an empty orange plain spotted with hamburger signs. If you make the effort, you can come up with a blazing insight like: “How ironic! Those people eat fast food yet they fear contamination,” but it’s not worth the trouble.

B. C. Gilbert makes inventive use of the hackneyed paraphernalia of cowboy culture, studding his sloppy, colorful figuration with horseshoes, cowboys, ropes and the like. It’s barbecue art, and proud of it. I wonder how this would go over in France or Japan. It’s got the ropin’, ridin’, and gunplay a stereotypical Texas art should have, and from a little cultural distance its vivid, tacky goofiness would be better than authentic culture as a vehicle for fantasy. What makes Gilbert’s work better than a barbed wire collection is its self-deprecating sense of fun: its silliness is itself typically Texan, and authentic. It’s horrible, kitschy stuff, yet near perfection: making it “better” by giving it deeper insight or genuine sentiment would ruin it.

Lubbock on Top is on view at Gallery 101 through November 13, 2003. For information call (713) 802-9467.

Images courtesy the artists.

Bill Davenport is an artist and writer, and was the first contributor to Glasstire.

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