Camp Bosworth at Koelsch

Koelsch Gallery is just around the corner from my house. Although I've never visited their new location (until now), I watched with interest in 2006 as their steel building went up along the old railroad right-of-way at the entrance to the Heights. I was considering building something like it myself, and took a lot of photos.

It's been finished for a pair of years, and I finally made a visit as part of my ArtHouston circuit Saturday night. Finished, the gallery interior was nice, but disappointingly like a gallery- white walls, exposed trusses in the ceiling, and those vertical slit windows wedged into the corners of each room that architects use to create more wall space, the windows that ensure that the art on the walls is always backlit and hard to see. Lots of varnished construction-grade plywood furniture for that truth-to-materials look. I enjoyed the innovative use of different thicknesses of hardi-plank, laid vertically to create ribbed lines on the front surface of the building like the lines in the metal sides.

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The Cathedral of Art

Perhaps it's the combination of vertical ribs, white paint, and offset window mullions like stained glass, but The one-peak roof makes it look like a contemporary Catholic church: a clean cathedral. Ironically, it's set next to a very similar steel shed, a generic former warehouse, now painted shocking orange and used by Urban Jungle Self Defense.

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The Urban Jungle. I think those are leopard spots on the back wall.

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The art inside was anything but clean- folksy oversized whittlin' by Camp Bosworth, an ex-Dallas artist who now lives in Marfa. Bosworth has his exaggerated wild-and-wooly idiom down pat- machine guns, stacks of money, tequila bottles; he can take anything and hew it out of roughly faceted wood, paint it, then rub black into the cracks to create a synthetic aged patina that's funny but satisfying.

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B.C. Gilbert, Anvil

Much like fellow west Texan B. C. Gilbert, Bosworth's imagery is a catalog of the larger-than-life icons that symbolize the border to tourists from Japan. Both artists cast themselves as romantic outsiders: on their websites, Bosworth names himself the "sawdust poet", while Gilbert is a self-proclaimed "artist-drifter". Both see their gallery art as simply a freer, more idiosyncratic extension of their "bread and butter" work, making high-end custom crafts. 

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Bosworth's Bread and Butter

As befits a craftsman, Bosworth is thorough in his cornball fakery- the splintered wood in the handle of Retired Hammer is carefully carved, the aging is patently stage makeup- no one actually thinks Bosworth's objects are old any more than they think his pearl-handled revolver shoots real bullets.

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Bosworth's strength is as a caricaturist, but the still-life portraits of inert hardware that fill this show give his true talent little room to play. The best pieces in the show are a rack of little clay cartoon heads, each an exaggerated borderland character, mostly working-class, all male: they might be cowboys, truckers, roustabouts, but each head captures a vivid personality.

As a model for artistic survival here in the hinterlands, the overlapping artist/artisan gig seems to work. For years it has provided a rich source of imagery for artists who have made it big elsewhere like James Surls, and David Bates and for better or worse, it's still alive and well, living in West Texas.

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David Bates, White Roses, 2007

also by Bill Davenport

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One response to “Camp Bosworth at Koelsch”

  1. A few years ago, some wag in the New York press referred to David Bates’ style as “Marsden Hartley does Boys’ Life”.

    It still makes me laugh. Ouch.

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