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Dan Fabian at Apama Mackey Gallery

Dan Fabian spent the summer drawing, and drawing, and drawing. Apama Mackey’s containerized art gallery on the 11th St. art corridor is crowded with 37 witty pages that balance obtuse humor, pointed commentary, and precise, admirable pen-and-ink work.

In Mod Hermit Crab, Fabian pens a crisp illustration of the unlikely marriage between a crustacean and Houston’s Contemporary Art Museum. There’s content here: as a non-collecting institution, the CAMH is a disposable shell, temporarily housing (and confining or protecting) the artist/lobster within. In Fabian’s view, it’s a poor fit, but it vividly recalls the often-startling contrast between the ultra-constrained exterior and the often-prickly contents. It’s a steal at $200 and should be the CAMH’s new logo.

The Eighties is an example of Fabian at his most deadpan. A thicket if intersecting parallel lines that might be doodled on the margins of a telephone book is enlarged and refined into a curiously pathetic constructivist drawing. As a matter of fact, I think I remember it from Paul Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook. Fabian shares with Klee an introspective, playful surrealism. The eighties has been torn in half and discarded. Two fragments of that desperately self-conscious decade lie side by side like specimens on a microscope slide, their aimless pizzazz laid bare.


Fabian’s no-nonsense pen and ink style gets the job done and occasionally rises to sublime subtlety, such as the worried, knowing backward glance of Ghost Elephant‘s single solid eye, or the ragged, piratical wildness of the palm leaves in Jolly Roger: Olmec Head with Crossed Palms.

Fabian’s show is like the reptile house at the Houston zoo: each mostly empty sheet of paper contains an odd proposition: what if this- or this? With titles like punch lines, you circle the gallery matching captions to drawings with an occasional chuckle as if reading a Far Side anthology but Fabian’s natural modesty and gift for dry humor threatens to undersell his best work. Thinned out and untitled, the show would be less funny, but more thought provoking. Too-literal drawings like Right to Bear Arms and weaker drawings like Personal Cave With Personal Computer could be pared away, leaving a baker’s dozen of real zingers by one of the most consistently interesting artists in Houston.

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6 Responses

  1. Pat

    Dear Bill,
    Please educate others of us about the appeal and virtues of “pathetic” art. I (seriously) do not get the attraction and would like to be enlightened.

  2. Bill Davenport

    A serious question deserved a serious answer. for me, I suppose the attraction of pathetic art is pathos. I appreciate it when artists admit their frailties, their insecurities and their imperfections, because they seem more like me. Admittedly, like anything else, you can go to far, wallowing in fake self-abasement, but I guess I prefer that to bombast.

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