In the spirit of diving headfirst into the waters of drastic change, my initial foray into Austin, Texas’ world of fine art began at The Lora Reynolds Gallery in mid-March, where Mr. Tom Molloy was speaking at the opening reception for his new exhibition, entitled “Lucid”. You see, being a low artisan of the nightclub ‘business’ of music, one might think I would start with the dip of the figurative lil’ piggies in the tepid inches of a kiddie pool…say, ease my way into this art blogging action with a loony rock and roll trip to an eastside absurdist joint like Okay Mountain. Instead, I make my first visit to one of the few (if not the only, as stated by Tribeza magazine in 2007) international contemporary galleries in the city, owned by a woman whose pedigree in London and New York kept Warhol, De Kooning, Pollock, Lichtenstein, Koons and more as its more recognizable exhibitors.
Barkeep, bring me the Tall Order! What the hell. I want the really good swill from the gate, I thought. I’d been reminded by a friend earlier in the day that Ms. Reynolds was one of the few gallery owners in Austin whose reputation garnered from previous work most likely attracted the larger fine art world’s attention to Austin (much better known, for better or worse, for the loud amplifiers of our many, deserved guitar heroes, known and not-so-much-so). So, I looked forward to being gentlemanly and presentable while drinking white wine out of a plastic cup (and it’s worth mentioning, not so Tall – instead, the cups resembled moreso a transparent, Shriner’s hat with no tassel, and fit for an infant) and ambling formidably amongst the other onlookers, being impressed by the content of the gallery’s walls.
And on the technique front, color me that peachy glow of someone awestruck for certain. Most impressive is Molloy’s mastery of near-microscopic elements of pencil, as renderings of text, photographs, and even complex superimposed images are extraordinary in their infinitesimal exactitude. And as a distant but present subtext, the artist’s choice to work in a format so easily distorted or removed in its impermanence when symbolically addressing the wake of transformed perspectives in a post-9/11 America has a keen subtlety. One might say that there’s been a slow vanishing of things once weighted, perhaps even sacred, in our culture since that fateful day several years past now, and the transient nature of Molloy’s graphite on paper is a resonant subtlety, a nice hint at the potential layers to be explored here.
And yet, “Lucid”’s overall tone is just the opposite of his technical mastery, possessing an almost adolescent level of clunky, obvious angst more appropriate for a budding high school anarchist than an artist and educator with a 22-year span of exhibited work.
In a collection of drawings showcasing Molloy’s technique heralded earlier in this here critique, classic images of war violence – and if I’m not mistaken, all of them perpetrated by U.S. forces – are drawn as a superimposition over smutmag images of intercourse, cunnilingus, etc., suggesting, rather loudly, that violence is pornography and vice versa. Well, in a global culture of sensationalized images of objective sexuality and brutal carnage…uh, duh. And further, I struggle with the context of an Irishman pointing a critical finger at The United States’ imperialist attitudes and disastrous foreign policy, even if I do agree with his overall sentiment. Conversely, how would an Irish fine art audience respond to an American’s critique of the history of bloodshed in Belfast? While I strive to avoid the very nature of assumption, I’m going to go ahead and put the few chips I got on ‘Not well’…
In another group, U.S. currency is cut and pasted to form new words and images as well as commercial airliners crashing into The Twin Towers, among other things, all of them framed. First, the practice alone is hardly original, if downright antiquated. I first saw images of distorted dollar bills in my lowbrow realm almost 30 years years ago, on the cover of the American punk classic, “In God We Trust”, released by The Dead Kennedys in 1981, and I know it’s been done many times since in countless contexts by budding high school anarchists and, apparently, well funded visual artists showing in prestigious galleries. And more importantly, what does it mean? Is the intention to manipulate the currency into languages and images of violence to suggest that a global economy somehow contributes to a highly combustible environment when cultures and their divergent religious beliefs collide? Well…again, I say, duh. Is it too much for me to expect ideas of more resonance and depth from an artist who’s been showing since 1987? I don’t know, I’m new to this…
Which brings me to the b) consideration from above. The men and women at The Lora Reynolds Gallery struck me as veterans to the fine art world of Austin, well dressed and behaved individuals that talked about the art amongst themselves and each other in a sophisticated and intelligent manner, embroiled in highbrow discussion of the exhibit’s contents. And I thought, how does this work effect this audience? Or is the weight of this equation – or lack thereof – more about the component of a group of educated individuals talking at each other about an artist’s intention simply as the fuel for some social engine? And if it’s the latter, what does that say about the fine art world’s desensitivity to the very subjects that it’s attempting to address? While it pains me to say so, it whiffs ever-so-slightly of the kind of distance that’s far too customary of academic contexts. Hell, I’ll put it this way – If a tree falls in an art gallery and everyone’s busy being impressed by the hum of analysis, does anyone hear a call to action?
These problems of mine were further conflagrated to a confounding nature when the artist began to address the motivation in his work, which was nothing short of wholly presumptuous. Time and again, Mr. Molloy used the pronoun ‘we’ to explain ‘his’ perspective, which I took as either a cheap way to win a malleable audience or a dangerously egotistical assertion that everyone in the room saw things through his (the only?) lens, neither route being acceptable. Really? I thought that the whole point of art was for the maker to courageously share his or her original gaze through his or her chosen medium, and the ultimate beauty of the exchange being that the experience of the individual consuming the art colors and/or defines the work separate from the creator, with robust debate ensuing thereafter. Instead, it seemed that ‘we’ all agreed. Bah, humbug. No fun.
So, wowed by the ability but down-and-outed by symbolism from which I craved more depth, given the reputation of both the artist and the gallery.
One down, and so many more to go….