Painting is to Art History as Jesus is to Easter Sunday – you can count on celebrating resurrection at least once a year. Painting never vanished and won’t (or theater, or reading books, or news reporting) so if you can’t refrain from being dramatic then at least be original. Vented.
The Fort Worth Central Library has a very fine group show called CONTEM?ORARIES: A Survey of 21st Century American Artists. While the subtitle implies a fame that these artists have not actually achieved and its declared purpose is “a long-term survey” of “caveman methods (i.e. painting, drawing and collage)”, don’t let the dramatic marketing deter you from looking. Here are artists who execute some seriously good stuff from a range of traditional mediums. That may not sound sexy, but art, like small children, is meant to be seen, not heard. A lot of it seems to be about Texas and nothing is better than that. Look:
Daniel Blagg’s landscapes are manufactured spaces and suggest the ominous urban Texas of hanging stoplights and lit-up billboards, filling a night sky like stars do in open country. Is it less beautiful than those open spaces? More human?
Two ambitious ongoing projects by Bruce Jordan, “Texas from the High Wire” and “NCHS Portrait Project,” are explained simply and compellingly in brief texts next to the work. They look like science projects done by a smart person (and might be exactly that). Landscape is the realm of the first, portraiture the realm of the other, but Jordan is unrestrained by the limitations of what has come before and lets his content build his forms. Many of the artists in CONTEM?ORARIES explore portraiture, but only Jordan’s photography/poetry hybrid and James Lassen’s self-portrait manage to make their subjects interesting people, interesting art.
In the context of the exhibition, Nancy Lamb’s crowded paintings appear tacky if not terrifying. Look longer and they are the loud fun in the library. Look closer and the pieces offer a meticulous obsession with the detail of every clothing crease, skin wrinkle, and dog hair (on a large standard man poodle, at that). Lamb’s work is not for beauty, solace, or the weak-hearted.
Speaking of obsession, Daniel Scott Jr. makes collages from candy wrappers, drink labels, gum wrappers, and tea labels. From a distance, his pieces look like pop art paintings, but they are painterly collages on a new and nearly unfathomable level.
The exhibition points out an interesting pressure on the creative complex, and I cannot tell if it’s the pressure to make art that is fresh and original or to promote art as being fresh and original. No curator is mentioned for this show, so to the Fort Worth Central Library in particular and artists in general, do not apologize for painting, drawing, or collage. Your work has honor.
CONTEM?ORARIES: A Survey of 21st Century American Artists runs through October 14, 2011, at the Fort Worth Central Library, with artists Daniel Blagg, Pat Gabriel, Jane Hansen, Sam Ivie, Jill Johnson, Bruce Jordan, Nancy Lamb, Leslie Lanzotti, James Lassen, Nathan Madrid, Daniel Scott Jr., Justine Stevens, Clint Stone, Elaine Taylor and Eric Stevens, who also served as curator.
Betsy Lewis is a writer who lives in Dallas and the 21st century.
Images courtesy of the respective artists.