Two weeks ago, I took a road trip to the coast to jury a student exhibition at Rockport Center for the Arts. I spent Saturday in downtown Corpus Christi which was deserted. Boarded-up, empty buildings dotted the urban landscape. I visited two galleries while in town. K Space featured intaglio prints by San Antonio artist Dennis Olsen. Entitled Samplings, Olsen uses a stippling mark-making process to create fictive portraits. He appropriates markings found on bank notes, repeating, expanding and transforming the marks into faces. Olsen does not pre-conceptualize the portraits, but works more intuitively, allowing the marks to form the character’s identity. Next to each portrait, written in pencil directly on the wall is a short blurb about the character’s life. For example in Zeno and Andrea (2010), the text reads “What a strange pair, their friends thought. How could Zeno love a sociopath like Andrea?” The text humanizes the portraits. The added narrative component compelled me to revisit the prints, looking for additional visual clues. I found myself more interested in Olsen’s process, rather than the end result. The idea of a portrait made from currency marks raises questions about how consumerism drives identity.
Islander Art Gallery is located in a strip mall and is part of Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Next door to a Family Dollar store, the gallery showcases student work and houses painting and sculpture studios for both undergraduate and graduate students. The gallery exhibition on display featured traditional painting and photography. I wondered why none of the students were making work responding to Dollar General or exploring commodity or consumption in their work. With 5+ Family Dollars in town, it seems like a vast untapped resource.
The trip’s highlight (besides filming at the site where Chipita Rodriguez was hanged) was the Rockport Center student exhibition. Overall the work, especially the sculpture was really strong and I had a very difficult time deciding winners. What impressed me most was the level of both conceptual and technical precision, executed with professional presentation. First place winner University of Dallas student Seth Trent’s sculpture Supporting Myself is a quiet but powerful meditation on both identity and labor. (How does one support oneself as an artist?) Made from a work shirt and concrete, the sculpture resonated with fragility and weightiness, presence and absence. Second place winner Texas A&M Corpus student Kevin Ramler explores absurdity in his DuChampian-inspired sculpture Bicycle Wheel Whistling Pipe Organ. It reminds me of the quirkiness of Tim Hawkinson’s sculptures/inventions. Third place went to Texas Tech student Anne Dela Rosa’s artist book Vargitimmen, inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 film. Beautifully constructed, the book employs diaristic text and abstract imagery to communicate love and loss. I also awarded some honorable mentions to two photographers, one painter and two other sculptors: UTA student Lindsey Brown, A&M Commerce student Ginger Cook, A&M Corpus student Sebastian Stoddart, Texas Tech student Jon Johnson and Houston Baptist University student Juan Aaron Castillo.
I could have awarded at least five more honorable mentions. The work was that good. It was also impressive to see how much the Rockport community supports students and education as evidenced by the generous cash awards and scholarships given.
Multi-media artist Colette Copeland recently relocated to Dallas from Philadelphia. She writes for Afterimage—Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism and Ceramics: Art and Perception Magazine. Her work can be found at www.colettecopeland.com.
I love Dennis Olsen’s work. Very expressive. Saw another work of his on http://www.mutualart.com . I dont know how to get the direct link, but you can search there. Really great.
I would like Ms. Copeland to know that the Islander Art Gallery did indeed use the Dollar General store next door last summer as inspiration for its “The Dollar Store Project”. For this show, artists were invited to create work with or inspired by items located in any dollar store. The core concept behind this show was that fine art can be created using everyday items, and the resulting artworks revealed the ingeniousness of the artists involved.