Shawne Major: Sew What? at the Galveston Arts Center, April 22 – July 9, 2023
Galveston Arts Center (GAC) Curator Dennis Nance and I used the word “topography” as we pored over Shawne Major’s heavily layered textile works, in which dense thickets of individual items are laid atop one another until the matrix (the netting) is completely obscured. As a result, their rectangular forms are warped in a way that denies the pristine surface of a painting or wooden panel. There are valleys of texture to be seen in this show; at times both sagging and tense, the works are built up on different meshes, like poultry netting. “It’s a cross section of about ten years of work,” Nance tells me, some of which has shown at Lawndale in Houston.
Nance observed that the pieces are all the scale of Major’s wingspan — her arms can only reach so far while attaching the multitude of rope, braids, and plastic bits. Indeed, working as much material as Major does would come up against some kind of limitation. The depth and weight of the piece create a sense of physicality, almost as if each work has a life of its own. “It’s like opening a drawer and sifting through a collection,” Nance tells me.
Major’s decision to create a whole artwork out of individual lines (power cables, rope, braided thread, jewelry) is a commitment to laborious, almost couture artistry. The exhibition features enough work that one can attempt to attribute a style or a sensibility to Major’s approach, but that endeavor usually fails when a stray item catches the eye. Airpods, plastic figurines, and eccentric jewelry fight with one another for the identity of the work. These compositions evince varying perspectives, like the kitschy past of costume jewelry, or the wasteful nature of consumer electronics such as the AirPods. These tapestries are not aiming for pictorial goals. Instead, they are vaults of things that used to sit dormant in a drawer somewhere. Now they live here, taking on a second life.
DUAL: It’s Called Fishin’, Not Catchin’ at the Galveston Arts Center, March 4 – May 28, 2023
Graffiti and fine artist DUAL has created a body of work which showcases fish in a few variations of abstraction. Some are relatively straightforward: splintered into slivers and painted to contrast against each other. Some feel more conceptual, as if the concept of fish is somehow second to the artist’s need to question form. Decorative painted elements on the wall emphasize the artist’s approach, lightly stringing the works together into an installation. It is fitting that a graffiti artist would have an eye for adorning the blank walls of a gallery, but I have yet to see someone do it in a way that evenly complements both graffiti and fine art sensibilities.
A collection of collages, which take a considerably more representational approach to marine life, sits on one wall, with bits of reflective plastic and tape depicting the menacing pincers of a crab and the adorable whiskers of a shrimp. The Galveston Art Center tasks itself with presenting quality artwork to its island population; maritime themes are bound to come about. This showing of aerosol paintings given space in a contemporary art gallery proves that there is plenty of room for work about the sea that can be exciting rather than typical.
James Beard & Sarah Welch: Murky Mirror at the Galveston Arts Center, March 4 – May 28, 2023
This show by Mystic Multiples (the creative project of printmaker James Beard and artist and illustrator Sarah Welch) is a display of speculative climate fiction. In previous projects on the same theme, the artist couple have made zines that show a future, drawn in ink, in which Houston is partially underwater, while the city itself has not been completely evacuated — there are still citizens living amongst the rising waters.
Welch’s drawings, which Beard reproduces using letterpress and risography, always approach the subject from a humble, slice-of-life narrative style, not unlike Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve series from the 1990s. The characters must contend with all manner of natural encroachment. In this exhibition, large panels of scenic muslin (a type of muslin for painting theatrical backdrops) present panoramic views of the overgrown byways of a semi-fictional Houston. An atmospheric installation of ceramic works sits on an altar in GAC’s adjacent Vault Gallery, a bank-vault-with-door-turned-exhibition-space. There are not any humans in this show, but the impulse to set the work within a relatable Texas milieu is here as usual: white and green coolers covered with burlap sacks serve as seating, making the room feel like a tailgate.
I recently have been taking as many light rail trips as possible, as part of ongoing research into the Texas metropolitan environment. The train lines of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit network connect far, disparate neighborhoods to a series of central stations downtown. Despite the constant rapid growth and development of Dallas, the outer stations on each line reveal just how forested the area remains. Taking the train enables seeing the environment more clearly than driving, which is made all the more interesting as buildings begin to drop off and trees take over. Riding a train out of the city and into the unknown is a placid, almost humbling experience. Murky Mirror, though it takes place in a different ecoregion of Texas, is a narrative framing of how our own lives are dynamic when placed in contrast to the form of nature. I appreciate the perspective.
All photos by William Sarradet. William Sarradet is the Assistant Editor for Glasstire.