[Sponsored] Landscape Redux: Malou Flato at Davis Gallery, Austin

by Glasstire February 18, 2024

A good artist strives for perfection, but a great artist refines their craft endlessly. For Malou Flato, her 40 years as a painter has offered ample opportunities to rework her signature subjects. In Greatest Hits, her upcoming solo show at Davis Gallery in Austin, Flato revisited ten of her most renowned acrylic paintings and re-rendered them in oil. Simultaneously reflecting on her illustrious career and fleshing out her evolving practice, Flato takes to canvas the subject she knows best: Texas. 

An oil painting of a close-up of yellow and orange leaves and flowers.

Malou Flato, “Aspen and Corral,” 2024, oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches

Flato is as quintessentially Texan as the Bluebonnets that she brings to life with the flick of her wrist. Born in Corpus Christi in 1953, she has pursued various creative disciplines throughout life. As Flato mastered her artistic practice, perfecting her idiosyncratic technique of painting in acrylic on Japanese paper applied to canvas, her ability to capture the essence of Texas’ landscape has garnered high praise. Her work occupies the private collections of many famed Texans, such as former Texas Governor Ann Richards and H-E-B’s Charles Butt. Flato’s paintings can be found across the state, and even in the U.S. Embassy in Sweden (serving as an antidote to homesickness). In this exhibition, Flato takes just a sample of her oeuvre to expand upon her work (literally), enhancing it to a larger scale and experimenting with a different medium.

An oil painting of a close-up of red and white flowers.

Malou Flato, “Dogwood and Azalea,” 2024, oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches

All ten paintings featured in Greatest Hits clock in at the same size, 60 x 72 inches. While the oil paintings seem cooler-toned than their acrylic counterparts, the change in medium does not pose a stylistic diversion. Instead, the show as a whole exemplifies Flato’s ability to capture the phenomenological experience of being among the Texas landscape, as if she’s channeling the perspective of an observant hiker or nature lover. The artist does this effectively because she is both. With studios at her Austin home and at her great-grandfather’s ranch in Edwards County, Flato is rich with fruitful inspiration from her surroundings. Rather than replicating the expansiveness of the landscape, Flato keeps her compositions tightly-cropped, focusing on miniscule minglings among the flora that catch one’s eye, placing the audience’s point of view right alongside her own. Flato honors the scenes with astonishing accuracy by striking a balance between photorealist precision and painterly delicacy. The resulting layers of texture, color, and light dapplings provide visual context about the subject while also obscuring it. 

An oil painting of a close-up of Bluebonnet flowers.

Malou Flato, “Bluebonnets,” 2024, oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches

In Bluebonnets, clusters of the State Flower fill the canvas entirely. Fields of blue, green, and red, diluted to resemble the consistency of watercolor more so than oil, bleed together. The painting looks like a hyperdetailed sequel to Helen Frankethaler’s The Bay. Similar to Frankethaler’s poured paintings, suspending the work’s title as a prescriptive subject enables viewers to surrender to its formal qualities, letting the piece wash over one’s senses. Enhancing the Bluebonnets to a larger-than-life scale, too, further stylizes their form. Brown and black speckles peak through the thicket toward the bottom of the canvas, offering some perspective navigation, but only vaguely, since the density nullifies any sense of depth or direction. Flato’s compositional choices provide a lens for highlighting the abstract forms that are inherent to the natural world, and by concentrating on just a snippet of the landscape, she also magnifies the ecological intricacies at play.

An oil painting of a close-up of cacti with fruit.

Malou Flato, “Texas Cactus,” 2024, oil on canvas 60 x 72 inches

In Texas Cactus, a prickly pear cactus in varying states of bloom engulfs the canvas. The protruding paddles bathe in the hot sun across their contours, revealing how the plant’s texture ranges from freshly-birthed blooms to decaying nopales. By capturing the native plant’s life cycle, Flato offers us a memento mori. Though life is ubiquitous, we often overlook the the microscopic niches required to sustain it. Flato magnifies these smaller components within the larger ecological system. This prickly pear cactus is just one organism that supports a greater life cycle, which allows us to walk by and admire those thorny blossoms; it is part of an even larger geological timescale that surpasses our current blip of human habitation. Flato’s eye for intimate scenes within an expansive landscape allude to as much as she opts to leave unseen, planting wonder in the minds of her viewers about the macro workings that keep our land beautiful, and thus, habitable, from the soil to the sky. 

An oil painting of a close-up of red flowers.

Malou Flato, “Claret Cup,” 2024, oil on canvas 60 x 72 in

Greatest Hits, even in its title, suggests a sort of retrospective of Flato’s career, but the new oil series proves that she’s just hitting another stride. Honing in on her most admired subjects, Flato fleshes out her ability to capture the vibrancy of the Texas landscape. Celebrating its uniquely diverse terrain while ceaselessly instilling awe in her viewers, Flato finds new perspectives of this land that we all know and love. 


Greatest Hits will be on view at Davis Gallery in Austin from March 2 to April 6, 2024.

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