Jim Shrosbree’s “Out West” at Spellerberg Projects, Lockhart

by Neil Fauerso February 26, 2024
Installation view of works on paper on white walls and ceramics on pedestals

Installation view of “Out West” by Jim Shrosbree, on view at Spellerberg Projects

There are hundreds of small Texas towns that have a remarkably similar aesthetic and geography. They all have a little, stately town square with an august courthouse; a Last Picture Show-esque movie house now either closed or used as a theater to stage local productions of Oklahoma or The Music Man; a beglittered antique/junk shop called something like Quirky Obsessions that bafflingly remains open year after year. Some of these towns have charming histories (the Hogeye Festival in Elgin), many of them have chillingly dark pasts (there are literally dozens of towns with “hanging trees”). The heydays of these towns, if they had one, were the eight-year firecracker of normalcy from Elvis performing on Ed Sullivan to JFK being assassinated. Now, many of these towns have a bleak Gummo patina of “ruin porn,” except those that don’t.

Elgin, Dripping Springs, and especially Lockhart have been reborn in a candied simulacra by the same hip forces of gentrification that have already swept through most of the big cities. There are craft breweries and small plate restaurants adorned with tasteful branding riffs on the halcyon past. And, of course, there are art galleries. It’s all quite nice, if a bit uncanny. Guy Debord’s prescient concept in The Society of the Spectacle of society moving from being and doing to seeming is particularly apt. But just as dreaming is sometimes better than living, seeming can be more pleasurable than being. 

Drawing of red forms on paper

Jim Shrosbree, “Beautifully Level,” 2023, acrylic paint on heavy vellum, 30 x 42 inches

All this is to say that Lockhart is a perfect setting for Jim Shrosbree’s rollickingly electric show, Out West, at Spellerberg Projects. Shrosbree is mostly known as a gifted ceramicist whose colorful pottery is simultaneously tactile and imaginative, but his drawings and paintings hold a similar charge. This show consists of several large paintings on heavy vellum, several aura-glazed ceramics, and a wall of colorful drawings and small paintings. The paintings and drawings have a recurring motif of muscle cars and wide-open spaces. Shrosbree is using a familiar vocabulary. Artistic mythology of the West is as old as actual settlement of the West. From Frederic Remington and John Ford to John Baldessari, Cormac McCarthy, and Monte Hellman, it could be argued that the West is the ur American symbol — wild and foreboding, beautiful and desolate, existential and empty, tangible and elusive. 

Shrosbree’s clever riff is to situate “the car” as the central nervous system for an ineffable yet coherent dream hieroglyph. Using bold primary colors, Shrosbree depicts Rube Goldberg schematics of Western imagination. In Beach, a car is connected through circuit lines to other forms — a person taking a shower, a boot, a coat hanger, someone in recline. A story surrounded by ellipses forms in the mind. Shrosbree innately understands that the West can only be considered and never grasped, like a desert koan. 

Installation view of works on paper on white walls and ceramics on pedestals

Installation view of “Out West” by Jim Shrosbree, on view at Spellerberg Projects.

The wall of smaller drawings and paintings offers a headier ballast to the elegant, imagistic poetics of the larger pieces. Works of cars in desolate white spaces, under lonely gas station lights, in the dark, create a kind of flicker motion akin to driving long distances. Anyone whose driven across the country on Interstate 10 has probably had a moment somewhere in western New Mexico or Eastern California where the hypnotic monotony causes a dreamy déjà vu or even a sand-swept ego death. “Am I dead?” you wonder serenely and unbothered as you blur past the purgatory of Barstow. 

The ceramic works take on a particularly beguiling glisten surrounded by the paintings and drawings. Like all the best ceramicists, Shrosbree’s pots and jars feel as if they contain djinns waiting to be released to drift free. Connected with the larger paintings, they became canopic jars of the American body forever entombed in its manifest destiny. 

Drawing with red and black forms against a yellow background

Jim Shrosbree, “California Underfoothold,” 2023, acrylic paint with cord, on heavy vellum, 30 x 42 inches

It is refreshing that the show has such a light and energetic vibe — more True Stories than True West. The work has a bemused wisdom. As Shrosbree writes in his artist statement: 

“I find myself pulled into a process of looking and not looking, which could be correlated with covering and revealing, destroying and creating — things come apart and cohere at the same time. Largeness is compressed into small spaces.” Shrosbree is at peace with the eternal recurrence of the West; he flips The Shining’s haunted line “You have always been the caretaker” into a Zen glide. 

Spellerberg Projects is to be applauded for playing their small space in harmony with the show — creating a windowed, visual bon mot. It reminds me of soaking in motel hot springs in Truth Or Consequences, or the tarantulas scuttling across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge in Taos, or how even the most satanic and hideous casinos in Las Vegas shimmer like oyster shells at sunset. Sometimes the curtains billow open right as you drive by.


Jim Shrosbree: Out West is on view at Spellerberg Projects in Lockhart, Texas through March 2, 2024.

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