San Antonio Never Disappoints

sala_diaz1Last week, in between installing my exhibition at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center and attending the openings for that show, I was able to visit a number of galleries in San Antonio. As I had experienced in my four previous trips to San Antonio, I found a lively art scene fueled by a proud community of hard-working artists, gallerists, curators, and directors supported by a good number of critical publications, city officials, and enthusiastic collectors. Make yourself available for a First Friday and you'll be amazed by the four or five thousand visitors that will pass through just about every art space in the downtown area. Given my time restraints during my most recent visit, I will limit my comments to a small sampling of shows.

One of my favorite galleries in San Antonio is Sala Diaz. This exceptional artist-run gallery, which spreads across half of the first floor of an old, modest house, is principally watched over by none other than noted artist Chuck Ramirez. There, I saw Margaret Craig’s installation Growing Things [above], a glistening network of translucent shapes that worked their way around and through the inside walls of the gallery like some incredibly adaptable alien life form. The texture and look of the work was somewhere between mother of pearl and a tediously made, biomorphically based drawing that blossomed and billowed through holes in the walls and from a small selection of everyday objects on shelves. Upon closer inspection, I could see the layers of lines and colors on various materials that gave it all an obsessive, visceral presence. Like the way fungus can grow and colonize dead tissue, this show will enter your subconscious through an emotional port somewhere just outside your peripheral vision.

humantorch_pinzon-trinity.jpgNext, the show at Trinity University’s Art Gallery in the Dicke Art Building was curiously edgy. At first, I was not sure if what I was seeing was an artist taking advantage of her subjects. However, I understand each subject was a friend of the artist, and a willing participant. You see, what photographer Dulce Pinzón had done in her exhibition The True Story of Superheroes was to capture Mexican immigrant workers in various parts of New York City, dressed as superheroes. There was Spiderman washing windows on an upper floor of an office building, Cat Woman day-caring for two small children, and Superman delivering takeout on a bicycle. Maybe a silly approach at first, yet it did not take long for the strength of the work to come through. And this is a good way to go, because those first impressions lure you in so you spend that extra time to “get the work.”

What is so compelling about these color images? The costumed cohorts seem totally unaffected by their garb. They stand, ride, drive, and climb with complete indifference as their capes unfurl, their colored red faces reflect a burst of flame, or their green, oversized muscular arms support heavy boxes. Yet their dull, lower income jobs could not be livened up or changed by anything, including the full-blown Halloween costumes, making one think that if they control and reduce the conscious levels of their plight, then it is easier to deal with. This way, they can better separate themselves from the reality in order to be content enough to go on. This is most evident in the deadpan expressions of each person captured on film, and the straight-on approach the artist takes to record the imagery, which in a way makes the work iconic.

three_walls2Over at another artist-run space, Three Walls, I found an installation by Josh Welker titled Can You Pay the Gas Bill? The question in the title seemed arbitrary to me, since it had no apparent connection to the art, unless you consider its thought-provoking tone as a connection. The art offered in the show consisted of two short, wide “walls” comprised of recycled wood, sheet rock, screws, and poured plaster. There are also three pedestals in different stages of practicality, and four wall sculptures made of U-, Y-, and F-shaped wood. Nothing is too precise; you can even call the artist purposefully sloppy or casual in his handiwork. Yet the resulting art, with all its flaws, is quite lively and thought-provoking. On the largest wall of this tiny gallery hangs a fussy, haphazard drawing reminded me of a floor plan of an office building where too many people work in absurdly small stations. In piecing together all the divergent exhibition elements, I thought of an inefficient and dysfunctional work setting where tentative employees create underfunded objects that never reach a useful or functional size, state, or shape. This brings to mind the very core of the infrastructure that supports our society, whether it be political, physical, or emotional: A potent message emanating from a thought-altering installation.

napurrula_UTSAOver at UTSA Art Gallery is the The Lam Collection of Aboriginal Art, a dynamic show that involves myth, ritual, and magic. Dream imagery is also a very big part of this type, as everything is linked to the land and nature. Aside from the more familiar works, such as the paintings on stringy bark and the staff-like sculptures of ancestral spirits known as Mimih, there are a good number of more unusual works by women that May Lam, who offers here collection here, has a wonderful eye for. There are the optically intense patterns in Ningura Napurrula’s “Untitled” (2005) [left], an acrylic on canvas painting that has intensely mesmerizing movement. “Kinyu” (2007), by Eubena Nampitjin, is a painting of an underground well, a subject of great import in the dessert. But the artist uses only warm colors – pinks, yellows, reds, and orange – to portray the subject, making the reference quite vague. I felt far more emotional content here, even the effects of hallucination, as if the artist’s eyes are seeing color as they are burned by harsh sunlight that leaves phantom after-colors that are contrasting and opposite. The technique in most Aboriginal art is carefully placed dots, but with “Kinyu,” I see a stabbing, twisting, color-mixing approach that must sound like a drum when the artist is painting. In a few choice spots in this work, there are doughnut shapes and distinct, thick swipes where it seems the artist is making edges. The multiple layering of paint is also different, as the artist struggles to both clarify and camouflage her subject in a way only she can totally understand. All this and more coming from a group of contemporary artists that have little or no connection to the rest of the art world. – D. Dominick Lombardi

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Mr. Lombardi is an artist, writer and curator. Shows include The Post Apocalyptic Tattoo: A Ten Year Survey of the Art of D. Dominick Lombardi, curated by Carol Kino at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center in San Antonio, TX; Deep Pop, curated by Andrew Michael Ford, at Kenneth Chapman Gallery @ Iona College in New Rochelle, NY; Tattoos and Graffoos, curated by John Pollard at ada gallery in Richmond, VA; The Post Apocalyptic Tattoo: Works by D. Dominick Lombardi at Gallery Milieu in Tokyo, Japan; and Bóm: How art can disrupt, reorient or destroy, curated by D. Dominick Lombardi at Galeria Janet Kurnatowski in Green Point, NY.

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