In the Studio: Ascendant Visualists

The separation between the runway and the white cube is porous...

Kate Stukenberg and Catherine D. Anspon
May 01, 2013

… and one always wants to know: What would a modern Georgia O’Keeffe wear? Or today’s Basquiat? Those are the questions posed to eight emerging Houston artists by PaperCity’s fashion editor Kate Stukenberg and arts editor Catherine D. Anspon. 

Black power, an M16 in bubblegum and portraits of gravitas: Robert Pruitt

 Because: He carries forward the legacy of Dr. John Biggers. This Texas Southern University grad — who holds an MFA from UT and was a Skowhegan artist in residence — catapulted to national renown thanks to dual appearances as a member of Otabenga Jones and as an individual artist in the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Pruitt, whose bubblegum-encased M16 sums up the power and prowess of his sculpture, is alternatively best known for sensitive conté, charcoal and silver-leaf portraits drawn on hand-dyed paper that document the African-American experience. 

Stay tuned — comic collaboration: After this spring’s solo at Miami project space General Audience Presents, Pruitt is readying for his September headliner at L.A. gallery Koplin Del Rio, where he’ll unveil new photographs, drawings and costumes for a comic-book collaboration with UH professor/graphic novelist Mat Johnson. Represented by Hooks-Epstein Gallery, Houston, and Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Los Angeles. 

Tomatoes, tutus and a childhood in East Texas: Nancy Douthey 

Because: One of the few artists who sashays into the performing arena, the fearless Douthey has enacted her haunting cathartic numbers slathered in peaches and sugar or after rolling in rotting tomatoes and flour while enrobed in a frothy tutu (the latter, seen this past January in Chicken Dinner Remix performed at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum in San Antonio). We’ve also been won over by her one-person theatrical dramas that address her small-town East Texas heritage, first glimpsed at alternative Houston incubator The Joanna. A founding member of the Performance Art Lab and a collaborator with Jacinda Russell on a girls’ photographic road trip that sized up male-artist earthworks (exhibited during FotoFest 2010 at powerhouse Texas Gallery), Douthey’s other obsessions include her alter ego, Tammy Faye.  

Next set — center stage Lawndale: Friday, May 10, Douthey’s cinematic sculpture and video are highlighted at the legendary Lawndale Art Center in Round Seven, the 2012-2013 artists in residence (through June 15).

Shirt labels, library volumes and modernism in dialogue: Joe Havel 

Because: The man at the top of the Glassell School of Art has stacked up a respected international career as a contemporary sculptor, including a turn in the Whitney Biennial 2000. And his exhibition this past winter at Hiram Butler Gallery, with its custom-commissioned shirt-collar labels aligned in a grid and columns of antique books cast in resin or clay, referenced masters of modernism Frank Stella and Constantin Brancusi. 

On the horizon — sculptures alfresco: While a suite of four drawings was just acquired by the Centre Pompidou, Havel is best known for his sculptures. Watch for two more outdoor works on the Houston landscape, including one sprouting in front of the CAMH. Represented by Hiram Butler Gallery, Houston; Talley Dunn Gallery, Dallas; Yvon Lambert Gallery, Paris; and Galerie Gabrielle Maubrie, Paris. 

Comic book meets personal cosmology: Trenton Doyle Hancock

Because: Just when you thought this former Core Fellow — one of the youngest Whitney Biennial participants ever — had done it all, the Paris, Texas-raised Hancock (alter ego: Torpedo Boy) scored another prestigious art award: the $30,000 Greenfield Prize.

Next stop — destination CAMH: TDH’s master plans include a 100-foot-long mural commission for Hermann Park; a Hermitage Residency in Florida (part of the Greenfield award, capped by a 2015 show at the Ringling Museum); and hopefully a Houston restaging of his epic Cult of Color: Call to Color, originally crafted for Ballet Austin (with elaborately articulated costumes and sets). But we’re most excited about his April 2014 solo show at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver, which begins at the beginning with Hancock’s extraordinary, cosmologic drawings. Represented by Talley Dunn Gallery, Dallas, and James Cohan Gallery, New York. 

Queen of slathered paint and not-so-cute taxidermy: Ann Wood

Because: She boldly confronts the construct of nature versus man, in decidedly nontraditional media. Wood’s darkly beguiling creations begin with thick-as-frosting paint slathered onto polyurethane foam animal forms used for taxidermy. In this vein, her giant pink-and-pistachio elk dripping faux blood stole the “Dirty Dozen” show at San Antonio’s Blue Star last December. We’re also enamored of her slightly sinister Baroque-style, six-foot-tall embroideries, which yet again question the domestication of flora and fauna.

Future — embroider-ama: After being selected for “Seven,” a survey of Houston’s best under-known emergents, at the Art League last fall, Wood makes her Dallas debut this July at Kirk Hopper Fine Art with a showing of her over-the-top needlework, while at Box 13 in town, her latest and greatest taxidermy takes a stand May 18 ­through June 22. Represented by Avis Frank Gallery, Houston. 

It’s all black and white, plus an occasional muscle car: Debra Barrera

Because: Her fresh and smart art practice, recently seen in a nearly sold-out solo at Moody Gallery and a concurrent site-specific endeavor for the Blaffer “Window Into Houston” series, begins with the basics: an outsized talent with graphite and a way with good, old-fashioned drawing. And, did we mention, Barrera’s ode to the Pennzoil Building, disguised as a work about shipping, stole the show at the inaugural Glasstire benefit auction.

On the drawing board — a curatorial turn: Barrera takes the curatorial reigns this spring, organizing the beguilingly titled “Daytime Television” at Paul Middendorf’s newly minted Gallery Homeland (through May 26), followed by a foray into printmaking this summer at Moody, in conjunction with Print Houston. In Fall 2014, watch for another much anticipated one-person at Moody Gallery. Represented by Moody Gallery, Houston. 

Environments, performances and participatory experiences: Molly Gochman

Because: Her now dismantled Commune on North is fondly remembered as an enchanting Alice in Wonderland/Robert Wilson remix of French 18th-century furniture and Astroturf, into which her own sculptures and photography were inserted. And the evolving “The Give-away Project,” with its performances melded with luxury goods that the audience got to shop and take home, was another
high point in the collective memory of Houston’s art history as the ultimate crowd experience.

Next stop — land art: We’re eagerly awaiting Gochman’s future proposals, especially a Braille work
for a Long Island beach that invokes the phrase “feel the heat,” rendered 80 feet long and spelled
out via metal containers and firepits to promote community and bonding. Another upcoming Braille concept involves phrases rendered in grassy berms that once were mere mounds of garbage.
Represented by Deborah Colton Gallery, Houston. 

The den mother of conceptualism: Thedra Cullar-Ledford

Because: Like a character on the silver screen, this flame-tressed artist has a dual identity: She is both
the creator of surprising conceptual sculptures (frosted tire, anyone, or a dress made of socialite pics from the pages of PaperCity) and also the fictive bad boy Wolfgang Fletcher, a photo-collage artist of strange identity and questionable artistic practice.

On the horizon — hens calling: This provocateur always keeps us guessing. At her brave new dealer, Wolfgang will make his Avis Frank debut in the gallery’s walk-in freezer turned exhibition space on Wednesday, May 15. At the artist’s shipping-container compound, Independence Art Studios, Vodka Friday bashes are legendary, and a chicken coop with a live webcam is planned — the chick stars are monikered after Houston’s most illustrious gala chairs. Represented by Avis Frank Gallery, Houston.