Focus: Suzanne Paul: A Snapshot of Artist James Surls

I’ve really become quite taken with the life and career of James Surls and his thoughts on experimental and alternative arts venues. He’s in a number of Suzanne Paul’s images documenting various social events and scenes.

Photo © Suzanne Paul, James Surls and Charmaine Locke and friend at the home of Marilyn Oshman, Circa 1978, 35mm b/w negative
Photo © Suzanne Paul, James Surls and Charmaine Locke and friend at the home of Marilyn Oshman, Circa 1978, 35mm b/w negative

Not only is he one of the most preeminent artists that the state of Texas has produced, Bue James Surls has helped to shape the artistic happenings in this city for, now, more than one generation and plans to continue.

The phrase “tried and true” comes to mind. He’s definitely “one of our own.” Born in East Texas, James Surls has long been held as a respected artist and dynamic art educator. He earned a B.S. at Sam Houston State College, and an M.F.A. at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

As a sculpture instructor at the University of Houston he founded the Lawndale Alternative Space for Art in 1979, today Houston’s Lawndale Art Center, and championed alternative and experimental processes and approaches to art-making.

At the time of its founding, Surls created an exhibition area within the Lawndale warehouse and programming soon-after expanded to incorporate a strong program of performances by artists in the local community and beyond.

Through the early 1980s, Lawndale operated as a university-sponsored space. Performance art and music shows drew audiences that loved the club-scene atmosphere. By 1989 the university was no longer able to support the space and the organization was forced to evolve into the independent organization which exists today.

As an artist, Surls’s output ranges from pencil drawings and prints to monumental steel and bronze sculptures and he continues to lecture about art around the country. He has been at the forefront of the contemporary sculpture scene for decades and has exhibited at the Whitney Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as in numerous international venues and dozens of Texas museums. His works are in the collections of major museums including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art.

During his career Surls, with his wife Charmaine, founded an artist’s compound where they established their artists’ studios in Splendora, Texas — this space has been recently reactivated and an active program of arts in the remote location is in the works with the next event planned for February of this year. I’d recommend reading more about it and the Surls’s legacy here.

 

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Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 1.20.16

Focus: Suzanne Paul: A Snapshot of Artist James Surls

Focus: Suzanne Paul: A Snapshot of Artist Dorothy Hood

I’ve experienced the feast and famine, the waxing and waning, of audiences and art sales in my time working at Deborah Colton Gallery. Now, in my position working with the gallery more remotely and solely on this archival project, I can observe more clearly the public’s nuanced response to the gallery’s program and more broadly what role a commercial art gallery can have in the life of an artist and in an artistic community. I am observing that this gallery has strategically planned a program of exhibitions which operates as a mechanism for community outreach and philanthropic fundraising. This program also supports the advancement of the careers of the artists it represents – even posthumously – hence this archival endeavor.

What cannot be planned, however strategically, ambitiously, or cleverly, is the synergy and the serendipity that come into play unexpectedly, surprisingly, and in ways that seem to encourage one along – like a little memo of positive reinforcement from the universe that tells you you’re on the right track and that if you persist, you will certainly reap some benefit.

Last week I was reviewing images from color slides of Suzanne’s that I have scanned and came across one image, that somehow I had missed before, which struck me and connected what’s happening in Deborah Colton Gallery’s program of exhibitions with questions I’ve had in-mind while working on this project.

Here it is – Suzanne Paul’s capture of Dorothy Hood.

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Suzanne Paul, Artist Dorothy Hood, April 1986, 35mm color slide

The readership may or may not know that Dorothy Hood is riding a wave of momentum at the moment. A full-scale retrospective of her work just closed at the Art Museum of South Texas, and not accidentally, a solo presentation of select paintings by Dorothy Hood at Deborah Colton Gallery has just been extended through February. A wonderful monograph has been published, in an almost sold-out limited edition, to coincide with the museum exhibition— both presentations entitled “The Color of Being / El Color de Ser.

As one of the early Texas abstract artists, and one of the few female artists working in large-scale throughout the decades, Dorothy Hood led an adventurous life. Born in Bryan, Texas in 1918 and raised in Houston, she won a scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design and went on to study at the Art Students League in New York. On a whim, she drove a roadster to Mexico City with friends in 1941 for a two week tour and ended up staying for almost twenty years. Hood was front and center in the cultural, political, and social activity of Mexico and Latin America during a period of intense creative ferment. She developed close friendships with all the European exiles, Latin American surrealists, and Mexican social realists of the time — artists, composers, poets, playwrights, and revolutionary writers which influenced her art. In 1945, she married the famous Bolivian composer José María Velasco Maidana and they traveled the world.

It was upon returning to Houston in 1961, however, that Hood produced the epic paintings that evoked the limitless skies and psychic voids of space, years ahead of NASA images. Over the next four decades, she became a renowned and highly collected Texas painter whose works were spread across the United States. Her works are included in over 30 major museums throughout the United States, as well as the collections of many individuals, corporations and foundations. Upon Hood’s death from cancer in 2000, a major portion of the artist’s estate, including 1,017 works of art as well as her archives and studio contents, was acquired by the Art Museum of South Texas.

The experience of Hood’s work in person is breathtaking— emotive, and there’s a deeply felt hum of spirituality and wisdom in her work. I remember visiting the museum exhibition and wondering if Suzanne Paul had known her – if they were indeed contemporaries – or if they had even ever met.

Both artists seem to be to be very intuitive women – spiritual, forward thinking, ahead of their time.

Suzanne’s portraits dig deep into the person being photographed, so that the sitter’s essence – some quality beyond personality – is made known to the viewer. Dorothy’s paintings dig into the audience – so that some essence of the viewer is pulled forth and met with the power of her paintings. In either case – the magic happens at the moment of experience – in the interaction between objects of art and active viewing.

Earlier research into the archive at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston confirmed that Dorothy and Suzanne were indeed contemporaries – they were both featured artists in the CAMH’s 1979 exhibition FIRE!, curated by James Surls, and in the museum’s 1982/1983 exhibition IN OUR TIME: HOUSTON’S CONTEMPORARY ARTS MUSEUM 1948–1982.

The images above confirms for me that Dorothy and Suzanne did indeed know each other, and also suggests to me that Dorothy was more with-it – more accessible and more closely engaged with the artistic community in Houston— than I might have initially assumed. Here we see her bright and shining, in colorful garb, smiling and warmly received with deference.

This is perhaps not a groundbreaking image, but it does well to reinforce, in yet another instance, how relevant Suzanne’s collection of photography is and what a wonderful resource her photographs provide for those minds which do inquire…

We must give thanks to Dorothy Hood, for that her dedicated and supportive audience and collectorship, in visiting her exhibition at Deborah Colton Gallery, in many cases has now been introduced to this special project on Suzanne Paul’s photography. We must also celebrate the moments in which a gallery — whose mission is to create a forum for exchange among artists and audience — is able to so enjoy the confluence of strategy and serendipity toward the fulfillment of its mission, so that it can continue to support projects like this one.

 

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Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 1.20.16

Focus: Suzanne Paul: A Snapshot of Artist Dorothy Hood

Focus: Suzanne Paul: A Portrait of Artist Bert Long

One exhibition currently on view at Deborah Colton Gallery honors the career and legacy of Houston native and artist Bert L. Long, Jr, an artist most dedicated to his craft and beloved by this community. Entitled Bert Long: Looking for the Right Time, and curated by friend and historian Pete Gershon, this exhibition surveys the decades-long career of “one of the most talented, versatile, and prolific artists ever to hail from the state of Texas,” as Gershon puts it. “With his paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and photographs, he sought above all else to communicate with the viewer. Bert once said of his work, “I paint in order to help people understand their ills so that they might cure them.”

Bert Long passed away in 2014 and the Houston arts felt acutely the loss of one of its most passionate members. I met him once at the gallery and was utterly charmed by his sincerity and quick sense of humor. I gathered from that one and only interaction that Bert was able to see through facades to the true nature of a person. He and Suzanne share this discerning sensibility.

Suzanne Paul, portraits of Artist Bert L. Long, Jr, at an exhibition in New York, year unknown
Suzanne Paul, portraits of Artist Bert L. Long, Jr, at an exhibition in New York, year unknown

The images above, recently resurfaced, show Long’s artwork in a New York exhibition. Suzanne traveled with artists and peers and was able to capture these candid shots.

Bert, a self-taught artist, was born in 1940 in Texas, grew up the Houston’s historic Fifth Ward and received his formal education from UCLA. Following a career as a master chef Long decided to devote himself entirely to art in 1979. He began to explore folk art and assemblage to create a unique body of work, attracting the attention of Jim Harithas, then Director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and artists John Alexander, Salvatore Scarpitta and James Surls. His life spanned an era of radical change in the American social climate, the influence of which can be seen clearly in his work.

Long’s paintings and sculptures incorporate a high level of skill and sophisticated knowledge of art history, along with complex philosophical and social issues. Long describes the philosophy behind his work as “a quest to help people diagnose their inner self,” believing his art to be “the vehicle to help facilitate the process:”

“As artists we have the obligation to provide the world with art which communicates as truth. I believe that art has the power to heal our souls of their afflictions. I try to create art which helps to diagnose the prevalent conditions within our societies, hopefully providing an insightfulness which will help us all become brothers and sisters united in equality and compassion” – Bert L. Long, Jr.

The late Peter Marzio, former Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, said of Bert Long: “Bert Long does not avert his gaze from that which is painful, but as [his artworks] testify, he also brings a spirit of joy and redemption to his art. We can all learn from this great artist.”

Over Long’s 33-year career as a painter, sculptor, and photographer, he was awarded several significant awards including the National Endowment for the Arts Grant in 1987 and the prestigious Prix de Rome fellowship in 1990. Other notable awards of Long’s include the Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts Artist of the Year Award in 2009, the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation Emergency Assistance Grant in 1997, The Rome Prize Fellowship, 1990-91, the Houston Art League Texas Artist of the Year in 1990, the NEA Visual Artists Fellowship Grant, 1987, and the Bemis Foundation Residency in 1998. His work can be seen in over 100 private and public collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Houston Museum of Fine Art, Blanton Museum of Art, the El Paso Museum of Art and the Instituto de Bachillerato in Spain.

Suzanne Paul, Artist Bert L. Long, Jr., at the Dick Wray opening reception at ArtScan, 2001, Contact proof print
Suzanne Paul, Artist Bert L. Long, Jr., at the Dick Wray opening reception at ArtScan, 2001, Contact proof print

Bert Long: Looking for the Right Time is on view at Deborah Colton Gallery through January 28th of this year, and is most worthy of a visit to experience the breadth of talent and expression this artist shared with his audience.

 

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Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 12.23.16

Focus: Suzanne Paul: A Portrait of Artist Bert Long

Focus: Suzanne Paul: A Portrait of Artist Dick Wray

As we move along with Focus: Suzanne Paul we continue to uncover rare photographs and gems from Houston’s complex and compelling art history.

Recently, we uncovered some incredible charming portraits of artist Dick Wray, whose earlier portraits convey the charm and wit with which Wray navigated the tight-knit social scene of an earlier Houston and with which he imbued his artwork.

Susanne Paul, Artist Dick Wray, Circa late 1970s, 35mm black and white portraits
Susanne Paul, Artist Dick Wray, Circa late 1970s, 35mm black and white portraits

Dick Wray, a native Houstonian, born in Heights Hospital in Houston, was primarily educated in his Texas hometown. He took free art lessons at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in his early teens, graduated from Lamar High School and, following military service in the U.S. Army from 1953 to 1955, enrolled in the School of Architecture of the University of Houston from 1955 to 1958. He finished his studies at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, Germany in 1959.

Wray took off for Europe in 1958 to discover the center of the art world, beginning his journey in Paris. The two years he spent in Europe laid the foundation for his painting career. Inspired by the art of the abstract expressionists, the work of the artists of the CoBrA group and the New York Abstract Expressionists, all of which he saw for the first time in Europe, Wray returned to Houston at age 26 knowing for certain that he wanted to be an artist, not an architect. Little did he know that one day he would be referred to in the Houston Chronicle (1989) as an “Old Master of Texas Art” (Kalil).

Wray’s first competitive show was at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont in 1959. Since then, Wray exhibited consecutively for 51 years in galleries and museums. He was awarded the Ford Foundation Purchase Prize in 1962, was the guest artist at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles in 1964, and received a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1978.

Wray has had extensive solo exhibitions including the One Man Show at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in 1975, Dick Wray at The Station Museum in Houston in 2003 and Dick Wray – 2000 Houston Art League Texas Artist of the Year exhibition at the Art League Houston in 2000 (Baylor University).

He is among the major talents that shaped the evolution of Modernism in Houston, and was featured in the show Artists’ Progress: Seven Houston Artists, 1943-1933 at the Glassell School of Art, MFAH in 1993. In 2006, Wray was featured in the exhibition Texas Modern: The Rediscovery of Early Texas Abstraction at Baylor University in Waco, which acknowledged him as one of the first Texas Modernists. Despite his vast achievements, Wray continued to work comfortably out of his studio/home in the Houston Heights until his death in January 9, 2011 (Edward). Many consider Wray to be among the very best painters in Houston during the pivotal 1960s and 1970s, along with contemporaries Dorothy Hood, Richard Stout, Earl Staley, Charles Schorre, and Jack Boynton.

Suzanne Paul, Artist Dick Wray, 2001, Black and white gelatin silver print
Suzanne Paul, Artist Dick Wray, 2001, Black and white gelatin silver print

Above is one of the most enigmatic photograph of an artist produced by Paul, featured in Deborah Colton Gallery’s 2012 exhibition A Moment in Houston.

 

 

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Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 11.18.16

 

 

Focus: Suzanne Paul: A Portrait of Artist Dick Wray

Focus: Suzanne Paul: Later in the Artist’s Career

Digging into an artist’s archive is… well, viagra sale it’s so, so interesting. #nerdalert.\nThis project has definitely invited more \”story time\” into my life – and I do love story time.\n\nI continue to scan images and am still coming across some surprising moments and some real characters – artists –  who Suzanne photographed so many years ago. I’m eager to learn more about the shows that Suzanne participated in and what the exhibitions themselves tell us about Houston/Texas art history.\n\nTo continue where my last post left off, this project has me while scanning images also reading press articles on Suzanne’s solo exhibitions and organizing postcards and exhibition flyers and catalogues as well.\n\nIn the mix of documents Suzanne saved I found this statement from the late Walter Hopps – former director of The Menil Collection – who sat for a portrait session with Suzanne:\n

\”Suzanne Paul should now be recognized as one of the finest photographers to come out of Houston. Her essential medium is black and white photography and her most important subject matter is portraiture. The portraits in this exhibition largely focuses on people associated with the arts of Houston or those who pass through.

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Not all photographers are skilled printers of their own work. Paul is a superb printer achieving areas of deep black in line with her instinct for chiaroscuro lighting of the subject.

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Having been the subject of one of Paul’s portraits, I have experienced the directness and honesty of her work. She has caught an unidealized view of who I am.\” – Walter Hopps

\n\n\nAn enigmatic portrait of Walter Hopps was included in Being Humana solo exhibition of portraits curated by Clint Willour, then Executive Director/Curator at the Galveston Arts Center, for Fotofest in 2001. Being Human collected and presented together over sixty black and white portraits of Houston-based artists, curators, and art patrons photographed by Paul and was one of the largest presentations of her portraiture in the entirety of her career – most of the images never having been shown before. The selection of images in Being Human heavily relates to our project in it’s current phase as we’re prioritizing the images that document our art History and many of the same were included in the Fotofest exhibitions. Too, the work presented was standout and spirited.\n\n\n\n

\”Suzy Paul [had] a remarkable way of capturing the spirit and soul of people with her camera,\” wrote Willour. \”Her work is truly about being human… Throughout her career, it is her black and white portraiture work that I think has been her greatest strength as an artist. That is why we [focused] on this work. Suzy [captured] people’s humanity, whether it [was] people she [knew] or discovered subjects.\”

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Among the first artists she photographed were Dick Wray, Julian Schnabel, Terry Allen, and Norman Bloom. Later she photographed artists such as Lucas Johnson, Richard Stout, The Art Guys, David McGee, Michael Tracy, Mel Chin, and Angelbert Metoyer, many of whom were featured in Being Human and subsequent exhibitions A Moment in Houston and Proof. Alongside the artists in the collection of photography we are working with are Houston curators and patrons such as James Harithas, Walter Hopps, Hiram Butler, Alfred Glassell, Alison de Lima Greene, and Edward Mayo. Being Human was an important contribution to Houston’s history, documenting a significant period of time in the development of Houston’s art community and the two most recent exhibitions of Paul’s work, mentioned above, continue that dedication to this documentation.

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From the Proof curatorial statement:

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\n\n\”The collection of photographic negatives, slides, prints and related memorabilia from this work, left in the possession and care of Deborah Colton Gallery at the artist’s passing in 2005, now exists as evidence and affirmation of the health, vitality, and creative vigor of Houston’s alternative arts community from its early years to its present state. Emerging as a study of the present through the past, Proof surveys this body of documentary photography and portraiture, highlighting the artist’s extraordinary talent in capturing unfiltered impressions of her subjects, while offering an intimate glimpse into her creative praxis.\n\nThe multi-entendre title of the exhibition assumes its designation, in the first place, from the presentation of ten selected enlargements of the artist’s proof sheets from the chemical darkroom. The contact proofs expose in revealing ways the artist’s process of portrait-making, editing, and darkroom printing while demonstrating the gifted manner in which Paul was able to relate to her subjects.\”\n\n

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\nRecontextualizing Suzanne Paul’s photography of Houston arts and artists, Proof actively acknowledged the recognizable talent of key figures that represent the arts in Houston in the national and international arenas. In reviewing this selection from this artist’s photo archive, it becomes very clear that there are hidden gems, many never before seen, to share across generations. We find left to us a treasure of brilliant images, an invaluable resource for our community that testifies to the artistic climate that has emerged and evolved in the city since the creative boom of the 1970s — preserved for us by one of its most dedicated participants.\n\n\n

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\nContent originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 11.18.16

Focus: Suzanne Paul: Later in the Artist’s Career

Focus: Suzanne Paul: The Artist’s Early Career

The end of October finds us refocusing our project and prioritizing foremost images of Suzanne’s that document the art history of our city. This may seems like a no-brainer, prostate but there are a number of series or bodies of work in her archive beyond her documentary portraiture of artists and art patrons in Houston, most of which have never been seen by a public audience.\n\nI think it’s important to highlight about Suzanne Paul that she wasn’t simply a documentarian. She was an artist in the true sense of the world – obsessed with her craft and immersed in the creative potential of her everyday experiences.\n\nWe don’t just want to organize her archive to create a resource of documentary images – we want to expand upon the career of the artist and continue to offer her work to the public through exhibitions and multi-media presentations of her work. Thus, as I scan images from the photographer, I’m also piecing together her history as an artist, which includes reading about the exhibitions she was included in and archiving exhibition related documents.\n\nI shared a little bit of this info in the panel discussion I recapped in my last post, but I’d like to take a more in-depth look at Suzanne’s early career not only as a picture-taker, but as an exhibiting artist, though the two certainly do go hand-in-hand.\n\nThe beginning of this overlap between an artist’s career and that of a professional photographer is rooted in her relationship with the CAMH and with Jim Harithas that auspiciously begun in 1976. As I’ve written about before, Jim offered her a solo show but also commissioned her to photograph artists and exhibitions presented by the CAMH. The images from that period of her life and career I do hope we recover in this Focus project, but perhaps that’s for another post.\n\nWhat is interesting is that we can see the results of the unique synergy around her CAMH life and that she continued to photograph, as she had as a child, the parts of her life with which she was most familiar. Thus, we have this body of artist portraits we’re focusing on at the moment. Much lesser known, however, are the exhibitions in which she participated in at the CAMH, as an artist, and some of here later inclusions in exhibitions and publications, locally and nationwide. In this post I’ll highlight select exhibitions in Suzanne’s early career.\n\n\n\nI’ve shown a shot of Suzanne’s 1976 solo exhibition in the basement of the CAMH in an earlier post. The exhibition, Suzanne Paul: Photographs, was scheduled for May 21 – June 15, 1976, during which the museum flooded. This was in fact the first solo presentation by a female photographer at the museum – a standout moment for Suzanne and more broadly for female photographers at large.\n\nIn 1979 Suzanne was included in a group exhibition at the CAMH, FIRE!, which was curated by Texas great James Surls, friend, contemporary, and photographic subject of Suzanne’s. FIRE ambitiously collected and presented the work of 100 Texas artists. The catalogue for this exhibition is a huge resource to me – not only does it detail the context of Suzanne’s career, but it gives me a 99 names of artists Suzanne did or may have photographed and deepens this investigation.\n\n\n\nFIRE! catalogue cover and excerpt, hosted by the CAMH, February 16 – April 15, 1979\n\nAs I dig into the paper documents left in Suzanne’s archive collection, I get an increasingly strong sense of the headway she made for women artists. Another significant exhibition in which Suzanne was included in was the touring presentation by Women and Their Work, Women In Sight: New Art in Texas – the first statewide juried exhibition of women artists ever held in Texas, juried by Marcia Tucker, then Director of The New Museum of New York.\n\n\n\n

In 1981 Suzanne was included in in The Ties that Bind: Photographers Portray the Family, and exhibition supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts Photography Survey. This presentation found Suzanne in the company of standout and award winning and lauded Texas artists: Gay Block (Houston), Alan Pogue (Austin), Barbara Riley (Corpus Christi), Janice Rubin (Houston), Wendy Watriss (Houston), Ron Evans (Dallas), and Keith Carter (Beaumont). As a group, the featured artists credits include NewsweekTimeThe New York TimesNuestroTexas Observer, and Texas Monthly, and art journals such as ArtweekArt in America, and Camera Magazine, among others. If we were to follow the trajectory of each included artist, we’d see the direct shaping of the photographic climate and community in America. And this is the whole point: if we look at the respective history of this one artist’s career – we come to know our present condition, thoroughly and intimately. Then we can say, with confidence, \”Houston and Texas have indeed impacted the language and tenor of American Art.\”

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Another exhibition at the CAMH in which Suzanne was included was the group 1982-1983 show IN OUR TIME: HOUSTON’S CONTEMPORARY ARTS MUSEUM 1948–1982which yet offers event more valuable information on Suzanne and the history of art and artists in our community. This exhibition was designed \”to solicit information about and document the history of the Contemporary Arts Museum over its first 34 years.  It charts the growth of the museum from its founding by a group of Houston citizens committed to bringing contemporary art to the city.  The assembly, codification and organization of scattered records, many still in the hands of volunteers, resulted in the establishment of an archive for the Museum.\” Interesting – and I may not need note, but I will, that Suzanne contributed to this aggregate of creativity as both a documentarian and as an exhibiting artist.

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\n\n\n\n\nAfter these early presentations of Suzanne’s photography, there are two decades of artistic activity to research and piece together. I hope to detail in coming posts more of the exhibitions in which Suzanne was a featured artist. There really is no telling what we’ll uncover and no limit to the connections we can make among artists in Houston, in Texas, and in America. What we know for sure is that we’ve opened an exciting can of worms and that we’re making connections that encourage us in our pursuit of learning and sharing our city’s collective artistic history.\n\n \n

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\nContent originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 10.28.16

Focus: Suzanne Paul: The Artist’s Early Career

Recap: Reviving Houston’s Lost History

The two art fairs in Houston have come and gone, health and with them have passed the fantastic program of talks, lectures, and tours organized by each fair respectively.\n\nIn my last post I mentioned my inclusion in a panel discussion organized and moderated by editor/art writer/critic/curator and all around renaissance woman Catherine Anspon. Fellow panelists for the talk, who each highlighted their respective projects, were Patricia Johnson, Chelby King, and Pete Gershon. Archivist Patricia Hernandez wasn’t able to attend unfortunately, but the project she’s initiated is definitely worth sharing.\n\nFollowing a career as an art gallery director, Patricia has been an art critic for the Houston Chronicle since 1981 and has written articles on Houston and Houston artists for several publications, including Sculpture International, Artspace, Southern Living, and ARTnews. She also wrote the catalogue on Mexican prints and drawings for the exhibit she curated for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 1983. She is the author of Contemporary Art in Texas and has been nominated twice for a Pulitzer Prize in criticism, 1991 and 1994. Her archive of art research and writing includes thousands of articles and editorials which she plans to incorporate into a book. \n\nAfter a brief introduction by Catherine Anspon, Patricia walked the audience through some standout moment and highlights in Houston’s art history, noting influential characters in our city’s history, including Water Hopps and Domic de Menial, James (Jim) Harithas, Dick Wray, Peter Marzio, and Anne Tucker, Wendy Watriss and Fred Baldwin, among others.\n

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View from the audience, Jim Harithas mentioned in discussion

\nAt this point during the discussion, I was totally engrossed in the information Patricia was sharing, and too I was relieved to see mentioned many of the people Susanne Paul photographed that I knew I would mention as well – I wouldn’t have to introduce them as the last speaker, nor spend the time elaborating on them if they were to be included in my part of the presentation. \n\n\nChelby King was the next to speak – introducing the life and career of Jermayne MacAgy – the focus of her forthcoming book. Chelby has previously held position of Director at the Lawndale Center for Art, is a professor of art and currently researching the life and role of MacAgy in the forging and evolution of the Menial Collection, from a teaching collection at St. Thomas University and Rice University to its ultimate culmination of a world-class museum institution.\n\nChelby detailed MacAgy’s role as a mentor to the de Menils and their pursuit of experiencing the spiritual through art. This history was new to me, and I learned of the teaching model MacAgy incorporated into her experience in Houston and its roots from Harvard and the Fogg Museum. Chelby made the point in her presentation that her historic investigation would would be impossible if not for the archival work already done on the de Menils and Jermaine MacAgy – reinforcing the significance of each panelist’s work current work.\n\nPete Gershon, program coordinator for the Core Residency Program and author of Painting the Town Orange: The Stories Behind Houston’s Visionary Art Environments (History Press, 2014) reads from his now-written volume Collision: Contemporary Artists in Houston 1972-1985 – titled after a 1984 exhitbiton curated by Ann Harithas at the Lawndale Art Center. For this project he draws upon primary archival materials, contemporary newspaper and magazine accounts, and extensive interviews with dozens of significant figures to present a creative non-fiction narrative that preserves and interweaves the stories and insights of the artists, collectors, critic, patrons, and administrators who transformed the city’s art scene.\n

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Pete Gershon describes his project Collision: Contemporary Artists in Houston 1972 – 1985

\nA description of Collision from Gershon –  \n“In the 1970s and ‘80s, Houston emerged as a significant city for the arts, fueled by an oil boom and by the arrival of several catalyzing figures including museum director James Harithas and sculptor James SurlsHarithas was a pioneer in championing Texan artists during his controversial tenure as the impassioned, uncompromising director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. He put the state’s native artists on the map, but his renegade style was too hot for the museum’s benefactors to handle and after four years of fist fights and floods (and of course, some truly innovative programming by both Texans and artists of international stature), he wore out his welcome. After Harithas’ resignation and departure from the CAMH, the chainsaw-wielding Surls established the Lawndale Annex as a largely unsupervised outpost of the University of Houston’s Art Department. Inside this dirty, cavernous warehouse, a new generation of Houston artists found itself and flourished. Both enterprises set the scene for the emergence of an array of small, downtown artist-run spaces including Studio One, the Center for Art and Performance, Midtown Arts Center, and DiverseWorks. Through it all, the members of formally and informally organized groups such as the Women’s Caucus for Art, the Urban Animals, and the Core Residency Program supported and challenged each other’s creative pursuits. Finally, in 1985, the Museum of Fine Arts presented Fresh Paint: the Houston School, a nationally publicized survey of work by Houston painters curated by Barbara Rose and Susie Kalil. The exhibition capped an era of intensive artistic development and suggested the city was about to be recognized, along with New York and Los Angeles, as a major center for art-making activity. The mid-‘80s oil bust temporarily sapped the scene of energy and resources, but the seeds had been sown for the vibrant community of visual art that Houstonians enjoy today.”\n\nThis book, excerpts of which he has presented before (find video herehere, and here), and Pete’s presentation beautifully brought full circle points from both Patricia’s and Chelby’s work, and was a perfect segway into my notes about my current project Focus: Suzanne Paul – some details of which I have shared in previous posts.\n\nTo be brief here, the points I wanted to make about the project I am pursing in archiving the collected photographic works from Suzanne Paul were easy to make given the depth and breadth of the previous panelists’ discussions. \n

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Here I speak my part and describe to the audience the inspiration and importance of Focus: Suzanne Paul.

\nNaturally the further I delve into this project, the more I come to understand the complexities of the artist and her gift of her intuitive photographing. So too the more I come to understand the complex and tightly-knit relationships of the social fabric in the Houston arts scene, past and present.\n\nI wanted to be sure to note foremost that Paul was a true photographic talent – and that though the sharing of her photographs with a broader audience than already exists, we can honor her creative contributions and give her gift of photography its just-due. Another point I wanted to make was that her images are a fantastic promotional tool that document the creative strength and unique output of artwork produced in Houston in the past four decades. Too I waned to offer her archive as a tool for understanding perhaps why our community exists in the manner it does at present and as an aide and resource for critical Houston-related art research.  \n\nNot present at the talk was Patricia Hernandez, who has founded the Studio One Archive Resource initiative, formerly the Creating a Living Legacy Project (CALL), with the generous support of the Joan Mitchell Foundation.  Thus far, this initiative has supported the career documentation and archival of Houston artists, including Rachel Hecker, Terrell James, Mary Jenewein, Charles Mary Kubricht, Bert Long, David McGee, Beth Secor, and Toby Topek, and has assisted with collecting, organizing and digitizing their history and the input of their history into a CALL database. In fact, for a year and a half, and before the artist’s death, Pete Gershon worked closely with Bert Long to streamline Bert’s extensive collection of documents and artwork created and saved throughout his long career as a visual artist. I must also note that at present Deborah Colton gallery represents the estate of Bert Long, and as well, Bert is the subject of some of Suzanne Paul’s photographs. In this context, it’s easy to see how thoroughly interconnected these research, archival, and publication projects are and how combined they so well serve our community.\n\nThe synergy of these projects perfectly set the tone to introduce to the audience how important and needed an umbrella foundation – such as we envision Houston Foundations could be – is for  our city. Perhaps an organization like Houston Foundations could spearhead and fund projects similar to those each panelist presented and assume more of the administrative tasks – like fundraising for publishing worthy books like Pete’s Collision, the forthcoming book from Chelby King, or an anthology of Patricia Johnson’s collected critical essays. This panel discussion not only shared insightful material on the history of art in Houston, but reinforced to the participants and organizers how much demand there truly is for an organization to spearhead the movement to preserve and revive our little known art history.\n

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First public mentions of what we hope to fully develop – Houston Foundations

\nFor those in attendance, we hope at least that the point was made that we live in a city rich in arts and talent – not just in its artists, but in its researchers and scholars and in those who are passionate about sharing and preserving our unique history. For the participating panelists, this discussion was further encouragement to maintain our purists but also a reminder of our shared goal and how wonderfully intertwined our projects are and how future collaborations are sure to develop.\n\n \n

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\nContent originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 10.14.16

Recap: Reviving Houston’s Lost History

Focus: Suzanne Paul: The Artist’s Life

My last post closed with mention of a special project I’ve resumed — Focus: Suzanne Paul —preserving the collection archive and estate of artist/photographer Suzanne Paul. Suzy, medical as she is more intimately known, was a friend to many in the Houston arts community during her life and her presence and memory is still strong with those who knew her —even stronger with those she was able to photograph.\n\nI myself never met Suzy in person, though I too strongly feel her presence in the photographs of hers I’ve worked with, and though I’ve never been able to speak with her directly, I’m gathering some sense of the complexity of her person by piecing together the experiences of her life through what’s left in the collected images and documents of her estate.\n\nI know of Suzy that she was given a Brownie box camera at the age of 9, in 1945, and was a natural talent. Some of the first images I’ve scanned thus far include her early Brownie photos and I’m blown away at the gift of her seeing. You can detect the learning curve of her familiarity with the rudimentary camera and the evolution of her compositional measure, but her piercing study of people and animals.. this seems to be innate in the artist, even as a child.\n\nOne of her most proud images, so says her daughter Mercedes, is this image of a family dog on a lawn chair:\n\n\n\nSuzanne received her BFA from the University of Houston in 1968 and did graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley.\n\nIn the 1960s Paul became a political activist for anti-war and civil rights causes. In Houston, she photographed for the feminist magazine Breakthrough in the late 1970s.\n\nIn 1976 Suzanne Paul began photographing artists for the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. James Harithas, then the CAMH Executive Director, offered Paul the first solo photography exhibition by a woman at the museum, entitled Suzanne Paul: Photographs. Paul credits this exhibit with launching her professional career. It also happened to be an exhibition during which the basement of the CAMH, where the photographs were presented, flooded during severe weather on June 15, 1976.\n\n\n\nSuzy, naturally, photographed the scene… such was the pursuit of this relentless documentarian.\n\nHer beginning with the CAMH, I believe, was a pivotal moment in her career and in her life. From there she was immersed in an energized scene of her artist and creative contemporaries, professionally and socially, candidly capturing, with the gift of her seeing, key moments that have come to shape the artistic community we experience today.\n\nIn intimate and revealing ways, Paul has documented many of the artists, curators, and gallery owners who have shaped Houston’s art scene since the 1970s and 80s. Among the first artists she photographed were Dick Wray, Julian Schnabel, Terry Allen, and Norman Bloom. Later she photographed artists such as Lucas Johnson, Richard Stout, The Art Guys, David McGee, Michael Tracy, Mel Chin, Edward Albee, and Angelbert Metoyer, many of whom were featured in her 2001 Fotofest exhibition Being Human. In addition to her portraiture documentation of artist and long-time friends, Paul captured portraits of Houston curators and patrons such as Jim Harithas, Walter Hopps, Carolyn Farb, Hiram Butler, Alfred Glassell, Alison de Lima Greene, and Edward Mayo, among others.\n\nThe collection of photographic negatives, slides, portrait prints and related memorabilia left after the passing of the artist now serves as significant documentary and historical evidence of the community leaders and participants involved in the Houston arts community at its conception and as an affirmation of the health and output of said community. In addition, the aforementioned collection rests as a valuable research resource into the creative, social, and economic climate of the arts in Houston at the time of documentation and is representative of the quality of art production and presentation of art in Houston in the larger context of American Art.\n\nI’ll be sharing a bit more on Suzanne’s history and on the significance of this project to our city at a panel discussion this weekend (Oct. 2, 2pm), presented by the Houston Art Fair and led and moderated by our walking encyclopedia of the Houston scene – Catherine D. Anspon.\n\nI’m honored to be included and to converse with tremendous company, Pete GershonPatricia Hernandez, Patricia Johnson, and Chelby King, as we highlight our respective pursuits to preserve our city’s colorful art history.\n\n \n

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\nContent originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 9.29.16

Focus: Suzanne Paul: The Artist’s Life

Focus : Suzanne Paul: Introductions

I’m sitting in an arts venue which I’ve become quite intimately familiar with over the recent years… Thinking about introductions…\n\nDeborah Colton Gallery is presenting a special pop-up exhibition in between it’s regular program of full scale exhibitions, illness which opens this weekend. The show will be up for two weeks and celebrates some standout moments in the gallery’s 12+ year history, and is the first time that the gallery-sponsored IMAGINE PEACE billboard from artist Yoko Ono will be presented on-site.\n\nI’m in the gallery as I type, in and out of writing and watching this billboard go up, as I begin work on a very special project. In this moment, surrounded by the preparation for celebration and altruistic intention, I find myself thinking of how intricately connected lives and timelines can be, and more faithful than ever that it is by no accident that we find ourselves in our present condition…\n\n\n\nI first saw this billboard while driving along I-45 in 2011. I wouldn’t say I was immediately struck in my tracks, I mean, I kept driving… but it did leave a subtle impression whose rememberance grew, and has grown, over time. The message is an important one and its expression was succinct – simplistic in its sophistication. I can still see the billboard from the freeway now in the vignette of my mind’s eye… And since then I have indeed imagined peace.\n\nLater that year, enjoying a free day with a new friend, I suggested we visit a gallery unknown to either of us, as it was the last day of an exhibitions of artworks by Yoko Ono. I’m not sure what we were expecting to encounter, but what we did take away was something neither of us could have anticipated.\n\nThat visit introduced us to Deborah Colton Gallery’s leader, Deborah Colton, and in the almost-five years since, that friend, Jessica Crute, and I have both worked for a time at the gallery and have also presented the most significant creative projects of our early careers. And for myself, that first encounter was the start of a series of many significant introductions in my life.\n\nIn 2014, as Assistant Director of the gallery,  I worked very closely with gallery artist Angelbert Metoyer in the co-curation and execution of Seasons of Heavena survey of recent works from the career of Angelbert Metoyer. In 2015 Deborah extended to me an opportunity to curate Collective Solid from concept to exhibition for the final iteration of ArtHouston, whose mission was to showcase emerging Houston talent city-wide.\n\n\n\nI must give credit where it is due: in my time working for and with the gallery, I’ve been exposed and come to know some outstanding artistic talent, from across a great many international borders. However, the artist whose work I find myself most sensitive to is a native Houstonian and a pioneering female photographer whose work chronicled the budding art scene in the city in the 70s and its evolution over the two consecutive decades. Suzanne Paul thoroughly documented the artists of her social experience – of her real life – and those influential in our artistic community, and in working with some of the artists she’s captured in my time at Deborah Colton Gallery I’ve come to realize the significance of her life’s work. Through pure creative impetus and for love of her craft and the pursuit of photography, she was able to document a broad cultural aspect of our city’s history. A large part of her life’s work now serves as a resource to draw from, critically, historically, and creatively.\n\n\n\nAt the end of last year, I stepped down from my full-time position and tackled an ambitions special project as an independent curator in partnership with Deborah Colton Gallery to present Proofan exhibition that shared a select few portraits of creatives significant to the Houston arts community and featured some work never-before seen from the archive of Suzanne Paul, which the artist left in the possession of the gallery at the time of her passing. The hope was that the exhibition might pique the interest of our community and ultimately lead to the preservation of Suzanne’s archive and the acquisition of her work by collecting institutions. It also just scratched the surface of examining her unique approach to photography, especially portraiture.\n\n\n\nIt’s funny how one thing leads to another – and to another – and on and on… and here’s where things come full circle…\n\nBecause of the positive feedback Proof received, we have been encouraged to continue with this special project and I have been commissioned by Deborah Colton to pursue this undertaking to ends we cannot yet know. There is a sense that as we work to digitize, catalogue, and archive the collected works of Paul’s, opportunities to expose her work to a broader and growing audience will reveal themselves. This is why I find myself again in the main space at Deborah Colton Gallery, in the beginning stages of a project dear to my heart and dear to my city, entitled Focus: Suzanne Paul.\n\nThis post is the first of many that aims to document this pursuit and shares the unique finds and critical moments we come to in this process, and I hope that a readership develops with me as I look more closely into the treasure left to us by Suzanne Paul.\n\n \n

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\nContent originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 8.26.16

Focus : Suzanne Paul: Introductions

Suzanne Paul: A Beacon of Houston Art History

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Suzanne Paul, discount  born and bred in Houston, mind holds a unique place in the history of the city’s art community.

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That isn’t what defines her though; it’s the passion and tenacity with which she pursued her photography and in so doing, promoted the practice as an art – not just a craft. Perhaps with her gift for seeing, she knew her works would one day live to tell a story of Houston; as museum director Jim Harithas puts it, she “chronicled the life of the art community in Houston as it developed.\”

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With faith and an incredible gift of foresight, Paul entrusted her life-long works to be preserved and cared for by Deborah Colton Gallery before losing her battle to breast cancer in 2005. Her daughter, Mercedes Paul, Mallard survives Paul.

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“It means so much to me that Deborah Colton Gallery has preserved these archives and prepared 11 years for this exhibition. Growing up her work would be everywhere…from film hanging to dry, to prints being put in the middle of books to flatten out. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed this until she passed away. I am so happy this work can be seen in this format. This is something that has never been done before and it shows her process in picking images to print. Some people would pick different images than others on the proof sheet, but all of the work is meaningful, and important to the art community of Houston,” says Mercedes Paul in regards to her mother’s exhibition.

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Paul’s life began in 1945, but her passion for photography started when she was just a child, in 1954 when she was given a Brownie box camera. She would graduate from the University of Houston in 1976, leaving her mark as a woman in pusuit of success – an earnest product of UH. She later studied at the San Francisco Art Institute which influenced her taste for the creative life.

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At the launch of her career, Paul became the first woman to have a solo exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston and for the museum documented artists and exhibitions with her camera. She was never one to miss a happening – as her archive tells it.

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Her works consistently capture the essence of people and what can only be described as “spirit”. Some of the subjects of her shapshots and portraits include our recent mayor, Anise Parker, playwright Edward Albee, Andy Warhol and artists working in Houston and her contemporaries – Julian Schnaibel, James Surls, and Susan Plum, to name a few.

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“Suzanne Paul left us with a compelling visual documentation of our City’s art history and in doing so, of humanity itself.” – Deborah Colton, Houston.

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With the sixteenth iteration of the FotoFest International Biennial days now up and running, it seems a most apt time to look once more into the treasure of, now-historic, imagery Suzanne left – especially considering that she participated in each FotoFest Biennial until her passing.

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A small, but impactful sampling of this gift of photography will be presented in the current solo FotoFest exhibition at Deborah Colton Gallery, entitled PROOF.

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“The collection of photographic negatives, slides, prints and related memorabilia, left in the possession and care of Deborah Colton Gallery at the artist’s’ passing in 2005, now exists as evidence and affirmation of the health, vitality, and creative vigor of Houston’s alternative arts community from its early years to its present state. PROOF surveys this body of documentary photography and portraiture, highlighting the artist’s extraordinary talent in capturing unfiltered impressions of her subjects, and offers an intimate glimpse into the artist’s creative praxis, “ Theresa Escobedo

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We hope to share Suzanne’s gift with those who knew her well and with a new generation of viewers with this exhibition, and we hope to see her work garner the attention and respect that it deserves.

Suzanne Paul: A Beacon of Houston Art History