Our last post highlighted an artist who has maintained a significant influence within the Houston arts community for over six decades. A veritable encyclopedia of people and places and history in Houston, our lengthy conversation with Richard Stout continues to inform our understanding of this creative community since the 1950’s and certainly reinforced that Houston has been home to outstanding talents — some better known than others.
Perhaps the most striking contact sheet and series of portraits uncovered during this project thus far, and in my opinion, are of artist Edsel Cramer. Lesser known, but not less accomplished or influential than his contemporaries, Cramer was a mentor and teacher to some still spearheading arts programming in our community.
Before returning to his native Houston in 1952, Cramer attended the Art Institute of Chicago and then enlisted in the Navy where his artistic talent was noted almost immediately. He was given projects to draw the “would-be” officers, like lieutenants, captains, and admirals. Cramer found humor in the irony of joining the Navy for military expertise and leaving an expert in portraiture. Eventually Cramer made his way to New York City in pursuit of more artistic instruction, and became involved in the Art Students’ League. Cramer, a classical painter, influenced and inspired by the works of Rembrandt and Degas, struggled with mid-century expectations of him as an African-American artist. These struggles were instigated by his instructor’s suggestions that he paint more primitive African imagery.
Edsel Cramer, born at the notorious Jeff Davis Hospital in Houston, is remembered for his skilled portraits of prominent public figures and landscapes executed in the classical style. He is credited with painting portraits of notable Houstonians during his career, including Adelaide de Menil (daughter of John and Dominique) and a young George W. Bush. A work of his, a 1973 portrait of statesman Barbara Jordan, is included in the collection of Texas’ State Capitol.
In Sarah Reynold’s Houston Reflections: Art in the City, 1950s, 60s and 70s, Edsel is quoted:
“After I got out of the service I went to New York City. I met people who said, ‘If you’re going to go to an art school, you should go to New York City,’ and they were right. That’s where I got involved in the Art Students’ League. What [the instructors] wanted me to do was some primitive African stuff because I’m black. And my painting was more classical than everybody else. In my drawings you can see the influences of Rembrandt, Michaelangelo to some degree — but my strongest influence was Degas. Why Degas? He made drawings of passion and he was ‘tight.’ And the funny thing about the Art Students’ League — I heard this fellow talking about what a wonderful town he lived in, and they didn’t have any problems with race relationships and so forth. So I said, ‘What town is this?’ He said ‘Houston.’ I said, ‘Well, I come from Houston.’ I thought he had to be kidding — but he didn’t know about these restrictions … that was Lowell Collins. We got to be best of friends”
Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 4.14.17
We sat down with Richard Stout recently to pick his brain about the current state of the Arts in Houston, about his personal history as an artist, and to learn more about his friendship with Suzanne Paul – which we can see evidence of in the contact proof print we featured in last year’s Proof exhibition/catalogue.
Beaumont-born Richard Stout pursued his arts education at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and later at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago on a full scholarship awarded through the Scholastic Arts Program. From 1953 until 1957 he attended academic classes through the University of Chicago, Downtown, developed a studio practice during the Institute’s public hours and worked three jobs: Following a childhood interest in music he worked as an usher at the Chicago Symphony Center and combined his interest in other medias by shelving books in a bookshop and working in a record shop at the same time.
He describes a very rigorous experience for a young artist:
“As a student at the Art Institute at that time, we didn’t have full access to studios and could work only during the time that the museum was open – often arriving at 8am but had to leave by 5pm. All the other work had to be done at home, in addition to academic work, as well as various jobs. No dormitories – so students had to find a place to live and to support themselves.”
Students, as Richard puts it “worked like hell… producing vast amounts of work.” When he graduated Stout had under his belt some 13,000 works on paper – around 300 paintings on paper and canvas. By only one degree of separation, his arts instruction was world-class: “by second hand, I had almost everything you would desire to learn as a student of art.”
Upon graduation Stout was featured in a 1957 summer exhibition at the Wells Street Gallery, an avant-garde artist’s co-op led by artist Robert Natkin, alongside John Chamberlain. That was where Walter Hopps saw his work for the first time. His artwork would again accompany that of Chamberlain’s more than twenty years later when Jim Harithas organized his 1975 solo show, Richard Stout: Recent Paintings, in the basement of the CAMH, underneath the main gallery exhibition of Chamberlain works.
Stout came to Houston, as he says, because it “had all the things that I wanted: a climate I could live in, nice people, a new opera company and a pretty good orchestra, and most of all a Mies Van der Rohe wing of the MFAH being built – which was as good as it could get at the time. – Mies was the best thing you could get in terms of architecture.”
“Houston is a very friendly town. When I moved here, no one knew where it was. When all of my friends were moving to New York, from Chicago… they all said ..’Where is Houston? Is it near Dallas?”
Stout landed in Houston with only one contact from sale of an artwork in Beaumont – Preston John Frazier – and was almost immediately taken to the home of Henry and Leila Gadbois.
“Within a matter of days I met everyone… Ruth Ulher and Lowell Collins – both leaders of the Houston Museum School, now the Glassell School of Art; Lee Malone – then Director of the MFAH; Jermayne MacAgy – then the Director of the Contemporary Arts Association (now the CAMH); Nina Cullinan; Conductor of the Houston Symphony, Leopold Stokowski…“
Stout taught at the Houston Museum School for nine years and later in the art department at the University of Houston for over 30 years. While an assistant professor at UH, he was also the first Director of the Blaffer Art Museum and managed its inaugural season of exhibitions in 1973. During this time he was also pursuing, and received, his MFA from UT, “ commuting to Austin, two, sometimes three times a week to complete coursework in between teaching.”
During first year of school at UT, Stout met a would-be, UT-accepted, but not enrolled, young artist:
“The very first year, I met someone else who was supposed to be in the class, but they were in their own private studio.. and that was Michael Tracy. Michael Tracy is [one-of-two of my best friends.. Michael Tracy is in every way a most-interesting human being and I’m very proud to be a friend of his.
I do know that Suzy did a photo of him on my back porch but he didn’t like it. But that’s okay – Suzy would do that. She would do a portrait that would cut to the quick. I think that I started to see Suzy — I saw her a little bit, all along the way— but it was by the middle of the 90s, towards the end of the 90s… that would be ’99.”
Stout was represented by Meredith Long & Company for 27 years, which presented a solo-exhibition of Stout’s work every other year. Long & Company also represented Stout’s revered artist contemporary – Dorothy Hood, whom he mentioned in our conversation. Both were featured artists in MFAH exhibition Fresh Paint: The Houston School. Certainly a career highlight for Stout, this legendary group exhibition of artists from Houston made and broke careers. “Fresh Paint,” Stout recalls, “had to scramble to find women, african americans, and hispanics.”
Though the output of Richard Stout and Dorothy Hood is markedly different, there is an emotional depth and searching quality to both artist’s creative practice and in their paintings that is perhaps, and in large-part, missing among the work of my contemporaries. There is a willingness toward introspection and a willingness to engage in self-discovery in Hood’s and Stout’s work which I rarely get a sense of in most contemporary practices and processes.
“We all have that problem, with the work being done today… We all have problems with it because… I think in part it has to do with computer and digital material. You tend to work in a different medium and you work towards a rather obvious goal rather than discover a result. It’s goal oriented.”
Now in his 80s, the artist continues to produce critically acclaimed paintings in his Montrose studio. This fall in particular will be an active season for Richard as a retrospective of his work will be presented in three iterations across the state: at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas in Beaumont, at the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi, and the University of Houston, Downtown.
“About Suzy.. in the mid-90s…” Stout says, in between describing a painting he did of Suzanne’s and artist Mike Hollis’ home. “I would visit them 3 or 4 times a week. I [also] did a painting of the house building that faces Milam Street, with Suzy’s apartment on the right side… Suzy was very sensitive and very kind.. she was a very— she was a really good soul.
We became very good friends, we spent a lot of time together in the last years in her great, wonderful Oldsmobile – that green barge – so classy, so Suzy… Suzy’s last show at Poissant Gallery was where she showed the broken obelisk pieces, which I think are wonderful, just wonderful.Suzy’s work, in some ways for me, was that pause that was in between this and that. She finds that little niche that is at once personal and private – and she catches you unawares…
She was able to find and photograph the person between the facade self and the most magnificent human selves and our impression is that her skill and looking more deeply is amazing – “It’s amazing,” he says. “It really was, and it endeared her to me.”
Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 4.14.17
There are more than a few very impactful contributors to the fabric within which Houston creatives work, but a select few are standout. If there were a “ringleader” most responsible for shaping the state of the Houston arts community today – I’d put my money behind Jim Harithas. In fact, I’d go so far to say that, after Suzanne Paul herself, we have Jim to thank for the rich archive we’re working with now.
In 1976, Paul was commissioned by Jim Harithas, then the CAMH Executive Director, to document artists and exhibitions for the museum’s catalogues. This landed Paul in the center of a burgeoning artistic community— in effect, Paul was able to photograph many of the artists, patrons, and art-world leaders who have shaped Houston’s art community since the 1970s and who have represented Houston in the national and international art arenas since then. Later that year Harithas offered Paul the first solo photographic exhibition by a woman at the museum. Entitled Suzanne Paul: Photographs, Paul credits this exhibition with launching her professional career.
James Harithas, himself a pioneer in the arts, came to Houston in 1973 to pursue his great passions — cementing the legacy of abstract expressionism, supporting powerful political art, and championing emerging artists. These efforts merged in his assumption of the position of Director at the Contemporary Arts Museum (CAMH), which followed positions as Director at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington and Director of the Everson Museum Of Art in Syracuse.
Not only did he offer discerning support to local and regional artists, but, from his past experiences he brought with him a new philosophy on the contemporary role of the art museum model and how such an institution might fit within a community to impact the tenor of its art-making and the representation of its artists.
Harithas recalls, “In that period I broadened the notion of what a museum could do. I knew a museum was a political force … it became increasingly clear to me that a museum could do somewhat more than show art — it could also develop programs that had an underlying aesthetic … I felt that a museum had to be free- form.”
He continues, ”It was also during that period that I began to develop the idea of finding curatorial help from other disciplines. Like the photography curator actually came straight out of television, and was a newsman. In a culture that was reaching this … a mass culture, it was really important to have on the staff people who had really direct experience … There was a point where it was clear to me that my ideas had now expanded sufficiently. I wanted to go further into media, and I also wanted to go further into the phenomena of local culture, which I was becoming increasingly aware of … I was looking for originality — which I found in Houston … and which existed as part of a regional phenomenon …”
The museum director emphasized, “My reason for coming [here] was that I really liked Houston … But the main activity of the institution [was] identifying the artists in Texas … the idea of showing local boys … and particularly the idea of showing people who needed their first show in order to go on to make their better shows” (Harithas).
As New York based critic and poet Raphael Rubenstein notes in a Brooklyn Rail interview, “After walking away from a career as a prominent curator and museum director, Harithas spent some years in the wilderness (following paths that often led through war-torn Central America) before reemerging to found two pioneering institutions, both in Houston: the Art Car Museum and the Station Museum. The first embodies Harithas’ dream of creating a working-class museum that celebrates a vernacular art form; the second is one of the most vital (and truly alternative) spaces in the country. It has hosted stellar solo exhibitions of major American artists such as Mel Chin, Salvatore Scarpitta, and Norman Bluhm, and presented powerful group shows of new art by Palestinian, Colombian and Mexican artists that illuminate the tragic, violent circumstances of those nations. Thanks to Harithas, the Station Museum consistently mounts exhibitions that no other American art institution has the guts or vision to tackle.”
Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 3.17.17
Often has been the case, while working with this archive, that I have found myself investigating the life and art of deceased artists. Of course, that’s true of Suzanne Paul herself. These days, however, I seem to find myself more and more often reaching out to artists still living.
Recently I sat down with Houston artist Susan Plum, who was a close personal friend of Suzanne Paul’s, to dig up some info on some very timely images I’ve come across while scanning.
These images, though taken in 1983, speak to me of the present and seem to reflect the political climate we’re experiencing so close to home these days. I detect in the images an inherent, almost natural, irreverence and rebelliousness — the markers of youth and artistry that demonstrate an uninhibited reaction to one’s place in time. Quite obviously, we see an artist throwing tortillas at an American flag. There’s much that can be made by way of commentary here… but take from it what you will.
A gap in an exhibition left opportunity for an impromptu installation and Plum was up for the challenge. “It was a statement about America,” she says, and it’s still relevant — it still fits. Susan got a good laugh at looking the photos. “I don’t remember it being that, THAT much fun…”
These documentary photos show some behind-the-scenes action related to a dual-venue presentation, which together created Low Down Showdown. The group pop-up exhibition invited an active group of Houston artists to present their works at The Alternative Museum in Tribeca (Showdown) as well as in a less-pristine venue across the street from the museum (Low Down). In the high-end / low-end juxtaposition, curation for the project was a collaborative effort between Houston’s Anne Harithas and the Alternative Museum’s co-founder Geno Rodriguez. At the time Susan was not living in Houston, but was posted in Seattle and met the Houston pack in New York City for the pop-up.
Art critic Kay Larsen mentioned Showdown in his New York Magazine editorial “Uncommon Visions”, and his text is invaluable as far as research goes. From his writing we gather the following:
‘Showdown’ was “a five-part series focusing on artists from the Southwest, sponsored by the Alternative Museum in TriBeCa… [executed with] the best of intentions… to give a glimpse of artists from parts of the country little known in New York. [The show] sprawls all over the Texas map, at least in this first version, curated by Anne Harithas, a former Houston gallery director and artists’ advocate. The apocalyptic tone of the title is matched by the size of the show’s ambitions: It will have five curators and three locations in four months. Harithas’s section closed on May 7…
The showdown, presumably, is with New York. As musical anthem to the show, California artist Terry Allen provided a twanging cowboy lament — played throughout the galleries — about a truckload of art sent out from the big city ‘to chide, cajole, humble and humiliate the Golden Bear.’ The truck overturns, catches fire, ‘and what the critics have cheered is now shattered and queered and their noble reviews have been stewed on the road.’ …
Rowdiness is a basic condition in this show. It turns up in John Alexander and Bert Long’s outrageous video satire on the Ku Klux Klan, whose members are shown gleefully sticking knives in watermelons and chewing on the pieces. It turns up again in Mel Casas’s banner of bullshit (literally, a painting of a bull’s head and a pile of turds). After such sophisticated bombast, I was drawn to the understated poetry of Nancy O’Connor’s photo-murals, which allow black cowboys to tell the story of their lives as outsiders caught up in a great myth. And I was especially taken with the ambivalent exuberance in paintings by Robert Wade… [in which he] has taken an old trove of Texas photographs, enlarged them, and transferred the images onto sensitized linen. The result is a true photo-realism in which cowgirls at a rodeo, or rattlesnake hunters with blank eyes and big guns, become archetypes of wilderness.”
The forthcoming sections of Showdown will include a number of artists who’ve become practically synonymous with a southwestern viewpoint — Luis Jiminez, James Surls —as well as others less familiar but equally caught up in the mythology of desert and mountain… ‘Showdown’ is as unruly as such exhibitions out to be.”
For Low Down Bert Long traveled to NYC with several suitcases of freshly made flour and corn tortillas to complete an installation. They started to foster mold about a week after the show opened. Suzanne and Susan decided to repurpose the decaying tortillas and feed the ducks at the Hudson River, which may have been illegal at the time.
As it goes, the museum’s co-director Geno Rodriguez was in jail the night before the show opened. There’s a good story there, I’m told. Artist Frank Fajardo had an installation in the pop-up and Clifton Chanier, a beloved Houston musician, played at the exhibition’s opening party in the basement of the space, where Tacy Tajun also executed a mural of cowboy silhouettes.
“We all were pretty comfortable around each other,’ Susan noted during our conversation. “It was the era,” she says…. “I think there was a connectedness that was lost when so many artists later moved [to Houston].. you could really almost count [everyone] on two hands, maybe four hands…”
Susan Plum lived in Houston from 1975 – 1980 and Suzanne was among the first that she met here — a next door neighbor. They bonded over time spent in California and art-making, among other shared interests, and developed a close friendship. When asked about the experience of being photographed by Suzanne, Susan paused and said “I didn’t even notice.. it was just something she was doing all the time.”
Susan got a kick out of seeing these images, which reinforces to me that our next phase, which focuses on identifying more characters in the photographs (as we are nearing the end of the digitizing phase), will be lively learning and so much fun, hopefully for everyone involved.
Fun times aside, this group of images reinforces an inquiry into themes that have come up time and again during this project. For example:
The inclusion of live music and perfomance as a decided intent of the immersive art experiences that Jim and Anne Harithas created, curated, and directed.
Aspects that supported the super close social and collaborative connections between artists living in Houston at the time.
Susan believes firmly that a well-established library system should be the guardians of Suzanne’s collection, and that such a close friend of Suzanne’s is supportive of our teams’ approach is meaningful to me and an yet another indicator that we are on the right track.
Susan Plum was born in Houston, however she spent her early and formative years in Mexico City. Plum embraced Surrealism and Magical Realism, the leading art and literary styles of the time. Magical Realism became the vehicle for which to explore and transcend cultural and spiritual boundaries. In this context, she envisioned a world that was inclusive, culturally diverse, and aesthetically vital, and has cultivated a language between the mythic imagined world and the real. Plum is a mixed media artist, but glass has been a primary material in her work and investigation of light in what she calls “weaving glass” or “weaving filaments of light.”
She originally trained as a painter but began working with glass after an extended trip to India, Nepal, and Thailand. Living in Seattle, the mecca for glass, she discovered the technique of “flame working,” using a torch and scientific glass (pyrex) rods, to build her pieces. After several sessions at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington, she began to teach there, as well as the Penland School of Crafts in Penland, North Carolina; the Corning Museum of Glass Studio, in Corning, New York; and Urban Glass, Brooklyn. This “flameworking” technique allows Plum to “draw” spatially. Plum also creates installation and performance art in addition to functional and sculptural work.
Her work is in the collections of the Corning Museum of Glass, New York; Hunter Art Museum, Chattanooga, Tennessee; University Art Museum, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona; World Bank; Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; Mobile Museum of Art, Mobile, Alabama; the American Embassy in Belize; the Museum of Arts and Design, New York; and the Tacoma Museum of Art, Tacoma, Washington. Most recently Plum has shown at Deborah Colton Gallery and at the University Art Center Contemporary Art Gallery at Houston Baptist University, Houston. She has also exhibited at the Station Museum, Project Row Houses, both in Houston, as well as the celebrated Field Museum of Science and the Chicago Cultural Center, both in Chicago. Additional prestigious exhibition venues include the School of Visual Arts, New York; Fowler UCLA, Los Angeles; the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art, New York; Museo Universitario del Chopo at the University of Mexico; El Cubo, Tijuana, Mexico; The Frost Art Museum, Florida International University, Miami; the Museo de la Ciudad, Queretaro, Mexico; the National Museum of Wellington, New Zealand; and at the National Museum of Lima, Lima, Peru.
Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 2.25.17
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.
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.
Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 1.20.16
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.
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.
Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 1.20.16
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.
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.
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.
Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 12.23.16
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.
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.
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.
Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 11.18.16
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.
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.
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 Human, a 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 BeingHuman 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.\”
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 BeingHuman and subsequent exhibitions A Moment in Houstonand 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.
From the Proof curatorial statement:
\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
\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
\nContent originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 11.18.16
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 Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, Nuestro, TexasObserver, and TexasMonthly, and art journals such as Artweek, ArtinAmerica, and CameraMagazine, 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.\”
Another exhibition at the CAMH in which Suzanne was included was the group 1982-1983 show IN OUR TIME: HOUSTON’S CONTEMPORARY ARTS MUSEUM 1948–1982, which 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.
\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
\nContent originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 10.28.16