In the latter half of the 1940s, following the end of the Second World War, Jonas Mekas and his brother Adolfas found themselves settled in a displaced persons camp in Wiesbaden, Germany. Previously, Jonas had lived a simple life in a quiet farming village in Lithuania named Semeniskiai, where he was born on Christmas Eve, 1922. Enchanted with poetry from a young age, Jonas’s penchant for language received public recognition, and his first collections were published at the early age of twelve. Although rooted in humble beginnings, he admits in an interview with the Brooklyn Rail that it was evident to his parents his future would not be restricted to the land on which he was raised.
En route to university in Vienna, his train was stopped in Germany. For the next eight months Jonas and his brother were imprisoned in Hamburg at the Elmshorn forced labour camp, before escaping. Shortly after their escape the war ended, and Jonas relocated through a series of German displacement camps before finally immigrating to Williamsburg, New York in 1949.
Jonas made great strides upon his introduction to New York City. Almost immediately he acquired an 8mm Bolex camera, and became an imminent figure in New York’s burgeoning film culture. Accordingly, starting in 1954 alongside his brother, Jonas founded Film Culture – a journal that critically discussed the avant-garde, Hollywood, and European art film. Having established his critical presence, Mekas also began writing for the Village Voice in 1958. Though his ambitions as a critic were soon superseded by a philosophy that would set the stage for what would later be coined as New American Cinema. In his Movie Journal, a collection of writings Jonas produced while at the Village Voice, he writes “I had to pull out…to protect all the beautiful things that I saw happening in the cinema, and that were either being butchered or ignored by my colleague writers and by the public.” It was this shift that marked the turning point away from feature film-making to a non-narrative kind of cinema.
Resembling more like collage than movie, Mekas’s irreverence for narrative structure appeals to one’s memory. This method neglects narrative for a more accurate reflection of how memory operates. Having circumvented the application of an overarching context, the collection of images are composed in a way that feels like they exist in a place outside of time’s grasp – the difference between past and present becomes irrelevant as it all becomes memory. Effectively evading the rigidity of cause-and-effect, Mekas’s films unfold more like poetry than a conventionally scripted film. From this canon, time – and its passing – is already understood. Thus, no further diction is necessary. Such is the nature of poetry; to reveal the essential without the burden of thesis. From this perspective, the images Mekas presents are given space to speak for themselves.
Take World Trade Center Haikus (2010) for instance. This short film has no discernible dramatic structure. There is no rising action or resolution to draw from, but meaning persists all the same. As the tape unwinds in tandem with a melodic piano score, a tone reminiscent of a home movie is fostered. However, it seems that the way in which the imagery is treated takes precedence over what the imagery actually shows. Appearing like disjointed fragments of film caught in quick succession, the whole of the film feels more like bearing witness to Mekas’s stream of consciousness. Although it isn’t quite intelligible what may have been said, the viewer is left feeling like something intimate has been exchanged. As for a haiku, it also tends to lack the breadth necessary to generate a narrative, yet it is not uncommon for simple things to yield lasting impressions. Though probably the most important aspect of poetry is not what a poem is saying, but rather the impulse behind saying something in the first place.
Written by Grayson Chandler
All Jonas Mekas works and films are available through Deborah Colton Gallery
Happy New Year and welcome to the beginnings of our 2020 blog series! We have had such vast growth and momentum at the gallery recently that we had to let this go for a while, but we are so happy to start again!
Today I am going to focus on our artists who currently have exhibitions at Deborah Colton Gallery: Ushio Shinohara and Noriko Shinohara, alias “Cutie and the Boxer.”
Born in Tokyo in 1932, Ushio Shinohara (nicknamed “Gyu-chan”) is a Japanese Neo-Dadaist artist and international Pop painter who has lived and worked in the United States since 1969. His parents, a tanka poet and Japanese painter, instilled in him a love for artists such as Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin. Most recently known for his exuberant boxing paintings, which are artifacts of his performances, Ushio Shinohara works in several mediums, including painting, printmaking, drawing and sculpture.
Ushio’s bright and frequently oversized work has exhibited at prestigious institutions internationally, including the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art; Centre Georges Pompidou; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Japan Society, New York; the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pusan; the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Tate Modern, among others. His work was also featured in International Pop, a landmark exhibition at the Walker Art Center that chronicles the global emergence of Pop art from the 1950s through the early 1970. A New York Times article on the exhibition reads: “Ushio Shinohara… engaged in a practice that might have been called punk if the concept had existed then…” reinforcing his position as a leading figure of the avant-garde art world.
Now to take a more personal
shift, when I was first introduced to Ushio’s
boxing paintings I was still in school at the University of North Texas. As a
budding art student honing my critical eye, I must admit that the pressure to
have something to say in class critiques — the
desire to establish a voice, and demonstrate one’s
often led to a hasty judgment of the
given subject matter. Ushio’s patented boxing paintings
were no exception, and as such, I designated them as a gimmick. Much like how
one may have determined Pollack’s style to be a gimmick; the
idea is surely novel, but the novelty is quickly diminished across reiterations.
I’ll explain why I was wrong, but first I need to
provide some more context.
sure you’ve heard the expression “my
child could paint that,” which is a common critique
regarding abstract expressionism. However, the reason this critique should be
dismissed is because it considers only the treatment of the materials, while
altogether ignoring the exposition of the artwork. In Ushio’s case, the apparent flippancy demonstrated in his
boxing paintings often overshadows the commentary, and it seems to me that this
is an issue he has grappled with for over half a century.
In 1960 Ushio helped found the
Neo-Dadaism Organizers. Their mission: deviate from any conventional form of
art. Akin to European Dadaists, who’s art
sought to reveal the customary and often repressive conventions of logical
order and rationality, the Neo-Dadaism Organizers embodied a similar ethos.
This can chiefly be seen in akushon, meaning “action”, which is the practice of
emphasizing the human body as an artistic medium. In particular, its aim is to
shock the audience via impulsive and sometimes disturbing performances.
Depending on the means and magnitude of such a performance, the disturbance may
seem to take precedence over the object of the art.
Thus, the premise of the artwork, and why it remains challenging to some, is because the object of the art is not the artwork itself. Instead, the artwork itself is more like a consequence — an epiphenomenon if you will. The real substance of the artwork lies in the sensibility, or ethic, with which the artist is using to communicate with you, the viewer. For Ushio, this sensibility is encapsulated in what has become his personal trinity “be speedy, beautiful, and rhythmical.”
I must confess that in the beginning the prospect of his “wild man” personality did not appeal to me, and in my haste to make a judgment, I let that prospect overshadow a more meaningful interpretation. Though now, with a better understanding of Ushio’s sensibility, I think you’ll find there is actually a great depth of complexity and sophistication in his artistic production.
For Noriko, the subject matter
is a different story, literally. Whereas Ushio’s
work is primarily drawing upon the sensations of the marks being made, Noriko’s work is presented as a narrative. Noriko’s work has
been exhibited frequently in New York and Japan, and is part of the permanent
collections of the Davis Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesley College.
Noriko Shinohara was born in 1953 in Takaoka City, Japan, moved to New York in 1972 to study art, and soon met Ushio in 1973. She has worked as an artist for many years, but the work she is best known for is her Cutie and Bullie series. Since beginning this series in 2006, it now includes drawings, paintings, and prints featuring her characters Cutie and Bullie, and gives us a glimpse into the dynamic between herself and Ushio. Truthful to the point of discomfort, the works which chronicle Cutie and Bullie follow Cutie’s early trials of being married to an alcoholic older man and the difficulty of being an artist in New York.
The scenes are graphic representations inspired by events highlighted in the award winning documentary Cutie and the Boxer. The film was nominated for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary, placed second in Audience Awards during the 2013 Tribeca Film festival, and earned Special Mention in Grierson Awards for the London Film Festival. Cutie and the Boxer won Best Director Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where the committee cited: “It’s rare to see a film so beautifully crafted in all aspects. It captures the complex nature of love and art in a mesmerizing and deeply human way.” The film was also nominated for Grand Jury Prize at the same festival.
On the surface, the imagery
appears light and playful. The line-work and color palette of her illustrations
have an outward pretense of levity, adolescence, and humor. However, these
conditions are underscored by much deeper psychological motifs. Marked by
growing pains characteristic of a coming of age drama, Noriko’s story chronicles the projection of herself — a character named Cutie — as
she contends with the harshness of reality. Drawing distinctions between her
experiences and her expectations, Cutie learns the difference between being
idealistic and pragmatic. The imagery, maintaining the likeness of a picture
book, invites notions of mysticism and fairy-tale. Yet, as the narrative
unfolds, the strength of Noriko’s metaphors begin to dissolve
through the allegory to reveal the real-life trials of an individual becoming
disenchanted with her circumstances.
As one comes to understand the veiled comparison between herself and Cutie, the buoyancy of her figures cascades from something symbolic of simple light-hearted narration into an effigy actual consequence. In this process, the story of Cutie is an analogy for Noriko: as the tone of the Cutie’s story inflects from one of youth and amusement to one of rumination and humility, so does the viewer’s impression of Noriko. Furthermore, I only imagine that for Noriko Shinohara, the story of Cutie is a monument to her own artistic culmination into who she has become today.
Written by Grayson Chandler
All works of Ushio and Noriko Shinohara Available through Deborah Colton Gallery
There is an image I’ve shared via this outlet before – that of the inimitable Dorothy Hood and artist Ron Hoover.
When I shared the image below of Dorothy and Ron, without yet having identified Ron in the Suzanne Paul archive, I received a bit of response online which clued me in to the standing Ron Hoover has achieved among his collectors and peers.
A quintessential “artist’s artist” and a “painter’s painter” are expressions I’ve heard in conversation between artists and art comrades. What I’ve come to know about Ron Hoover is that he was these things – respected in this community by his artist contemporaries.
What the feedback said of this image was that Ron was a good guy and great artist, that he was a true supporter of Dorothy’s work and a remarkable painter.
A color plate of his painting Green Dancer is prominently featured in the catalog for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston exhibition Fresh Paint: The Houston School – one color plate of 16, selected from among 44 painters. The same painting rests in the permanent collection of the MFAH. His statement in the same catalog reads:
“I am influenced by all other artists, for I feel that all artists have something to give to others… My painting deals with the human figure – an interest and concern about the human condition… I view painting as a form of communication — and I do like painting for painting’s sake.”
Personally, I agree with his sentiments about man in the environment, about Houston inspiring dedicated work, in one way or another, and about dedication to the creative process offering an evolving and illuminating sense of the self. Too, I appreciate his honest and direct expression. Like the statement in writing from the catalog, his direct expression permeates his paintings.
There is much to be said about the unrecognized artists who add substance and sustenance to the communities in which they work. Innovators are not always famous, but no less significant do their contributions become to their environments – no less impactful can their potential be to influence their peers that their more recognized counterparts. A good friend of mine – another under-acknowledged painter’s painter – describes these kinds of artists as “stems to the flower” that is a thriving creative community.
Some artists seem to struggle with the triumphs and pitfalls of fame. In the compromise between originality and notoriety, an artist is often compelled to exchange one for another of their own interests. Ron Hoover worked concertedly beyond the auspices of huge public recognition. At the same time, he is one of the few painters in Houston to have achieved and original and distinctive style, never shying away from deft visual commentary on our self-induced socio-political circumstances.
“The real-estate developers, football players, bureaucrats and politicians who populate Ron Hoover’s paintings and drawings offer a rogue’s gallery of American greed, violence and conformism. Hoover… was a social satirist with an eye as sharp and relentless as George Grosz’s. What first struck one in this posthumous survey, however, was not the artist’s moral outrage but his technique: a labor-intensive variant of pointillism that, in its density and optical shimmer, is more concerned with the perceptual than the political.”
Critical of the world in which he lived, steadfast and dedicated to his practice, there is no doubt that this singular artist from Liberty, Texas, has left a nuanced legacy in Houston.
Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 6.24.17
Hannah Holliday Stewart – I had really never heard of her until, at a late-night archiving session, Mercedes – Suzanne’s daughter and walking memory of her mother’s life – mentioned to keep a look out for an image of her.
Blessings from the Internet found for me an abundance of images of Hannah and her sculptures so that I might know what to look out for among Suzy’s photographs. This is the challenge and fun of this project… I have seen every image in Suzanne’s collection multiple times, but as conversations and references evolve and names get dropped, later passes through the collection reveal more and more about the individuals photographed and about Houston. Ideas percolate, faces become familiar…
Described once as a “Southern belle tomboy,” Hannah Holliday Stewart’s work is powerful and her legacy impactful. Though she did not end her career in Houston, she did play a significant role in establishing the Houston scene and shaping the arts community as an educator and, perhaps more significantly, as a seemingly unencumbered woman artist.
In 1955 she assumed a teaching position at the Museum School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. In 1964 Stewart began teaching at the University of Houston, where she taught for 6 years. Later, in 1974, she took a position at the University of St. Thomas. During this time she maintained a dedicated artist’s practice — notable features of her work include a 1958-1960 Smithsonian Institution exhibition that travelled world-wide as well as a 1975 solo exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston.
Many in Houston will find themselves familiar with Stewart’s work, if they aren’t familiar with the artist. Her most well-known sculptural work Atropos Key stands prominently on the hilltop at Miller Outdoor Theater in Herman Park. Installed on-site in 1972, the 11-foot figure, the product of an awarded public art commission, marks an unlikely win for a female sculptor – and abstract one at that – in an era that favored the artistic efforts of men.
Spiritual, astrological, and cosmological investigations into the natural world – seen and unseen – charged Stewarts work. In an artist’s statement found after her passing in 2010, Hannah wrote:
“An early interest in natural forces has sustained me throughout my life as a sculptor. My goal is to render visible the hidden realities of pent-up contained energy. The direct fields of reference are Sacred Geometry, Astronomy, Myth & Physics … Each Sculpture is an energy form, the movement arrested in space, a form sustaining an energy. My work is a response to these patterns and delineations and communicates with viewers through the universality of symbolism and form.”
Though I’m quite hesitant to impose an artistic profile upon any artist, upon reading this statement from Hannah my thoughts immediately go to Dorothy Hood, five years Hannah’s senior, as well as other women artist/creatives in Houston from the past few generations also recorded in this archive: Sharon Kopriva, Anne Harithas, Tacy Tajun, Susan Plum… Suzanne herself. Each attempts to visualize the experience of the invisible forces at play in their lives and in ours – to tap into some generative energy of nature and being in such a way that allows their respective mediums to be imbued with and illuminate intrinsic natural and human qualities.
I also hesitate to profile these women artists as staunch feminists, although, as women, I believe it only natural that they expose the inescapable aspect of their lives which they are most familiar with – their femininity. In her book American Women Sculptors, Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein wrote:
“A number of women artists… turned for inspiration to goddess imagery and ancient female deities. In sculpture, painting, and ritual, they revived the image of woman as shaman, deity, powerful creator and generator of life.”
Like divine intervention from a powerful diety or an otherworldy, godly visitor, Hannah came to Houston after earing her graduate degree in 1955 and left more than thirty years later (in 1987), without much word or goodbye.
The Houston Chronicle profiled Stewart’s life and career after her passing, around the time of a retrospective of her work in Santa Fe, where the artist ended her career. Though not taken by Suzanne, the images included in the write-up offer much about Stewart – her strength and femininity. Thankfully too, as the article notes, Houston collectors Bobby and John Nau acquired from the Santa Fe show, entitled Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered, Stewarts maquette of Atropos Key.
I will pass through the Suzanne’s photo archive again, and again, I’m sure. I do hope more images of Hannah and her work are patiently waiting to be rediscovered and reviewed with fresh eyes and new impressions.
Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 6.7.17
In the time that I have spent with her, mostly on projects at Deborah Colton Gallery, I have come to know Sharon Kopriva as a wonderfully easy-going and positive example to follow. Her artwork is sincere and true to her experience. She’s engaged in the community in which she is immersed and is especially interested in interfacing with her peers and artist/creatives from the generation succeeding hers. The scope and expression of her artwork has evolved significantly in the same amount of time, however, as with her earlier works, her most recent work maintains the intense energy with which it is imbued by its creator.
I sat down with Sharon in her studio recently to catch her take on Suzanne Paul and her impressions of our arts community.
SK: Here it is! This was taken by Suzy, of Gus and I.
TE: Tell me again about how you came to know Suzy.
SK: Probably just hanging out at Cosmo’s Cafe – It’s on Heights at Washington. Lucas Johnson was always there. We’d go in there at Suzy would be there. Or, at other places – I joined Lucas for breakfast lot – a lot of mornings. Lucas was so friendly – he just would draw people in. Suzy was one of them. I think he knew her forever. He told me she was just gorgeous when she was young… but part of that time she was being treated for cancer… TE: You know, Richard Stout mentioned a morning group – a coffee club – where he and Dick Wray and a few other guys would have coffee in the morning. It’s interesting that there’s a ritual around being in touch – that there are certain spots around town that were magnets for artists.
SK: Suzy would go, Lucas… Once a week we’d go to this little Mexican hole-in-the-wall. Dick Wray would head to that one. Richard would be there sometimes. Lucas, always, Loli-Fernandez… sometimes Suzy…
TE: So a rotating cast of artists. It seems like the social interactions did generate some of the creative activity in town. Not unheard of, but good to know who was involved. It seems like a very close-knit group.
SK: Well, Richard Stout is one of the people in the group who was very open. Dick Wray was not… and I never really entered into his circle… but I was there because Lucas invited me – as long as I didn’t sit in his seat. Lucas was in every circle – everybody loved Lucas Johson, a man with a big heart.
TE: The thing that I notice looking at this body of work from Suzanne, is that there was these strong social ties and relationships. Did those relationships determine who got what shows, or who showed where and when?
SK: No, I don’t think so – but it did work in that we would share news about exhibition opportunities that artists could pursue, or as a way to share happenings. But this was all going on long before I got out of school… I was a latecomer – so I’m not in any of Suzy’s earlier photos.
TE: And you later had portraits commissioned by Suzy – these are the images I included in Proof.
SK: The images in front of the garage door – but I like this one of Gus and I better – the images in front of the garage door are more intense, maybe a combination of both of us or the result of our interacting. Suzy could really catch some good stuff on the fly… but she could also capture a deeper sense of things.
A lot of people knew Suzy a lot better than I did, but I did enjoy the time I did spend with her. I’d say I knew Suzy for a long time – but I didn’t really get to know her personally until the times at Cosmo’s Cafe. She went there a lot for lunch, and Lucas was always going to be there – at noon. We’d talk about our work, upcoming shows, the news… there’d be a table and other people would come and join it.
TE: What kinds of things would come up?
SK: I think people would talk about their own. It wasn’t a place to challenge anyone’s work and it affected the work in that these informal meetings provided an open platform to share what you’d be working on. And there was an openness to talking about things… but I don’t have that place anymore. There’s no place I know, now, that I can pop into, assured to find another artist I know.
TE: Doesn’t seem to happen with my set either. But I can see what you mean about Richard Stout being very open and being an inclusive example to follow as a senior member among artists at the time. We had a lovely chat recently and covered a lot of ground – his work, the light the emotion in it and where that comes from, his contemporaries like Dorothy Hood, who also shares this great emotive experience…
SK: I look a class from Dorothy at the Museum School – just one. I really wanted to learn from her. She was very nice, but at the same time had this air of superiority – and I was not interested in approaching her to break that bearer. She knew and taught other people like Terrell James — who was also in the class and had taken classes from her for years – that barrier between them was gone there. There were other students too – Ibsen Espada was in the class. I’m very glad I took that class, very appreciative because I learned about things behind the physical paintings, and it made me consider what is behind my own paintings. I knew I was driven, but I began to ask myself what was in my head, behind the drive to create work. She was really good for me.
TE: What did you find there? What did you come to about what drives your own work?
SK: Well, [Dorothy] asked me, ‘Are you metaphysical?’ And I just blinked, because I had never been asked that before, and she said ‘Oh, you’re not…” I didn’t know. If you are [metaphysical], it’s not always necessarily obvious to yourself. It’s something that comes from deep within a person. Until that point, I had never really addressed what was deep inside for me.
Later I found a letter that Dorothy wrote – I found it in a drawer at the Art Department – I needed letters of recommendation for grad school and found a note from her that basically said, ‘Yes, this woman is talented, but she needs a lot of support,’
I thought it was pretty wonderful, though.
Sometimes I am [metaphysical].
TE: I believe it – I get the sense that your work is its own journey.
SK: Yes, it’s way back in there… it’s not superficial in the work… and every artist has this thing that dives them… and some artists never get to the “metaphysical” parts, but I am certain that I did. But when asked, I had no idea how to answer the question cause I had never asked myself. She made me address it.
TE: The images I’m looking at – and the conversations that I’m having – emphasize the social ties that existed, but also indicate that your generation was more comfortable than mine, perhaps, using art making as a method to, experiment, discover, and to direct the community.
SK: And to gather, too. Something happened. I can almost draw boundaries of time – of eras. When I was in school, James Surls was the gatherer… he’d say “Alright, let’s do a show – POW WOW.” That was done in 1979, and everyone and anyone could submit a piece to be considered – works 8 inches by 8 inches in size. Before that, there was a little clique that was much less inclusive. I think they were afraid at first to be all inclusive – maybe that they would loose something. They were the artist that were reviewed, the artists that got the critiques – the ‘serious’ artists. James Surls blew those walls away and threw it out the window. A few artists, like Lucas Johnson, were included in both of these groups. Suzy, though, was everywhere – at Lawndale with James Surls, in group with Jim Harithas, Marilyn Oshman.
TE: And you would have been around Lawndale at the time – in the thick of it – as a grad student. From there, what are career highlights for you?
SK: The first thing is Fresh Paint. It got so many artists’ careers kicked out or kicked around. It was almost unfair – if you were in, you were somebody, but if you were not in, it’s like a gate closed on you. Nobody had done a show like that in years and years and years. Barbara Rose was the curator, I was working for Marilyn [Oshman] at the time, and in one week she brought Barbara Rose over and after seeing my work, Barbara decided that I should be in the show. At the same time, Allen Stone came into town from New York and Marilyn asked me to pick him up from the airport. We stopped by my studio on the way – and from there I was in a group show at Allen Stone Gallery in New York. And that’s what was happening in Houston for those of us just out of school – graduate students and some undergraduates. I got into the Bill Graham Gallery at the same time.
My show in 2000 at the Menil is definitely a highlight. I haven’t surpassed that yet. After that, the retrospective at the Ogden Museum and the show at the National Museum in Lima, Peru.
TE: From Fresh Paint to the show in Lima, what is the difference in the work?
SK: Fresh Paint included one painting of mine. It was the first painting that I finished after I returned from a trip to Peru, different than anything I had done in graduate school. That painting was constructed around Peru, spiritual relics, mummy-like figures. That morphed later with ideas about Catholicism and religion. A wonderful thing happened later in the 2006 show in Lima. I had the Indian people coming to the exhibit and the Latin American audience coming to the exhibition – both – and I hadn’t noticed before that allusions relevant to both groups were in my work and their response was beautiful to experience.
The show that Barabara Rose started out with, as shows do, changed over time. The core group that Fresh Paint started with did somewhat make a statement – somewhere between Expressionism and Romanticism – that gathered around John Alexander and some other strong artists that were definitely figurative in their work – Abstract/Figurative maybe. Then it was opened up – it was just so big. The MFAH hadn’t presented a show of local artists for so long – some older artists had never gotten to show there and it would have been their last chance to be included those artists were just knocking on the door. So then a bunch of artists who had worked in Houston were included in the end. But it happened – and it ended up being that the “Houston School” has a variety, is hard to pin-down, and is “all-inclusive.” How do you make a statement about Fresh Paint: The Houston School? It is inclusive. And that mentality maintains – in Houston.
TE: That’s the thing. Do you think that there’s a detriment to that – another side of that which some artists in town experience? I, personally, feel a part of this community – but I can think of some of my peers who do not necessarily feel included – as if this “community” is not necessarily accessible to them.
SK: Well, there’s some of all of it that goes into that impression of being included. Some artists prefer to keep to themselves, some artists are shy – about self-promotion maybe. Because I was just getting out of school at the time of Fresh Paint, I didn’t have to worry about being shy or not shy – we were exposed. We were at Lawndale, on view constantly, so I didn’t even have to think about that. Lawndale did it – and so many people would come – to collaborate – to participate. Suzy Paul was there all the time – and she wasn’t a student – but she was involved.
TE: Do you think that this community has now grown too large to be “all-inclusive?”
SK: No, but I do think that somehow it’s generational. The one’s that did that kind of work are getting older without as much energy to spearhead these happenings, the younger artists have a different point of view, and somewhere in between there are artists who got to be almost instant successes – flashes in the pan. They’d go to New York and their work would sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars without them having had a single show before.
TE: I do detect some gaps in between the generations. What I’m hearing is that this place is inclusive and anyone can be a part of it if they want to be… but I’m also seeing that the faith in the process, the emotional investigation, and the “what’s behind the paintings” isn’t as easy to find or detect.
SK: It’s still there – it is harder to find. I think what it is, is that – if you go to “Big City” galleries you’ll see this – it all relies on photography or computer generated imagery. The computer doesn’t have any emotion – you can allude to it – so much of it is just layering. You have to read the tag to know who the artist is. Like in music, with singers — it used to be that you knew who was singing after hearing the first three notes out of their mouths. The style has become… homogenized… in music now and in art – but the computer is now the point of departure – the new birthplace of a piece of art – and that draws a line. The emotion comes from, more than anything, drawing. And that’s something fewer and fewer people care to do these days. There are some places where you find you can almost only use the computer – but drawing is imaginative. It goes into the back of the brain – where things are not so finite. Dorothy helped me to understand that. I’m sure Suzy knew that too.
Suzy Paul, Suzy Paul. I just think that she is a great photographer. I knew her at the end – I missed a lot of her – but I appreciated her.
About Sharon Kopriva
Sharon Kopriva is a Houston native. Her career launched in 1985 with the exhibition Fresh Paint at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. In the past 25 years she has exhibited her art in major cities in the United States, Mexico, Peru, India, Cuba, China, and Europe. Her most notable exhibitions include a solo show curated by the legendary Walter Hopps at The Menil Collection in 2001 and a retrospective of her work shown at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, curated by Bradley Sumrall in 2012, entitled From Terra to Verde. Kopriva is deeply influenced by a varied set of inspirations, including her Catholic upbringing, the wonders of nature, and her continued spiritual journey.
In 2014, her work was presented in a solo exhibition at Deborah Colton Gallery entitled Illuminations; in a solo exhibition Gothic Green at the Nave Museum in Victoria, Texas; and internationally in a solo exhibition Exposición Gótica at the Museo Metropolitano de Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico. In 2015, Kopriva was featured in one-person exhibitions in Austin and Houston, as well as numerous group shows worldwide most noteworthy being Texas! A Contemporary Art Exhibition in New Delhi, India; Works from the Permanent Collection at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans; and Dancing with Dystopia at Allan Stone Projects in New York City. In January 2016, she presented a new body of work at Kirk Hopper Fine Art in Dallas in conjunction with Deborah Colton Gallery based on animal and plant life; the show encompassed both painting and sculpture with the alliterative title Tubers•Tablets•Turfs•Tails. Deborah Colton Gallery has represented Sharon Kopriva since her 2011 solo exhibition Cathedrals, Phantoms, and Naked Dogs.
Her work is currently on view at the Deborah Colton Gallery’s exhibition Visions, alongside works from international artists Satish Gupta, Amita Bhatt, and Susan Plum. Visions is on view through June 24th.
Content originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 6.3.17
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