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
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