Thursday, July 17, 2014

10 Staff Tributes to Texan Modern Art

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The very Texan "us against them" spirit drove the midcentury modern art movement in Texas before New York City's Abstract Expressionism was canonized as American postwar modernism. This barely known chapter in the story of American art is the focus of our new book Midcentury Modern Art in Texas by Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum curator Katie Robinson Edwards. Listen to Katie Edwards talk about the book in our podcast series.

To celebrate the book's publication, we asked our staff to get artsy and craft their interpretations of major paintings from this canon-defining period. We were not disappointed with the results. We're showcasing the staff submissions below with examinations of the original pieces from the book and statements from our staff artists on how they connected with the pieces they emulated. Here's a video overview of all the submissions from our staff:

Left: Joyce Lewandowski, untitled collage
Right: Toni LaSelle, Study for Puritan, 1947-1950
Artist Statement: "My entry was a Lance Letscher inspired collage using scissors, paper, and glue―brought on by a 50+ year delayed reaction to skipping kindergarten."
—Joyce Lewandowski

From the book: The study for Puritan (1947) indicates the labored premeditation LaSelle undertook. The study, with its slightly less complicated design and more horizontal format, is harder edged. The final Puritan remains geometric but painterly, with forms fluctuating between floating and receding planes. Although looking nothing like Hofmann’s work, it achieves the German painter’s famed “push-pull,” which generates dynamism.

Left: Bailey Morrison, untitled collage
Right: Marjorie Johnson, Still Life with Grapes, 1951
Artist Statement: "I was drawn to the colors Marjorie Johnson used and took the opportunity to raid my craft box for old Alamo Drafthouse and Tribeza magazines to collage this 'masterpiece.'"—Bailey Morrison

Regina Fuentes and Sharon Casteel, In the Press Yoga Car
Jerry Bywaters, In the Chair Car, 1934
From the book: With its themes of youth, old age, piety, and modern transportation in a spare setting, In the Chair Car might be thought of as a pictorial novella. Bywaters spent decades documenting, promoting, and creating the state’s art.

Left: Regina Fuentes and Sharon Casteel, Honey Field Gals
Right: Jerry Bywaters, Oil Field Girls, 1940
From the book: Bywaters’s celebrated painting is a modern allegory on the industry’s ills and the symbiotic profession that thrives on it. (Note the black smoke and “666” sign in the background.) At the same time, it is humorous and eternal.

Left: Joyce Lewandowski, untitled fabric pillow
Right: Forrest Bess, Untitled, 1947.
From the book: Made by one of the leading abstract painters in the state, these twin images may allude to Bess’s theories about the unification of male and female within one body.

Artist Statement: "After realizing that working in 3D would expand my range of options, I checked my fabric cabinet and the pillow idea was born. Uniqueness was the goal."
—Joyce Lewandowski

Sheila Scoville, untitled animated GIF
Dorothy Antoinette (Toni) LaSelle, Puritan, 1949–1950
From the book: In colors limited mostly to black, green, and gray on a white ground, Puritan’s circle, triangles, and rectilinear forms are at once precariously balanced and solidly anchored. The small yellow rectangle at lower right intrudes almost humorously on the sanctified color scheme of green, black, and gray. Puritan looks as fresh today as it must have fifty years ago.

Artist Statement: "The color palette of Toni LaSelle's Study for Puritan inspired me to play with the themes of night and day, sky and earth. My tribute gif is a fractal depiction of a bright, then cloudy day transitioning at warp-speed into a starry night."
—Sheila Scoville

Left: Kaila Wyllys and Regina Fuentes, Book and Mortar
Right: Everett Johnson, Mending the Rock Fence, 1936
From the book: Painted the same year as the Texas Centennial and included in the Delphic Studios exhibition, Spruce’s Mending the Rock Fence (1936, oil on Masonite) stands at the peculiar intersection of Depression-era Texas and Quattrocento Italy. Two generations of men work side by side (reminiscent of the nuns in Bywaters’s In the Chair Car), laying stones for a wall that could stand in for an Italian parapet. Like the parapet, Spruce’s rock fence links the viewer to a fictive landscape. Spruce’s signature is on the wall, just as Renaissance artists often signed the parapets they depicted. The lessons of the father are being passed on as the older man assesses the stone’s mass with his hands, communing with it like a talisman. The stone ledge and tree in the distant background rise symbolically between the men, nature’s macrocosm. The men, working slowly with individual rocks, echo it in microcosm.
Henri Gadbois, Watermelon and Pomegranate, 1953
From the book: Some of Gadbois’s midcentury works reflect Fauvist and School of Paris influences, such as Matisse’s windows series at Collioure. Whether depicting still lifes, landscapes, or structures, Gadbois’s work is anchored by architectural solidity and color balance. Two-Tiered Formation (1950) applies an arid southwestern palette to swooping, interacting flame-like masses. Gadbois ably shifted from minimally representational works to highly abstracted landscapes to quotidian objects, as in Watermelon and Pomegranate (1953).
Joyce Lewandowski, untitled basket of cookies
Artist Statement: "Edible art. What's not to like?"
—Joyce Lewandowski

Left: Rebecca Frazier, untitled floral piece
Right: Marjorie Johnson, Still Life with Grapes, 1951

Artist Statement: "I’m a Texas Master Florist in my other life, so where others see brush strokes, I often see flower petals.  I fell in love with the bright color harmony of Marjorie Johnson-Lee’s piece; as soon as I enlarged it to examine the detail I knew which carnation I would use for that gorgeous pink."
Rebecca Frazier

Regina Fuentes, TGIF, Gang
While not based on a work of art from Midcentury Modern Art in Texas, this piece is a dead ringer for our production assistant Andy Sieverman! Well done, Regina.

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