The and/or gallery is one of the best things to happen to the North Texas art scene this year. They've been numbering shows serially, more like a magazine than an art gallery, alluding to the creative, "project"-like nature of their endeavor. #4 proves the latest in an unbroken string of smart, edgy, trendy-in-a-good-way selections.
Artist, Ohio-transplant and guest curator Ryan Fitzer keeps his duties simple and direct, with just two artists, both women; and a well-considered contrast: one artist of near Wagnerian magical eclecticism, the other of ephemeral delicacy.
Denise Burge is the former, and her wall installation commands one of the two long gallery walls, floor to ceiling, end to end, with sewn, stitched, painted, burnt and drawn elements weaving a mysterious, distinctly American mythic folk tale, with sorcerer's hands emitting cosmic radiation, disembodied angel's wings, back-country logging trails . . . it's a fabulist, Kesey-ian deep-woods passion play in the fields of the lord, and a river runs through it.
Her references range from the literary to a clear love of American folk artists like the Rev. Howard Finster; an awareness of West-coast graphic artists like Gary Baseman and Shag and heavy New York hitters like Kara Walker; and an admirably thorough study of Philip Guston, whose knobbly, brutal but sophisticated cast of characters and techniques seem a never-ending source of inspiration for artists on both sides of the turn of our new century.
As I often lament, sometimes it seems that every artist with an MFA and a sewing machine is hitting the thrift stores in search of tacky sheets and blankets to convert in the name of authenticity and an I-work-hard-for-the-money crafty/artsy-ness. It's getting very tired. So it's a good thing for Burge that she does it much better than most. To cop that line from Spinal Tap, she "turns it up to 11," and goes far enough over the top that it's hard not to get mesmerized by the skeins of sewn lines, textures, colors and her fine graphic, yet still quite sculptural, sensibility.
I was less fond of the similarly post-folk/craftwork of Jahjehan Bath Ives. Again, this is work that suffers from seen-it-too-many-times syndrome. Translucent drafting vellum, now all but abandoned by draftspersons, has become a virtual go-to drawing surface for artists wishing to evoke the subtle and precious, always neatly pinned to the wall. It's long played-out. Ives nonetheless fares well with her dense, delicate, mythic/romantic, laser-cut mise-en-scenes, and a short, looped animation is pretty cool, if lightweight. Where it all really comes apart is in her rendered graphite drawings, which are stiff, awkward and rife with clearly unintentional errors.
Titus O'Brien is an artist and writer living in Dallas. He teaches visual art at UT Dallas. firstname.lastname@example.org
Witches (2006), by Denise Burge, mixed media