My first visit to the Dallas Art Walk was their last monthly hike of the year, falling on the first of December. In the Design District, my first stop, the lights were on but no one was home. A colleague informed me that the crowd was small, at least a quarter of the average participation. That night, a strong warm wind, the madness of the holidays or the edgy Mayan countdown may have kept Dallas art lovers snug in their beds. For a while, I wish I had done the same. But Santa always saves the best present for last.
The Design District, an industrial half mile on Dragon Street, offers a potpourri of art works, some heavenly and many not so fragrant. While the economy fouls and the art markets are mildewing, the Epson printers smell sweet at full production. Digital painting onto canvas is the new norm and well evidenced at the art walk. I remember the first time I saw an Ed Ruscha work that had been printed onto canvas. On one hand I was appalled that my hero would go for a glicée, a fancy French term for a fast photocopy. On the other, I respect innovation, technology, speed and efficiency. It weighed heavily on my mind. The setting, Gagosian in Beverly Hills, provided an inarguable legitimacy to the Ruscha. Today, the description, "Acrylic on Canvas" is a loaded hot potato. Buyer beware. The hand on canvas can now be as simple as pushing a button once. Paint is a bane to every manicure. At this Holiday art walk, it seems as if every artist is printing up a storm and slapping it onto stretcher bars. Mind you, this particular district is overrun with home furnishing showrooms. Art matches the couch. Some galleries are supermarkets.
On the fine art high end, Conduit presented some interesting, politically themed work by Robert Barsamian. Either that man is an amazing painter or he has an Epson printer in his toolbox. The gallery spread their good cheer and charity with a colorful room by Leticia Gomez, a recent North Texas Denton grad. Her classmates peopled a giddy, fun crowd.
The undisputed leader in the Design District is the Holly Johnson Gallery. For the holidays, Johnson featured the work of Houston photographer Casey Williams who has made an interesting change in his work by printing directly onto aluminum. The material has absorbed the color, creating a muted, shimmering palette. Turning away from project-based works, the images offer places and objects from Williams' personal life. The front room was filled with a selection of gallery artists. What spun my head was an abstract by Antonio Murado. Marañas (no.55) is rich in color and dimension. Marañas is Spanish for a thicket or to tangle. (See slideshow below.)
One artist remains old school. At the Samuel Lynn Gallery, painter Phil Romano keeps his hand on the canvas. I wish he had kept it on the pasta. Romano is the founder of the national Macaroni Grill restaurant chain. Today, he paints. Like the thoughtful Man Ray, I respect all artists and their endeavor. I respect passion. Period. Romano is passionate about his work. I must confess to the sin of jealousy. Romano has a keen setup, a gallery in the front and a studio in the back. A tour of his inner sanctum revealed a huge inventory of mass-produced, pre-stretched, shrink-wrapped bars and gallons of paint. As with good garlic, Romano is not stingy spreading the paint on a canvas. His colors are bold, plentiful and fresh from the tube. The holiday crowd was as lively.
By far, the most successful opening was for DeVon, an artist who had been designated as a Pop. The showroom went above and beyond any other Dragon Street venue, offering a table of sandwiches and cupcakes. Kudos to Galerie Züger! May other venues follow their good example. One suggestion to all, vodka is a brilliant addition to the dreary and uninspired beer and wine menu. Hard liquor encourages big sales. Maybe the Macaroni Grill can offer a discount on the catering. Artists are always starving. Think big. It never hurts to ask.
Curated by Randall Garrett, Plush is a small enthusiastic arts space located in an architect's office. Three conceptual installations, titled "Secret Fun (vol i): Ver-I-si-mil-I-tude" by Garrett, Justin Hunter Allen, Daniel Kurt, Michael Mazurek, and Michael Wynne sparked my interest. Unfortunately, I did not have the time or the energy to read, absorb and study them. Most gleefully, the soundtrack to the space offered the best beats of the evening. Patrick Patterson-Carroll gave an aggressive spoken word performance to great applause.
PDNB, Photos Do Not Bend, offered a beautiful selection from their antique archives. Nothing blew my mind, but the experience was beautiful, nostalgic and dreamy. PDNB is worth a waltz.
Across town in Ellum, 500X bounced for joy. Irby Pace exhibited a series of landscape photographs, each confounded with smoky explosions of color. How'd he do that? The artist swears nothing has been Photoshopped. Some of the pieces in Pop! are epic in scale. The works provide a curious mix of danger, mystery, awe and beauty. All fireworks do.
Barry Whistler gave away the best Christmas present with a group drawing show. Carl Suddath embraced me with a dark, deep, lush green monochrome. The mystery of the color was indescribable and personal. This flat surface was as deep as infinity. The sailor in me took note of Linnea Glatt's French Knots on Edge. Small, tiny knots were minimally placed and sewn through paper, creating a simple and smart wonder. Lawrence Lee stood above the crowd with his Album Avis. His hand and mind offers idea, history and miles of style. The best gift in the room was wrapped by John Holt Smith. His Hubble Oculus #6 is a 20 x 20" graphite on aluminum. Busy and silent, shadows wrap around the light and fade to black. Soul and skill.
Last night will not be my last visit to the Dallas Art Walk. A beautiful scene needs our support once a month. Next time, I look forward to hoofing it in a big crowd.
Gordy Grundy is a Los Angeles based artist. His visual and literary work can be found at www.GordyGrundy.com