Eric G. Thompson‘s new series of contemporary realist paintings arrived yesterday. As we pulled them from the box one by one, silenced by their cool gravitas, we saw them in a whole new way. First came a solitary bird in a tree, silhouetted against a pale sky. Was he watching the pensive girl strolling through the field that emerged from the package next? Perhaps she was headed to the barn in the following image, where she’d sit and munch on the late-summer pear in the still life. It was as though we were opening an intricate matryoshka doll, with each picture adding a new layer of details to the story.
Light flows across Thompson’s canvases and panels like meditative thoughts, revealing an endless array of materials with diverse textures and reflective qualities. As a self-taught artist, Thompson learned to capture all of these effects through looking, painting and looking again. When you come to the opening reception for Eric G. Thompson: New Works at Matthews Gallery this Friday, August 14 from 5-7 pm, make sure to take just as much care as you ponder each composition (and perhaps find connections between them). Here’s a special preview:
It’s not a stretch to call Hannah Holliday Stewart‘s (1924-2010) sculptures cosmic. In the artist’s heyday, the bronze forms that emerged from her Houston studio were often over 10 feet tall and thousands of pounds. She aspired to create physical manifestations of complex ideas in science, mythology and other fields, a system of “pure [abstract] symbols as constant as numbers and letters of the alphabet,” as Paul Klee said in one of Stewart’s favorite quotes. The themes she explored were so vast that Stewart’s work was at times cosmically misunderstood.
In preparation for our posthumoussolo exhibition of Stewart’s work this July, we’ve been digging through the sculptor’s carefully organized personal files. One folder marked “Press” holds a 1994 newspaper article from Stewart’s childhood home of Birmingham. By that time Stewart had lived far away from Alabama for a lifetime, building a reputation in Texas and the Desert Southwest as one of the first female sculptors to win competitive public art commissions. “Ms. Stewart talks of such abstract notions as harmony and energy and spiritual awakening,” puzzled the Birmingham Post-Herald reporter. Throughout the rest of the article Stewart scratched out or rewrote swaths of the writer’s analysis in black ink, clarifying concepts and modifying terms. “[I] always go back to classical order and laws,” she scribbled at the bottom.
Stewart was born in 1924 in Marion, Alabama. She studied art in Alabama and Georgia for her BFA, and completed her MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. After working at foundries in Florida and Mexico, she landed a teaching job at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and later at the University of Houston.
By the 1960s Stewart’s work had grown to a monumental scale, and a passionate group of Texas art enthusiasts rose to support it. In an era when female sculptors had to fight for recognition, Stewart’s bronze monoliths were popping up all over Houston—and beyond. In 1962 a swooping, Brancusi-esque bird form called “Libertad” appeared in the courtyard of Houston’s World Trade Center, and in 1972 an 11-foot-tall sculpture titled “Atropos Key” landed on a hill in Hermann Park. A commission for a monumental work in Dallas’ Samuels Park spread her name across the state.
“I found myself devoted to her work very early, I think,” says Dayton Smith, who befriended Stewart around 1969 when he was working for a Houston photography studio. “I realized the significance of it, the weight of it, shall we say.” Over the next few years Smith helped Stewart in various ways, photographing her artwork, transporting sculptures, and organizing a 1973 solo exhibition at Houston’s Jamison Gallery on Hermann Park.
“As I got to know her, I became aware that she was a very literate person, very intelligent,” says Smith. “Her work really did relate to what she encountered in her learning.” Smith noted that Stewart explored many fields of knowledge, from science and architecture to music and mythology, allowing concepts in each field to influence her three-dimensional objects. In 1975 and 1976 she mounted her first major solo show at the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum, exhibiting a series of large plaster models (including “Adam’s Rib“, from the photographs in this blog post) that were based on smaller bronze maquettes. But even as Stewart’s legend grew, Smith says misconceptions about her work persisted.
“The word spiritual often comes to mind, but spiritual is such a misunderstood term in our society,” explains Smith. “If you look at the word itself, the Latin root of it is ‘spiritus’. That means ‘wind.’ We can see the wind when it carries things, when it moves things.” Stewart worked to bring the invisible—a musical note, kinetic energy or a wisp of air—into the physical world.
More mysterious still to many of Stewart’s friends in Houston was her abrupt disappearance from the art world. Smith last saw Stewart in the late 1980s, when she was teaching at St. Thomas University and exhibiting in an impressive array of art institutions across the country. A few years later Stewart packed up and moved away from Houston, settling in Arizona, Alabama and then Albuquerque, New Mexico. She never exhibited her artwork publicly again. Why would a woman who once showed at the Smithsonian Institution, the Getty Museum and prominent galleries in New York, New Orleans and many other cities suddenly leave it all behind?
Smith has a few hunches. Stewart often said that she was inspired by the Desert Southwest, and sent Smith an image of her working in her new studio in Flagstaff. The move to Birmingham probably had to do with the declining health of Stewart’s brother and two sisters, who lived in the area. When it came to her art career, Smith thinks Stewart may have needed room to spread her wings and find new inspiration.
“Once we were talking about something she’d observed,” recalls Smith. “That sometimes to make it in your own town you have to leave and come back with something big. That people could get too used to you, but that perhaps you could come back and be accepted. Maybe she was planning that.”
Lor Roybal, Dodge’s Disbelief, acrylic on paper When Lor Roybal‘s big blue van pulls up in front of the gallery, we’re never quite sure what’s in store. She’s a blur of swirling textiles as she bursts through the door with something bright and colorful in tow. Her specialty is portraits, usually of characters from dreams or her vivid imagination. Sometimes she carries a box packed with miniature paintings and other times she holds a large frame in her hands. Once she brought by a loose stack of old sketches and wild free verse poems.
Lor is a familiar face in Santa Fe’s art community, but no one seems to know much about her. She lives somewhere along the Pecos River north of Santa Fe. Her two-room house is off the grid so she heats it using firewood in the winter. Her dog is her closest companion and painting is her favorite pastime. She is a scholar of art history.
“When I first started showing people my little paintings, I would say, ‘Here’s my treasure chest of gems,'” Lor once told us. There’s definitely something precious about Lor’s colorful faces. Each subject has a name and thorough biography. There are daring circus performers and pensive poets, gossipy grandmothers and mischievous little boys, cherubic elves and long-departed spirits. Some of the figures are intelligent riffs on other artists’ styles, from Picasso to Chagallto Renoir, but all possess a wild twist of Lor’s style.
Lor is now officially part of our stable, and we couldn’t be prouder to represent her. As you’ll see in her latest batchof acrylic paintings on paper, the artist is truly one-of-a-kind. Check out some of the work below, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for continued updates.
As we learned in his NEW HORIZONS show, sculptor Frank Morbillo is inspired by the way the elements carve the canyon lands of the American West. It’s fitting that his process is just as elemental. He bends and twists flat pieces of steel and bronze and then welds them into seamless three-dimensional forms, first creating smaller studies and working up to towering sculptures that possess the same gravitas as the rock formations he loves.
Witness the fiery birth of Frank’s sculpture Sprung and read quotes from the artist about his process and influences in this photo montage:
“When you’re working with steel, you can work pretty inexpensively to generate an idea and get proportions down, and then make it a little bit bigger. Eventually this can go to the scale of the piece outside the Matthews Gallery.”
“My background was in ceramics when I first started. For two years of college I thought my major was going to be ceramics, but in my sophomore year I took a blacksmithing class on forging and fabricating metal. I was like, ‘You can heat the stuff up and move it like clay? Oh my God!’”
“You knock a piece of clay off the table and it breaks on the floor. You knock a piece of metal off and it dents the floor.”
“A lot of the pieces come from hiking canyons and experiencing the paths that you take in a canyon. If you look at a topo of a canyon, you can see its meandering course. When you’re down in a canyon and you see how it’s been eroded and shaped by water and wind, it takes on another shape.”
“When I was in the foundry business doing patina work for different artists, we always used to talk about the translucency of bronze. They always wanted that, to where if you put this really nice golden brown patina over metal, you could see the metal coming through.”
“One of the nice things about being out in nature is that all of the things we connect ourselves with are gone. Where does that take you? I think we need to do that still in our lives.”
“Flesh was the reason oil painting was invented,” said Willem de Kooning. The quote is a nod to the Dutch masters, who developed the medium to accurately evoke the semi-translucent glow of human skin in the crisp light of 17th century Delft.
By the mid-1900s, de Kooning was using the same medium to very different ends. His nudes unraveled across the canvas, their mottled flesh mimicking the dark tones of a bruised peach or the sickly hues of a jaundiced child.
The abstract expressionist encoded in painted skin the darkest sexual desires and terrors of the modern world, but he wasn’t blind to the way the inherent qualities of oil linked him to a much different time and place.
Our new exhibition FOCUS ON THE FIGURE, running December 2 to 9, holds a similar philosophy at its heart. The use of figures in art stretches back to prehistory, and new explorations into the subject have always looked to the past in one way or another.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s (1841-1919) etching Odalisquerefers to Turkish concubines, but that wasn’t necessarily the artist’s intended title. Renoir submitted a painting of a nude called Diana to the Paris Salon in 1867. The erotic depiction of the Roman goddess offended the judges and the painting was rejected.
Three years later the artist used the same model for a painting called Odalisque and made sure she was fully clothed. The second work, stripped of its mythological significance and given an exotic twist, was accepted to the Salon.
In this etching with the same title Renoir refuses to hold back. The nude Odalisque is so tenderly rendered her skin looks as soft as butter. “When I’ve painted a woman’s bottom so that I want to touch it, then [the painting] is finished,” the artist said.
Harold Frank (1917-1995) was born in England and grew up in New York, where he drew inspiration from American modernism and abstract expressionism. His take on the female figure in Blue Nudefeatures quick, expressive brushwork that was no doubt inspired by de Kooning.
Both artists incorporated drips and splatters of paint into their compositions to create spacial ambiguities in the picture plane. Is Frank’s nude standing in a corner or floating in a color field? The answer seems to change with every glance.
Jamie Chase immerses a figure in a vibrant yellow atmosphere in Turning Point. It brings to mind both Mark Rothko and Nathan Oliveira, but Chase’s influences stretch farther back in art history.
Chase grew up in San Francisco and attended art school there for a short time before dropping out to travel Europe. He lived in various cities and educated himself on the masters before returning to San Francisco in the early 1970s. There he painted murals for a bookstore, drawing inspiration from ancient Egyptian art, European cave paintings and Native American art.
Come trace the history of the artist’s impulse to capture the figure at the exhibition this December, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more news from the gallery.
As the reception for Diane White’s “Magical Realism” show begins, the artist stands alone in the middle of the Matthews Gallery’s front room, her shoulders squared and her hands clasped together. She looks around at the paintings she’s created over the past year and gives a little smile, but her posture doesn’t waver. She’s ready to greet her visitors.
One of the first folks through the door is Diane’s husband Steve, who’s just taken a stroll along Canyon Road and has something clutched in his hand. He presents it to Diane and she looks down inquisitively. It’s a small grey rock in the shape of a heart.
“Oh, thank you! Oh, that’s wonderful,” she says, beaming and leaning back to rest for a minute in Steve’s arms. “He’s my man.”
The moment reminds me of Diane’s work, which is imbued with equal measures of brave composure and romantic tenderness. The classically trained painter is inspired by magical realism, a literary genre that is rooted in the real world but incorporates magical characters and occurrences. In her impeccably detailed still lifes, glowing flowers hover above ceramic pots and ghostly birds rise from empty nests. The objects’ histories unfold around them, at first as subtle as a distant memories and then as vivid as a dreams.
With the heart rock pressed to her chest, Diane answered some questions about her new work, her process and her message:
What drew you to magical realism?
I had a traditional still life that I was working on, and I was struck with the desire to do something else with it. It was steam coming out of a teapot with a dragon on it, and I made the steam into a dragon as well. Larry and Linda went, ‘What’s that?’ And I said, ‘Well, it just happened.’ That was five or six years ago.
What were you thinking about while you were working on this show?
I don’t start with one thought process, I start with one piece that I’m painting and I focus on that. I don’t concentrate on a body of work. When you look at my work, they’re all very different. Some of them are aggressive with warriors in the background, and others have some angels. I just take it one painting at a time, and try to have them tell a story. Usually it’s an uplifting story—a lot of flight, a lot of action.
Several of the paintings show intricate nests. What inspired you to use them in your work?
I have done nests before, but probably not for three years. I have horses now at my farm in Vermont, and I was out in this area with huge pine trees where they hang out when I found a nest that was made of horse hair. It had twigs and things too, but inside I could see the hair of the different horses. I thought, “I have to paint a nest.” It was so magical for me to find that.
How do you strike a balance between the real elements in your paintings and the magical ones?
I don’t want it to hit people in the face. I don’t want it to be Salvador Dali with a melting clock. I want it to be fairly subtle, and maybe something that the person looking at the painting discovers. On second glance you say, “Well, wait a minute. That’s not just steam. There’s something in there.” You kind of get involved with the painting.
Sometimes you paint groups of figures in the backgrounds of your still lifes. Who are they?
They’re the warriors in all of us, the strength. There’s usually beauty in my paintings—perhaps a flower—and there’s strength. I don’t make it try to be pretty, but I want it to be strong. They’re warriors, and that’s what we all have in us, this strength.
Learn more about Diane White’s August 16-29 “Magical Realism” exhibition here, and check out more photos from the opening reception here. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more art news.
David Grossmann always knew he wanted to be an artist. Even before his first painting lessons with his grandmother at 10 years old, he was an avid sketcher, filling notebooks with intricate drawings of dragons and the floor plans of medieval castles. By 16, David was taking portrait commissions and doing book illustrations for a publishing company. Still, he couldn’t quite discern a path that would turn his passion into something more.
“I didn’t know how to get there as far as making a living as a professional artist,” the 29-year-old says. Finding that bridge would take a while, but it’s safe to say that he’s officially crossed it. We’re proud to be the first gallery to represent David and his work. It’s just the latest high point in an already impressive artistic career.
David was born in the United States and moved to Chile when he was two years old. It’s a place of stunning, harsh natural beauty that would inspire in David a lifelong passion for the outdoors. His grandmother was a landscape painter who lived in El Paso, Texas. When they saw each other, she would teach him oil painting techniques with a brush and palette knife.
When David was 14, the family decided to relocate to Colorado. It was a move that the teenager fiercely resisted.
“When we left, I didn’t say goodbye because I hadn’t accepted that we weren’t going back,” he says. “I’m sure for anyone, being 14 is probably a tough age. On top of that, adjusting to a new culture and new everything was really difficult.”
The move marked a big shift in David’s art. Not long after he arrived the young artist started receiving requests for commissions, and he enrolled in his first formal drawing classes with artist Valorie Snyder. His grandmother was an art director of a Christian publishing company and gave him a job illustrating Bible study curriculums.
“It became more of an outlet for me than it had been before,” David says. “It was a lot more serious, a lot more figurative works. I also started drawing more landscapes at that point.”
Despite his early success, David still didn’t see art as a viable career. In college he studied business and Spanish, focusing primarily on his studies instead of his artwork. During his last year at university, struck by the fear of being trapped in a cubicle, he finally committed to giving art school a shot.
At the Colorado Academy of Art, David learned classical painting techniques and took his first plein air painting class.
“I’ve always loved the outdoors, but until I took that class I felt like I couldn’t contain the landscape. It’s so huge, and I didn’t know how to make it into a composition,” he says. After he learned how to capture the beauty of nature on canvas, he knew that he’d be doing little else in his work. “That combination of being outdoors and painting, which were two of my favorite things, were just perfect for me,” he says.
Three years after David enrolled at the art academy, it abruptly closed. The artist once again found himself full of doubt; he’d learned a lot about painting, but he wasn’t sure how to sell his work. That’s when he started an apprenticeship with artist Jay Moore.
“In art school, my training was very much based on technique but not a lot on the professional side of things,” David says. Being in Moore’s studio gave him a window into the life of a working artist, and showed him that a fine art career was possible. “I didn’t know how long it would take to get there, but I knew that I could get there,” he says. “I remember being so excited. I’d been thinking about and dreaming about this for most of my life.”
Since then, David has developed a unique style that the artist calls “visual poetry”. Using a gentle, glowing palette, he paints abstracted visions of forests that are melodic in their focus on rhythm and symmetry. Sprawling swaths of landscape transform into flat, smooth planes while scattered trees lend a profound sense of depth. These contrasting perspectives set the works slightly off-balance, sending the eye on an endless quest to consolidate them. The compositions may seem serene, but they contain the same mysterious kinetic energy that tugs our eye from one stanza of a poem to the next.
“I think both poetry and paintings can capture an essence of something and stir emotion and imagination at a very deep level,” David says. “In some ways it’s very simplified and thought out, but hopefully it reaches to that level that connects with someone’s heart.”
David has since shown his work in many exhibitions, including national shows sponsored by Oil Painters of America, the American Impressionist Society, and Salon International. Southwest Art Magazine featured him as an “Artist to Watch” and his work has been featured in Plein Air Magazine and American Art Collector Magazine.
The artist is also an avid traveler, and has journeyed with sketchbook in hand through the Western United States, Eastern Europe, Africa and Central America. In 2011, he finally had the chance to return to Chile. He saw old friends and spent 11 days backpacking through Patagonia in Southern Chile. It was the first time he’d brought along a full painting set on a trip.
“It’s very rugged country and I was carrying a backpack that weighed over 60 pounds,” David says. “Having to paint under those circumstances where there’s just forceful gusts of wind nonstop, it really made me appreciate that every painting is a miracle. It brought out a new level of confidence in my work.”
David had come full circle. He left Chile as a child and returned as an artist.