What an affirming, and rare, experience it is to see art that you like. So thank you Patrick Kelly for your whip-smart exhibition, Eye Want I Candy, at William Campbell Contemporary Art in Ft Worth. Thank you for creating a show where there is no possible way to reference Cy Twombly, Philip Guston, Susan Rothenberg, or Terry Winters, the apparent perpetual patron demiurges of regional painters nationwide; the bland, mushy re-mastications of which have me even more than naturally apprehensive of suburban petty-bourgeois McMansions for fear of the art, seemingly selling by the acre, that must be covering the walls out there. If I never see another Conte crayon scribble blob, noodle-y pastel paint doodle, or humorless self-important twig drawing, well, it will be too soon.
So let me sing in praise of Kelly's sharp, clever, funny, well-crafted paintings and constructions. Maybe the best thing I can say about them is that they would hold up anywhere. In fact, they might be better served if given the full-on “box-y white cube” treatment. I like WCFA, with its Texas Modern home-turned-gallery hodge-podge of spaces. It's surely been in that institution's interests to seem home-y, unpretentious, and welcoming. However, Kelly is in discourse with some heavy hitters, and I found myself wishing a bit to see his work in a grander context, and to see some of the work itself produced on a more momentous scale. I sense it would hold up to both. I also could have lived without the smooth-jazz Santana covers being piped in throughout the gallery (thought: isn't a smooth jazz cover of Santana redundant?).
you've got some Peter Halley refrences going on, some Agnes Martin, some Robert Ryman, a little Malevich and Reinhardt; a little Bob Morris here, a little Cubist faux-wood grain there (one of the central tropes here); and then you pop over the formalist fence and get some Magritte, some Marcel Broodthaers, your Duchampian found-idea-of-object-as-object, and even a little David Wojnarowicz mortal/psychological-intensity happening; all dished up seamlessly, meticulously crafted, and (yes!) honoring the materials and the essence of the stuff itself, by which I mainly mean the paint.
I sincerely appreciate the conceptual underpinnings and rigorous dance of ideas going on in this work; but those trains wouldn't leave the station if the craftsmanship wasn't so clean. Take Happy Mason , 2005. Fifty inches square, it's a pleasing dance of pristine pastel-colored bricks, looking like a Candy Land dead end road (that game is referenced in another work's title). There wasn't really a flaw to be found, with the paint attentively and unemotionally applied. The happy mason of the title could be the craftsman of the object; or the object a depiction of bricks placed by a childishly happy mason; or it could be the viewer, who is conceptually making the immediate and obvious association of this grid as bricks, and left feeling helplessly pleased by the joyous riot of tints and shades bouncing in the eyes. After standing and digging the piece on its own terms, I only then read the title, and I laughed (humor! hurray!), watching the whole thing just click into place, like a slot-machine. That third cherry so very rarely thunks over in line.
But the show isn't a one-hit wonder. Open Book is a fabulous nod to Mondrian and Richard Artschwager. Disappearing Act and India are a virtual diptych, with Arte Povera undertones. Covering Up references nothing so much as the door of a Texas barbeque joint. I'm telling you, this cat's got range; the boundaries are far and wide. I love the sense of curiosity, the seriousness of his endeavor, leavened with such a good dose of fun.
I like just about everything in this show; but if I were to temper it with one critique, I would say the only couple of “realistically” rendered elements — some stars, a planetoid — simply do not work, and need to be re-approached. One wrong move can deflate the whole balloon sometimes. And okay, I'm not crazy about the title of the show either. But let those be the only caveats to what are otherwise my two humble thumbs way up.
Images courtesy William Campbell Contemporary Art.
Titus O'Brien is an artist and writer currently living in Dallas