Hot Girl Summer at Anya Tish Gallery in Houston features Adela Andea, William Cannings, Dan Lam, Jacqueline Overby, Shannon Cannings, and others. The show takes its name from Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion’s audacious 2019 hit song “Hot Girl Summer.” For Megan, a “hot girl summer” and being a “hot girl” means to be confident and have fun in a way that uplifts oneself and their community. While Megan is loved by fans for encouraging others to feel comfortable and sexy in their own actions, many of the pieces in this exhibition employ an opposing notion of playing with audience expectations by using materials that appear different than their final product. Hot Girl Summer also pays affectionate homage to the iconic Texas heat, with vibrant and energetic works that reference popsicles, water guns, melting drips, pool floaties, and retro toys. Houstonians that experienced the record-breaking highs of June 2022 will connect with the nostalgia and aesthetic in the exhibition.
As soon as I stepped into the gallery, I felt an instant sense of satisfaction that this show perfectly captures Megan’s “hot girl” attitude, as well as the scorching summers that Houston is known for. Each piece is unique and yet somehow unified, a visual feast of color, texture, and light. Apart from references to Houston summers and Megan Thee Stallion, the primary motif of Hot Girl Summer is the use of materials that belie their subject matter in unexpected ways.
A personal favorite was an eye-popping piece that perfectly captures the severity that summer 2022 has been for Houston. Not unlike scoops of ice cream threatening to melt off their cone in front of a Houston creamery, Dan Lam’s Aura is colorful and exudes the bold cheekiness of Megan’s attitude; Lam’s sculptures often play with opposites, such as appearing liquid while being made of foam. Despite the form the work takes, this polyurethane foam sculpture won’t actually melt, but the glossy finish and changing colors perfectly capture the notion of sweltering heat in Houston. There are four lumps that are hollow inside, and the material begins as pink on the top then drips down to purple, blue, green, yellow, and then finally, orange.
Lam’s vibrant blob-type works that sometimes seem to defy gravity have gained her a strong following on social media, and indeed her pieces have that effortless attention-grabbing “Instagramable” quality that’s enviable among aspiring influencers. Nevertheless, her sculptures play with color and texture in a free-spirited manner that perfectly coincides with Megan’s individuality, and suggest the same vivid colors of summer aesthetic seen in commercials and on social media. Perhaps Lam’s evocation of a “hot girl summer” is to enjoy experimenting with laying different colors of acrylic and resin to create unexpected sculptures.
William Canning’s sculptures, like Dan Lam’s, also play with contradictions and unexpected materials. His work Dreamsicle is a true centerpiece of the show, positioned in the center of the gallery for viewers to see right as they enter. At first glance, this piece looks like a small floatie — too small for an adult, but maybe perfect for a child. As the bright orange color draws people in, viewers discover the piece is not a soft plastic, but rather it is made from inflated steel. Many of Cannings’ works use hard metals to create “soft objects.” The popsicle shape makes one dream of a paradise pool party to escape the burning Houston summer, and invokes memories of playing with floaties and other pool toys as a child.
Taking up a single wall was a collection of light works by Romanian-born, now Texas-based Adel Andea, with Aqua Splash at the center. Andea considers light her medium, and creates artificial environments with technology to simulate the beauty of nature. Aqua Splash, which is one of Andea’s smaller works, uses Plexiglas and light bulbs to create a vibrant energy inspired by water and glaciers. The bright blues are energetic yet calming, alluding to the cool escape of water from the summer heat, but perhaps also reminds viewers of the current fragility of nature.
Aqua Splash takes up the most space at the center of the wall, casting a faint blue light on several other smaller pieces that scatter out from the center. These rock-like works could also be inspired by rough terrain, like rocks on a beach or boulders on the ocean floor. Aqua Splash acts as the pool or lake to accompany Dreamsicle, the floaty, and Aura, the cool summer treat, tying together a playful summer aesthetic.
Hashtag Tik Tok Famous stands near two other works by Jacqueline Overby, which instantly invoke a feeling of nostalgia. The San Antonio-born, Austin-based artist works with felt material to create small soft sculptures that foster a conversation between the comfort of childhood toys and adulthood trauma. The bulbous head with upswept “hair” mounted on a cubical body is reminiscent of the Troll Dolls that were a popular toy during the 1990s. Herself a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, Overby uses her practice as a way to process her own issues. Akin to the feelings of many millennials and Gen Z adults, this work plays on nostalgia and longing for a simpler time. The bright colors and title of the work allude to social media culture and the quick-burning fire of fragile internet fame. Similarly to how Megan has worked to stay connected with and pay homage to her Houston community, Overby has also organized several projects that aim to gather her art community together. One of these is Blast Suppers, which brings the Austin creative community together through potlucks.
Hot Girl Summer inspires the imagination and encourages viewers to revel in the colors and textures presented by the artists. The selected pieces perfectly reference the Houston heat and Megan Thee Stallion’s “hot girl summer” attitude by combining nostalgia, cheekiness, and summer aesthetic. By referencing pool toys, ice cream, and water, Hot Girl Summer applauds how H-town Hotties deal with record-breaking heat in a confident and sexy manner.
Hot Girl Summer is on view at Anya Tish Gallery until August 27, 2022.