In Then and Now, on view at Women & Their Work in Austin, artist Lindy Chambers pairs paintings with three-dimensional works for optimal results. Tentacular forms composed of fuzz and found materials occupy the gallery’s front space, alongside a suite of lustrous oil and acrylic works showcasing a rural tableau of Texas trailer homes. In the back area, similarly colorful contraptions strike up a chat with what’s on the walls. They are joyful and jarring; pretty in a clashy kind of way. And so goes Then and Now, which features 10 paintings from the 2010s and five sculptures made in more recent times — the likely inspiration for the show’s title.
Back in 2020, Chambers put down her paintbrush in order to give her wrist a rest, but wasted no time in compiling discarded materials (and craft supplies) for sculptures that, much like her paintings, celebrate bright quotidian moments of miscellany and contentment. The artist, who lives in a small town between Austin and Houston, has tapped into a certain low-key pastoral existence, particularly with the paintings on view in the gallery’s back area, where pastel bunnies and sheep make one yearn for a pagan spring rite (or a marshmallow Peep).
Lambland (2019), the largest painting in the show, is a diptych of adorable farm babies dyed like Easter eggs, prancing around a thicket of flowers and vines. But the thicket is more of a thorny bramble once your eyes adjust, and the lambs are in fact caught in their web. Similarly, Beware of Dog (2018) depicts little lambkins (and bunnies and ducks) resting in the junk-strewn yard of a mobile home painted a happy hue of pink — with the dark silhouette of a pit bull keeping watch in the background. These paintings celebrate a certain way of country life that’s a little broken down, but otherwise hunky dory.
Chambers, who is a self-taught artist, has a twin sister — Lee Lee — who is also an artist. During my gallery visit I am told they are inseparable; a quick peek at their website indicates zygotic overlap in their respective practices. It would seem the Chambers sisters frequent the same refuse centers — not to mention the same part of their brain — when concocting their playful, sculptural assemblages. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, their abstract and semi-abstract paintings share a similar palette as well.)
Separate yet sort of the same — like identical twins — Now and Then has a certain simpatico within the gallery space that takes a second to sink in. The main sculpture that greets viewers in the front, for instance, color coordinates with the neon oil painting just across the way. Full Circles (2020) is a curious portrait, an unassuming exterior of a mobile home with an almost apocalyptic feel of bleed-y reds and pinks. The accompanying sculpture, IU-82 (2021), resembles a downcast female figure complete with neon noggin, zany boas, and swivel wheels for heels. Not quite twins, but close enough; the same can be said for the violet octopus resting on the floor near another trailer home painting sharing its purply blues.
Chambers seems to enjoy having her two-dimensional works in cahoots with the three-dimensional ones: both are playing off of each other’s representational and abstract elements, and both contain enough run-of-the-mill visual references to keep some of the zaniness grounded — such as the deconstructed metal fan sculpture subtly gazing toward a series of junk-pile still lifes. In the painting Glory Days (2017), bits of chain spill from a goblet onto a surface of detritus (old lumber, used vent ducts, an empty can of paint) resembling a table arrangement done by one of the Dutch Masters. Like everything else in this show, there is a sense of strange familiarity infused with poetry.
This is the fun of Then and Now: buoyant associations bouncing from painting to sculpture and back again. One might prefer one to the other — or the other way around — but together they make a great pair. A fine balance between then and now, and a happy medium to say the least.
Lindy Chambers: Then and Now is on view through May 11, 2023 at Women & Their Work in Austin.