Friday, February 22, 2008

20 Austin Artists

I was in Austin last week, and I caught the Austin Museum of Art exhibit, "20 to Watch, New Art in Austin". It occurs to me that many of these artists share a broad style with artists that I have seen in Portland. This very successful and fecund trend is everywhere.

Their primary influence seems to be fanciful/naive book illustration — perhaps children's books. The whole show is coherent, with some of the three dimensional pieces being intricate, miniature worlds — little balsa wood scaffolding, glazed drip sand castles. Even the non-representative paintings of Xochi Solis and Andrew Long have a youthful look. In particular, Alyson Fox, Jules Buck Jones, Baseera Khan, Matthew Rodriguez, Raymond Uhlir, Stephanie Wagner, and Eric Zimmerman could all illustrate (or sculpt) for the children's books. Most of the artists have a connection to the University of Texas. Kelly Fearing (see The Fort Worth Circle) taught there for 48 years, but of course this trend is at least nationwide. Those that I think have shown work in a common style in Portland recently are Jeffrey Mitchel (at Pulliam Deffenbaugh), Claire Clowe (at Elizabeth Leach), Darren Waterson, and Amy Ross. You can catch similar work all over. It makes a lot of sense to me that a generation of artists would be drawn to styles familiar from childhood, either comic books or the thoughtful children's books. Sometimes I think that half the nation's young artists are elaborating on images from their childhood.

When I first saw Fearing's work in the 1970s I connected his imagery with the fact that he taught in the art education side of UT's Art Department. It seemed natural that his paintings of zoo animals in fantastic landscapes (similar to the paintings of Henri Rousseau) would inspire art educators. Not that I think Fearing is responsible for this style.

It appears to me that a large trend has developed that will be interesting to follow. I wonder where all these artists will be in twenty years. Will the twenty-something artists develop adult imagery or continue to work with the familiar?

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