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Arts & Culture

'San Antonio Painters' at Blue Star Contemporary

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Samuel Velasquez, "Luckiest Charm", acrylic on canvas, 30"x40"

Shows with open calls for submission tend to create a sense of foreboding among artists, especially when the entrants are limited by geography. Will the curator or jurors (often chosen from a distant place to ensure impartiality) understand the concerns of the city, state, or whatever, they are looking at? Probably not; besides, that's the wrong question. What's being judged are art works and artists — not an art scene or ineffable zeitgeist. Sometimes the process rewards local heroes. But more often than not, lesser known artists gain the limelight for awhile. Better to ask whether the exhibition brings something new to view.

Curated by Barbara MacAdam, deputy editor of ARTnews (slogan: "The most widely read art magazine in the world"), "San Antonio Painters" presents eight artists who, with the exception of two, make art that has not previously adorned the walls of the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center. MacAdam said she made her choices from over 130 submissions. "What I principally aimed for, and found, was originality. Beyond that, diversity was important. … This is the work that grabbed my attention, both for (or despite) its quality or even its imperfections.” 

So how does the work stack up? During the opening MacAdams told me she thought the art was "all over the place." Well yes, indeed, but it's the collection's diversity — ranging from cold to hot abstraction, narrative figuration, polished to roughly daubed canvases — that makes the show.

Big abstracts by Sandra Whitby vary in strength, but together have no difficulty dominating the wall when viewed from a distance. And close up, the seemingly simple compositions reveal a wealth of detail that enhances their charm. A delicate work by Rachel Zeigler swirls and expands in a flow of diamonds that are pieces of cut-up photographs in encaustic. There's more mixed media: Andrew Anderson's update on color field painting is a nod to Rothko done in resin and plastic, and holding down the text category are Marcus Garza's white-on-black paintings, densely inscribed with football play diagrams and tiny writing. Roberta Buckles' highly tuned studies in light might seem to be mere exercises in virtuosity, but give them their due: her paintings have attracted collectors, and appeared in Louis Vuitton jewelry ads in Paris Vogue.

Not surprisingly, works by three figurative artists received many comments from First Friday's popular crowd. Carmen Cartiness Johnson describes herself as self-taught, painting memories of her childhood in Arkansas. Crammed with (strangely faceless) figures, three vertical panels portray billiard players, dancing, and games of cards in the private social rooms of an age before computer gaming. Elizabeth McDonald has been a finalist for Texas' prestigious Hunting Prize. Her dreamy impressions of place settings and the aptly named Evil Tea display deft paint handling and virtuosity in palette. But the roughly crafted pieces by relative unknown Sammy Velasquez garnered the most attention. Tiny elephants tripping over flowers, chased by sea monsters and other denizens of a child's nightmare, seem like still life paintings bursting into action.

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