Arts & Culture
Wheeler still delivering flat lines and swimming pools from the 'lonely' plains of Lubbock
Published: January 25, 2012
The last thing we need in Texas is more Western kitsch, but Jeff Wheeler's show at Fl!ght Gallery proves it's still worth taking another look at our rural heritage. Wheeler is fascinated by self-representation. Much of the imagery in the new paintings and collage is culled from a source Wheeler has relied on for the last decade: the promotional book Parade of Progress, a tribute to local pride on the southern plains that was printed during the 1960s and into the early 1970s. "Every little town has a few pages to talk about how great they are," says Wheeler. Copies still turn up in thrift stores near his home in Lubbock filled with pictures of cotton gins, swimming pools, and churches.
This is easy stuff to poke fun at, but Wheeler instead shows a fondness for the life left behind on the stark West Texas plains, which he portrays as a straight, flat horizon line, brown below, blue above. In front he arranges intricate groupings of imagery found in the old town-booster publications. Cows and men in hats are intermingled with swimming pools; women with bouffant hairdos and cat glasses recline eternally poolside. Family photos and high school football action shots are drawn in a faux-naif style next to ad slogans from small town businesses. Included in the show spanning the last two years are collage works, including disturbing portraits with the eyes blocked out with pieces of wallpaper. The figures seem to say, "You don't know who we are. You can't see us."
The collage work is a new style for Wheeler, who said, "I never thought I'd do it. I always made fun of collage artists, and artists who can't draw in general." In another painting, a woman is seen with a church perched on her head. She doesn't seem oppressed by religion, but perhaps a bit buzzed in her huge party hat. Nearby are the words, "Look Neat...Feel Great." Some of the pieces on view are ceramic, old vases that Wheeler has painted on "to give it a second life," along with old frames he uses with his paintings, all of which were found in thrift stores and junk shops on his travels.
Born in Albuquerque, N.M., and raised in Lubbock, Wheeler is best known as half of the Wheeler Brothers, an ongoing collaboration with his brother Bryan (not the Austin folk duo of the same name). Both brothers are art instructors at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. The Colab, and the all-Texas group show Ulterior Motifs that they exhibited across the state from 1999-2007, is on hiatus while Bryan Wheeler pursues his Ph.D. Motifs included a host of talent, including Ed and Nancy Keinholz, Luis Jimenez, The Art Guys, and SA artists Ken Little and Hills Snyder. The Wheeler Brothers hope to mount another show for the 15th anniversary in 2014.
A lot of talent has come out of Lubbock; Buddy Holly and Butch Hancock started there. But these days there's not much in the way of entertainment in town. Jeff Wheeler says that's how he likes it. "Just being able to sit in our studios and feel we're not missing anything" is helpful, he says. Though it sells to urban hipsters, his art isn't real country kitsch. This is the inside-track; it's rural defiance with a disdainful smirk that pokes fun at city folks' assumptions. "If we're out on the lonely plains we can get plenty of work done," he says, barely holding in a laugh at the phrase "lonely plains." Wheeler cuts to the chase: "Then we hit the big towns, go back, and make some more art." •
"Jeff Wheeler's newfangled notions"
By appointment to February 6
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