Friday, August 10, 2018

"Source Material" William T. Carson and Rebecca Rothfus Harrell Camiba Art

Source Material

William T. Carson and Rebecca Rothfus Harrell
Camiba Art, Austin, Texas 07.14.18

I love two person shows that are high contrast. And nothing I have seen recently could be more high contrast than rock coal art next to flat, 1970s style minimal abstraction works. 

What I love about Carson’s work is his dedication to composition. Though the pieces are coal bits of various sizes glued to wood, they somehow are formed into concise compositions with the same push/pull and tension/release you’d find in any good abstract painting. The fact there is no color just highlights Carson’s excellent skills as a visual artist. Being able to use new materials with traditional techniques are what many of us art fans live for. His connection to coal seems profound, and the care and love with which he made these pieces comes across. 

Harrell’s flat, laborious work stood out from Carson’s in that there were essentially no textures, this of course highlights the picture plane in a traditional way all paint heads love. 

Her colors are light lending to the flatness of her forms & were varied but expect no bio morphism or improvisation from her work. The lines are drawn intentionally and patiently, slowly, extremely planned. I tend to find this boring but I can appreciate what it takes to be able to compose slowly on a flat surface and in the end the compositions work. Some of her pieces seem to have at times multiple light sources but this fact was taken apart by the forms. No gloss or sheen took away from the flatness of Harrell’s work. 

I would absolutely call Harrell’s work drawings, but yeah there is gouache (I think?) but the forms are defined with pencil (I think?). IDK, I have seen her work for years in various formats large and small over the years and I think these are good pieces but I also enjoy contrasts in a single work when possible; a circle or texture that creates a dialogue (I hate that word though). I was reminded of the art genre Rayonism (look it up) and the emphasis on light rays in that genre of painting. Harrell, if she has seen someone like Natalia Goncharova’s work, would have simplified and condensed that influence into more concise forms, shapes from nature that were like placing a magnifying glass over the coal in Carson’s pieces (though there are no straight lines in nature). 

The Camiba @ Flatbed space is not huge and this helped to make the works in the space intimate. None of the pieces were particularly large in scale nor did they need to be. Camiba has a knack for presenting clean, often minimal art shows, and they are always tasteful and never onerhung. Having seen some of their recent shows I think this two-person show stands out as one of their best primarily due to the high contrast nature of the two artists. I hope we can see more top-notch curating/shows like this in the future in Austin.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

“100 Views” Kevin McNamee-Tweed, Lower Left / Studium Gallery, Austin, Texas 5.27.16 Art show review by Carl Smith

“100 Views” Kevin McNamee-Tweed, Lower Left / Studium Gallery, Austin, Texas 5.27.16
Art show review by Carl Smith
All good art takes intention, focused study, hard work and a ton of time spent consistently honing
and slowly chipping away at a personal way to make unique images. You also have to be honest about how you feel and what you like. Then, you have to be brave enough to share it with the world. Once you get to the bottom of that, you begin to work towards good image making. I think Kevin has done this necessary work. I like these images not because they are masterpieces, but mostly because they aren’t. 
Limitations are a big problem for all artists. Kevin claims “I was never a great drawer and when it comes to canvas my handicap is exponentially greater” but I would disagree with his statement. To make works like these, you have to able to draw and paint well. You have to be able to connect your thoughts and emotions to your weird arm and hand that the brain tells to make art. This is not as easy as it sounds. People who get to this place should be celebrated more often than they are.
Kevin is also a curator which explains his very organized and not overhung feel for his show. The gallery space was wide open with plenty of room to get back from the images. These pieces looked good under any light. There was no glazing or varnishing of the works and the soft washiness of the works helped lend to their homey-ness. The canvas was rough; a thicker density than what we often see for paintings. This gave weight to the themes: land, moons, trees and hillsides. I counted eleven of these works. Kevin says that he has made seventy-one of these landscapes, and this type of repetition can seem like an exercise in “lunacy” to the non-artist, but I think this is how a lot of good art gets made. Sometimes it’s the only way to get to the bottom of the image you really want.
In the notes to Kevin’s show (which were beautifully constructed by the way) Kevin said it was
okay to ignore the not painted aspects of his show. I did this because I wanted to see the paintings,
but it was hard to completely ignore the sculpture garden. It was difficult to ignore Landon O’Brien’s “Not Titled (rusty chain rack)” made with a chain, some rebar, a grill and a motor slowly and annoyingly (in a good way) spinning and grinding against the pavement. This was a really cool piece that was understated like the paintings. But the vibrating bamboo piece freaked me out a little bit. A giant shaking bamboo limb somehow hints at a man-made machine that terrorizes innocent plants.
In the end I can’t fully explain how these other sculptures related to Kevin’s paintings, but they did.
Everything fit together and worked. Nothing tried too hard, nothing in the show committed too much. That the whole show clung together says a lot for the creative mind of Kevin and his friends. I love art that can feel and seem soft and subtle, not hitting you over the head with how it was made but just giving you a nice, clean experience. You have to switch your thinking to enjoy this type of work, in the same way that you have to readjust any time you transition from the city to say a nature setting. Art offers this type of slowness and acceptance of the truth that life is not most of the things we make ourselves do on a daily basis.
What else can I say? Kevin is a good artist. He set up a good show with like-minded talent and Austin needs more of these shows, in my opinion. Austin also needs to support these movers and shakers and doers when they stick their necks out like this so they don’t move away. They are essential to making Austin what it is; a haven for creative or lost people.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Carl Smiths third solo art show at Imagine Art reviewed by Carl Smith

Carl Smiths third solo art show at Imagine Art reviewed by Carl Smith

Carl Smiths third solo show at Imagine Art in Austin, Texas December 2015 titled “Mountains, Valleys, Peaks, Trees, Farms, etc.” was not breaking down any painting walls. But these pieces were solidly painted, constructed simply and succinctly with a hint at abstraction and painterly objectivity in their execution.

There were around thirteen of the landscapes in acrylic on canvas, affordably priced and varied in size from around two feet square to six feet square, so yes there was a nice diversity in the sizes. The color planes representing triangular hillsides were colored and outlined in a somewhat obvious way with black lines, not too long but not too short, and I can see how this type of structure in a painting can offer an opportunity for improvisation and action-oriented execution. Acrylic paint may have many faults but sometimes the viscosity seems to help to freeze a certain velocity that Carl may have been shooting for here. Every piece had an obvious layer of blue sky at the top which would be annoying were it not for what was underneath; varied and diverse compositions combining different color combinations making for a pleasing viewing experience. One piece (the first one to sell I saw) was a nice monotone black, white and gray color combination while some employed other three to four color family groupings like pink, brown and green. Some pieces would have made for great triptychs (especially the six which were three by three feet square) on their own but the pieces were not obviously grouped together in that way. Around four of the pieces broke away from specific color families and used more of an “all the colors” type of execution which made for colorful passages and solid compositional painting.

I guess if you like mountains and abstract landscape paintings you would like this show. Nothing new or challenging was presented here but these works are good and exhibited a short (six months was the amount of time Carl was making these pieces) and fun jaunt through a small aspect of Carl Smith’s always expanding game.

Watch a video of the show here =

Monday, December 28, 2015

wherein i write about 2 of may favorite painters

Two of my favorite painters both live in New York but have very different mentalities about image making. Brian Rutenberg comes as pretty and decorative as they can while still somehow being realistic, creative and abstract. Peter Maslow's work is urban and sketchy, dingy and raw yet both artists have many similarities that put them on the same team, using like-minded processes to get very different results.

If you want to know about Brian Rutenberg it’s all out there. Just go to youtube and watch some of his studio visits; he gets really deep into who he is, how he feels and why he does what he does. Explained succinctly and directly he is educated with a capital E, and ready to paint. He has been making art forever and has had a very successful career. Much of what you would want to know about him as an artist is on the internet, like a Tom Brokaw of his own inner-world of image making, reporting a lot (too much?) from begin to end. I watch these every day and I always learn something new about art and the south and New York and how to be a good person (another damn smiley face emoticon from me, when will these go away by the way?).

Peter Maslow? Not so much with the youtube. There is a video someone made a long time ago about him but the vids are broken up into tiny chunks for some reason and we only get a glimpse into his world but it’s enough for me. All I want to know is where he is from, how hard he works, and the rest is in the paintings. I got to say Peter is my favorite painter ever. His work comes from a love of drawing, de Kooning, and the colors are bruised and urban and quite scary but contrasts extremely well with all the other art ever made. I would never want to paint the way he does but his process comes from a very personal place; the 1980s, subways, architecture, Polish landscapes, graffiti, and a New York most of us can’t deal with. The colorful gallery friendly slick thick oil paintings of Brian’s aim to please in the best of ways but I prefer a blue-collar goombah’s paintings any day.

Both artists received Fulbrights (Brian in 1997 and Peter in 1999) both went to odd Euro lands with the prizes (Ireland and Poland, respectively) and both came back from those experiences changed forever. Brian came back and went deeper into an atmospheric, hazy environ while Peter came back and saw dark greens and flak towers, yes, flak towers, where soldiers fought and killed from the tops of during WWII. In my mind, it gets no darker in painting than a flak tower but the city can also hold the same fear for me; anything can happen in a small, crowded city/apartment and often does. There are a million stories and all that. Peter’s color scheme leaves me quite sad, but he is working from a place he knows all too well and the hard work he knows first-hand on a daily basis (he is a contractor by trade) shows up in his giant pieces. His works are constructed, patiently, with experience, like buildings, with a direct architecture that is loose but still solid as rock. There is only one way out in Peter’s worlds and that is to fight up and over on a daily basis. If this is the type of person you are, and you practice over a long period of time putting that kind of effort in your paintings, it will no doubt show up there and be good. It’s hard to explain exactly how and why this is but a trained art eye will spot it in a second; Peter is a master artist who fought hard and long over many years to get to the bottom of the work he is making and it’s all paid off.

So my heart is with Peter, but my brain says Brian is on equal footing though in a decidedly different way. A career as a professional artist also requires a path few can handle; the art world is super tough with fragile egos and monster trend swings that will dismay and confuse any human. Brian has navigated this for decades and that strength comes from a specific place that is beautiful, wrought with an eccentric and scarred history, but always satisfies in the end. Brian’s art seems to come from everything natural like weather and water and a love of everything art history has to offer. Much painting today is made this way; a mish mash of styles and techniques and only the best of the best can make it all work together in a painting. Believe me when I say that Brian’s way of painting is very difficult and requires everything of an artist. Brian also represents a southern way of thinking; extremely odd but honest and humorous and loyal, maybe to a fault. Peter on the other hand represents a worker of the highest order; someone who could build or fix anything, and build it perfectly, efficiently and somewhat happily and with supreme confidence. South and north ya’ll, there is still a difference.

Both artists make total use of fictive space in an original and unique way developing super imaginative worlds that you can get very lost in. This results in highly personal and unique paintings. One is coming from nature and the other from the city (and some nature). Both guys are large dudes and both are trustworthy, honest, for the good and hard working. Both in my opinion have forged their own paths in a world and history of men and women dead set on being exactly who they are and not much more (see Americans, Abstract Expressionism, etc.) and magically wrangling that vision into a singular way of image making. Maybe they have not changed the world of painting but they have pushed it forward, even if just a small bit and that is enough. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Carl Smith’s second solo show at Little Pink Monster Gallery 2015

Carl Smith’s second solo show at Little Pink Monster Gallery ran for a little over a week. The show had around nineteen pieces on view, mostly abstract paintings on canvas and some smaller works on paper. About one-third of the show was paintings made with mostly spray paint. The largest was a spray-painted sixty-five inch square work on canvas and this one had a different, perhaps better sense of scale and execution than the other works. Some of these spray-painted works edged closer to pure abstraction but still missed in my opinion.
It’s hard to say whether or not the show was good. I mean there were some good works in the show and some were clunkers of course, but mostly I saw an artist struggling for a voice and searching for a unique way to make paintings. Landscape is about has simple a point of reference has you can get but can also be a template for exploring bigger artistic ideas. This seems to be the case with Carl. I wrote this in my last review, I’ll say it again; I think Carl is on the path to finding a voice but is not quite there.
I think the art world is full of very weird ideas about how art should be made. Artists are sometimes lazy and occasionally lie about how good their art is and how much it is worth. For all of Carl’s faults I will say he is attempting to be honest about who he is and where he is in his development. And I must say I find this refreshing. This behavior ensures nothing but could lead to something and if it does it will be hard won and earned.
Another positive in this show was the sales prices. Nothing is more annoying than an artist who overvalues themselves and their work and has absolutely no reservations expressing this in the sales price of their art. Please, seriously consider if your art is good, artists. Is it really worth thousands and thousands of dollars? Please keep in mind the world is watching and art history is brutal.
I am not surprised to see few people taking on the challenge of abstract painting but the ones who do seem to fall into a life of mystery and confusion searching for and dealing with the true meaning of creation. Humans are probably not meant to know the entire truth about creation. What would humans do with that information? If politicians could create planets would they use that power for good? I have my doubts, but if you do decide to paint and try to find a voice in that you can rest assured you probably won’t get too far in life. If you are lucky, really lucky, you will push painting forward a tiny bit but you will be judged for it and you will be excruciatingly questioned and ostracized.
Also, know that if you do find a voice you will probably get very far away from being able to make a dollar. I have not worked out the math on this but I know there is a correlation between how creative you are and how unlikely it will be that you will be able to make money. Paint breasts, cattle, and longhorns but by no means try to be yourself unless you want to live alone in a world of pain. You’ll make few friends and decrease the odds you’ll sell art to people who are mostly looking for ease and comfort in their imagery.
The artists that lie about their abilities and hide their limitations will always win the day. The artists that claim to be gods when they are not will make it difficult for artists with simple goals to survive at the most basic of levels. I see this all the time and nothing makes me sadder than good artists who are honest and kind getting steamrolled by people who can only think in short-term/high-dollar terms.
Hopefully Carl sees a good day in his future with some fairness and empathy.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

“Counterpoint Paintings” by Carl Smith at Imagine Art Texas Review by Carl Smith December 2014

“Counterpoint Paintings” by Carl Smith at Imagine Art Austin, Texas
Art Show Review by Carl Smith December 2014

Carl Smith’s first solo show took place not in a gallery, but ... what I think was an artspace? Although there was ample parking and space for the work, when I entered the place, I was not totally sure where exactly I was. No wine. No champagne. Non-alcoholic art openings are not my idea of a fun time. Perhaps Carl is in Alcoholics Anonymous or something. There were snacks, so ... you know ... there's always that.

Anyway, on to the art review. Around sixteen pieces: all painted in series (I will give them that). Most are on canvas, but there are some works on paper (and I was glad to see those framed and matted -- I have been to more than one art show in Austin where the paper works are blowing in the wind whenever the front door opens). The sizes are standard and not too large with the biggest around six foot square and the smallest down to a two foot square.

The title of the show was “Counterpoint Paintings” and there was some wordy over explained description on the wall of what that meant, but I had art to look at so I skipped that stuff. It was nice to see some red dots -- meaning some works actually sold (which seems to be necessary if an artist is going to make any attempts to produce more work).

All the titles make references to “Counterpoint” so the works are essentially untitled. The bigger pieces are the weakest in the show. The materials used look like the kind of stuff you would use to paint a cinder block in your garden. There are some interesting contrasts between the spray paint, glitter and acrylic paint, but I did not see completely developed compositions. I am not sure how long Carl has been painting, but he may not be ready for the bigger stuff yet. Seeing the low quality of the paint used across a big surface emphasizes the acrylic paint’s cheapness, and makes the work and style unconvincing.

His 3x3 pieces are a little closer to what you would want to see in abstract art. Carl seems to be right in the early stages of putting together a style. His colors are bright and every piece has pink in it, which gives the works a light, pastel quality. He more often uses the cheaper quality paint along with spray paint to make the background forms, and there is almost none of the real luminosity to the colors that you would find in a standard oil painting. None of the works at the show were varnished, but I doubt that would help Carl’s case anyway.

Some of the smaller 2x2 pieces look better, and show a talent for drawing but the background forms seemed rushed together. The line work has more of a deeper darker color palette and higher quality of paint, and there is a sense of improvisation to some of the works. But this still does not make for consistent high quality image making. There are pretty, standard references to abstract-expressionism in these works and maybe even abstract landscape painting (though even those influences are not really pulled off all that effectively).

Abstract painting went out of fashion in the 1970s, so what does it really mean to be an abstract painter in 2014? It probably means consistent whining on Facebook about not selling enough art & I note that Carl does have a Facebook page for such whining. A building of confidence would go a long way in Carl’s game and hopefully this is in his future.

All in all, some of the work shows promise, and I think if Carl logs in ten or so more years, then we might see more interesting work. This critic will stay tuned and hope for the best.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

online art interview 12.2014 with Carl Smith

Self taught or art school? 
Self taught, I have taken some night classes around Austin though and I took all the public school art classes I could. I studied Accounting in college and have worked for the IRS since 2007.
If you could own one work of art what would it be? 
Probably a mid 1970s de Kooning; one of his landscapes. Untitled XII from 1975 is my favorite painting, ever. There is also Rosy-Fingered Dawn at Louse Point, that was a little earlier. One of those.
How would you describe your style? 
Abstract landscapes. I am influenced by abstract expressionism a lot, but I am trying to get away from the aggressive mark making and just paint. All my work comes from a landscape position and a practice of making those.
What are your favourite places to view art? 
I live in Austin, so there aren’t to many places to see art so I try to go to my friend’s art shows when I can. The internet is a great way to get exposed to new imagery, of course its limited but I do my best. Houston is great, the Menil collection rules and the Art Car Museum always has good shows.
Who are your favourite artists and why? 
So there is this dude in Brooklyn Peter Maslow who makes these weird abstract urban landscape type works. His paintings make sense and are constructed logically and intentionally. He also draws well and somehow gets that into the work but not in a forceful way. The colors are toned down a lot but his art makes sense. I mean, he’s not an old master but his paintings have helped me a lot to make sense of the paintings I am trying to make. I like artists like that; that don’t hide their limitations or their feelings. Basquiat is another one. De Kooning of course.
What or who inspires your art? 
I think its wanting to feel empowered or make sense of my limited life. Painting has helped me come to terms with what I am and has helped me to have a place to be myself. So I try to get inspired by the work I have made and I try to work in a way that pushes forward what I am capable of. I have a good idea of what I can not do, and that’s a huge list, but I try to own my limitations and live within them.
Where’s your studio and what’s it like? 
In 2008 I built a 8x12’ studio to paint in about 30 feet from the back of my main house, which is really small, like 830 sq ft or something. It’s a small space which sucks but I really can do anything in there without worrying about making a mess. That has become a big part of my process and I have found trouble trying to paint anywhere else. It has taken years to set it up so I can use it all quickly.
Do you have any studio rituals? 
Nope, I just go in and go for it. I am always under the gun time wise so I just get as much done as I can before I have to go back to work again. Its really messy.
What are you working on currently? 
I am using spray paint a lot more, mostly like an under painting and using the contrast of that to brush stroke to create some color perspective. 
Where can we buy your art? 
My website is but Facebook works better. I show all around Austin but am looking for more internet sales always.
What are your ambitions?

Somehow get to the place where I can paint full time. I am always trying to get better as a painter and learn more about composing an image. Its all about composition.