More's the people 

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New work by Lloyd Walsh is featured in San Antonio Painting 2005 Part II at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center.

San Antonio Painting 2005 Part II, the second half of Blue Star's survey of Alamo-City brushwork, opened last week, and those of us who feared a tourist might walk into Part I and think that we have no painting teachers can breathe a small sigh of relief. A teacher, in fact, provides one of the highlights of the show: "Broken English," a very large abstract painting by Alberto Mijangos combines minimalist abstraction with a touch of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Sentence fragments, including the phrase that gives the piece its name, are scrawled across the predominantly rust-colored surface, an element I don't generally care for, but Mijangos has made such effective use of every quadrant of his painting he forces you to admire it even though he's not breaking new stylistic ground.

Because the show lacks an organizing principle `see "It's potluck time again," January 27-February 2, 2005`, it doesn't demonstrate the range of innovative painting that is happening here, although it has included some enticing examples of imagination and experimentation, such as Part I's Joan Fabian, Jason Stout, and Julie Snead. But if San Antonio has a John Currin - a painter who is so adept at purloining from his predecessors, from

   San Antonio Painting 2005 Part II

Noon-6pm Wed-Sun
Through Mar 13
Blue Star Contemporary Art Center
116 Blue Star

Thomas Eakins to George Grosz to Robert Crumb, that he almost single-handedly preserves the relevance of the hand-drawn figure in today's digitized and plastic-surgery-perfected world - he or she is not in evidence at this show. (And why isn't Joey Fauerso, whose latest, greatest work was recently on view at Finesilver Gallery, included here?) Still there is some exciting figurative work in Part II by Logan Blanco, Angel Rodriguez-Diaz, and Lloyd Walsh, whose large-scale paintings are displayed together on the gallery's long back wall.

Rodriguez-Diaz, whose one-man show is on view at the Southwest School of Art & Craft through March 13 `see "On with their heads," February 3-9, 2005`, is a self-portraitist in the traditions of Frida Kahlo and photographer and mixed-media artist Lucas Samaras (Rodriguez-Diaz also paints portraits of others; a famous one of author Sandra Cisneros appeared on the cover of this paper). Like Kahlo, his props and lush, visually crowded backgrounds provide the back story for his self-explication; like Samaras, his self-portraits are loaded with references to his cultural identity and the artist's role as social chameleon. But Rodriguez-Diaz is more externally oriented, humorous, and overtly political than either Kahlo or Samaras. In his entry here, "The Good Old Days," the clowning artist wears a laurel wreath and what looks like poorly applied blackface, while on the signature tapestry-like background a classic furled scroll obscures a key word: "In ... We Trust."

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Recent work by Nate Cassie

Blanco, who studied at the Coppini Academy, is a relative newcomer to the San Antonio scene, but his sure hand has won him some vocal admirers. "South Texas Matriarch" uses an impressionist technique - layering and juxtaposing blocks of color over a sketched form - to create a vivid portrait of a bespectacled, heavy-jowled grandmother whose gaze and presence jump off of the canvas. In contrast to Rodriguez-Diaz and Mijangos, though, the rest of Blanco's canvas is a placeholder. The work also feels like it is eager to please, but Blanco is a young artist and may outgrow that tendency.

Surprisingly, an empty, somewhat uneven background also detracts a little from Walsh's arresting portrait of two mermaids (or the same mermaid from two angles, a nice play on the double) seated with ukuleles on the floor of an old wood-frame house. But I have to credit my brother with that observation because I was transfixed by the upturned face of the mermaid on the left, which is so full of life, mischief, and mystery that you have to forgive the few places in which limbs are foreshortened a little awkwardly. That flaw may be because Walsh has spent the last few years perfecting his renderings of lemurs, monkeys, his bulldog, and other fauna, but this painting makes me wish he'd do more with the human form.

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A watercolor self-portrait by Regis Phillips and abstract painting by Yvette Shadrock (detail) illustrate the range of styles surveyed in San Antonio Painting 2005.

Mijangos' painting isn't the only notable abstract work, either. Nate Cassie has produced a series of paintings based on the Fibonacci sequence `see "Artifacts," July 7-13, 2004`, in which ribbons of white and pale gray enamel are strewn across rich pastel surfaces. Not unlike Piet Mondrian, who strove to abstract the physical world through primary colors and geometric relationships, Cassie has explored the way in which repetition of patterns comprises the visual and physical world, but he has also expanded that dialogue to include manmade materials and our manufactured environment. Cassie says a fellow artist described "Avalanche #7," the relatively small, white-on-yellow-and-orange work in this show, as "excessive," and in the palette and reductive language Cassie employs, that's true in the best sense. The high-gloss finish, topped off with a few ribbons of matte white, has so much depth it also reminds me of his installation work with orange construction netting and plastic sheeting.

If you prefer nature in (sort of) recognizable botanical form, an intriguing canvas by Yvette Shadrock will do the trick. The colors and images in her carefully layered and constructed abstract work look like vegetation reflected in a stream at twilight.

There are a few other odds and ends that invite the viewer to linger, including Mignon Harkrader's intriguing diptych in which clusters of penguins and polar bears ,and a '60s-ish torso and legs float over green fronds on silver paper. The work feels unfinished, but it also made me eager to see more, as did her one-woman show at Sala Diaz last fall `see "Eternal sunshine of the spotted mind," June 10-16, 2004`. A western landscape by Caroline Korbell Carrington makes good use of iridescent pigment to convey the storied light of the Big Bend region, but it's ready-for-the-boardroom frame was out of place in a contemporary art space show.

When it comes to abstract painting and representations of nature, I also have to wonder where Mark Schlesinger and Liz Ward were. But this time it's worth overlooking the larger flaws in San Antonio Painting '05 in favor of admiring some of the many talented painters working in San Antonio.

By Elaine Wolff



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