The Art Capades

“Inward Ram,” by UTSA grad Keith Williams.


By appt.
This week only
Gas Gallery
2222 N. St. Mary’s
Art isn’t so different from coffee in that once you get a taste of the good stuff, you can lose your patience for any deviation from successful formulas. Now that SA has enjoyed a decade of the contemporary-art equivalents of Starbucks — Artpace is consistently strong, the McNay has brought its high standards to bear on “Art After 1945” in earnestness, and you can’t go a month without catching a handful of greatness at Blue Star or independent satellites like Three Walls and Unit B — I catch myself unconsciously skipping over the rawer and self-taught (not to say “outsider,” the real thing being pretty rare these days) artists.

But developing talent can provide pleasure as intense as full-blown virtuosity, especially when you see the artist’s work developing over time. UTSA graduate Keith Williams, whose one-man Bihl Haus show ended last weekend, has been making great strides in color and technique since his MFA thesis exhibit earlier this year, and now his fascination with the human condition and our relationship to nature shine through.

For Biometamorphics, Bihl Haus’s bright, airy room was hung full of large canvases occupied by jewel-toned sea creatures and moodily rendered humans interlaced with technology. Jellyfish are tagged with stylized radio-frequency identification antennae, a commentary on our rapidly developing culture of surveillance, and the humans are plugged into, draped with, or tangled in cords or filaments and covered in more stylized techno devices and symbols. It’s not as didactic as it sounds because Williams is developing a sophisticated pastiche of art-history allusion that shares a darkly beautiful aesthetic with sci-fi, his literary counterpart. Most importantly, he lets his subconscious intervene in the paintings, so in one of the show’s strongest images, “Inward Ram,” his earlier interest in religion and mythology blends intriguingly with his current preoccupations.

“Cloudbreak” by Nemo, on view at the Gas Gallery this week.

Strangely enough, though, the most haunting piece in the show is a painting of a suspension bridge, with a stormy Emil Nolde temperament, appropriate since Nolde and Williams seem to share a sentiment or two about man’s relationship with nature. South and East of Bihl Haus, as Williams’s work came down, art impresario Darryl Mix inaugurated the new Gas Gallery in an old filling station on North St. Mary’s. The debut is a one-man show by San Antonio native Nemo, who works pretty strictly in abstract expressionism. Not only abstract, but self-described as “happy.” I’ll confess skepticism, having a preference in these anxious political times for work that, like Williams, draws on ominous colors and disturbing variations on the human form that previously flourished in the wakes of two brutal world wars.

Nonetheless, Nemo won me over with his exuberant style, which alternates paint dripped and thrown in the Pollock tradition with flat surfaces and small, obsessive, concentric brush strokes that may remind you of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” to create dynamic canvases that leap out at the viewers and invite them to play with the images. In one large painting an atom seems to be morphing into a Georgia O’Keefe flower; on a smaller rectangle, violet waves pulse out from the paths of unseen particles.

This is still young and inconsistent work; some of the color combinations are crude or muddy, not all of his experiments work — the aluminum baking sheets look accidentally amateurish, for instance — and his amalgamation of established techniques isn’t yet something entirely his own. But the best of the pieces are not only genuinely and contagiously joyful, they encourage you to check back in a few months to see what else Nemo has developed.

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