Macho roller presses First Friday memorial

On an otherwise lean weekend for San Antonio’s monthly First Friday art openings, Southtown positively vibrated with steamroller tomfoolery and was abuzz with its diesel report. And some notably pleasant surprises were found with a little excavation of the more extraneous hodgepodge.

For five years, San Antonio’s StoneMetal Press has been making large-scale prints of Alex Rubio’s (and other artists’) woodcut reliefs using an asphalt steamroller. To celebrate the anniversary of their outsized ritual, Rubio’s intense, shadowy portrait of the late Chuck Ramirez was printed a dozen or so times Friday evening, to the exuberant applause of onlookers and art patrons in the alleyway abutting SMP’s Blue Star shop front. Teenage volunteers provided most of the logistical brawn for the project, although the steamroller operator and most of the supervisory round haircuts were decidedly more than teenage.

SMP & MOSAIC’s fossil-fueled take on the age-old art of woodcut printmaking was certainly a spectacle befitting its heavy-duty theme. An entirely unnecessary spectacle, to be sure, but the intended effect was still likely achieved. Each time the cowboy-hatted, chain-smoking steamroller operator — his macho caricature lacking only some Richard Petty sunglasses and an alligator tooth earring — finished his steamrolling, the milling crowd of curious onlookers duly clapped and cheered. The scene may only have been discomfiting to those who possess a certain self-conscious diffidence associated with stereotypical perceptions about Texas art. That such an exhibition so enthusiastically lives up to (or is ignorant of) those perceptions was a bit disconcerting. The silhouetted profile of a cowhand on a steamroller in traditional wrought iron, cigarette-dangling pose, adorns the archway of my grandmother’s porch, a centerpiece of her very typical Texas-rustic décor. She is a very typical Texas grandmother (to wit, she several times chastised me with a switch for being a facetious little twerp).

Rolling the ink onto the woodcut is a serious business and must be done with a maximum of austere artistic technique and a minimum of puerile levity — just before the whole thing is steamrolled. Still, despite the gimmicky process, nothing should be taken away from the natural artistry of Rubio’s creation or the mastery of his hand. The finished prints themselves were spectacular, if a little unevenly printed.

Elsewhere, in a tiny corner tucked away in Blue Star’s Building B, Annette Landry’s shared space with Gilbert Lopez showcased some of her very fine documentary-style photography, exhibited only for the evening. Her photos of the children and destitute scenery of Matamoros, entitled Pependores, transitioned evenly at the room’s corner into her Where I Live set of photographs of San Antonio children and destitution of another sort: the separation of families in a social worker’s office, a young child visiting an incarcerated mother, et al. The set was optimistically punctuated by a picture of a man strolling a downtown street with a “Free Hugs” sign under his arm and a whimsically cheerful look on his face.

UTSA’s student-centric exhibit crit Galore in the Blue Star main gallery was a bit underwhelming in its general lack of artistic sophistication. A couple of rare bright spots were the works of Clare Little and Courtney Smyth. Little’s plaster castings, The Adventures of Mike and Jack, posed two mammal-things in gracefully bright white and budding all over with roses like a wedding cake. It seemed a celebration of flora and fauna or perhaps just life in general and was serenely alluring in a blank, quiet way. Smyth’s pair of posed photographs amusingly depicted a burly man making a meal of frozen pizzas, popcorn, onions, and Craisins, and a surly family stuck on the couch in the midst of a snow-in. Her willingness to eschew the directly abstract in favor of a humorously hypothetical commentary on the mundane was a welcome relief. Meanwhile, in an embodiment of the confounding and abstruse tone of the rest of the crit Galore exhibit, one student-artist’s dangling and vaguely bondage-implicit installation piece You put your left arm in you put your left arm out resembled a prolapsed and puckered pink butthole, and I declined its invitation to insert my appendage. However, its direct proposition spoke more plainly than did the remaining gaggle of incoherent vagary. •