San Antonio artists descend on Lawrence, Kansas

When the group first swarmed off the bus at the Lawrence Arts Center two weekends ago, haggard but giddy from 14 hours of travel, it seemed that a fully armed raiding party had arrived to take over the sleepy Kansas college town. By the next afternoon, after making visits to local studios and attending a panel discussion at the Spencer Museum of Art, the now-rested and respectable-looking crew of two dozen SA artists more closely resembled a cultural trade mission. But why trundle up to Lawrence, Kansas? It may be home to the University of Kansas, but it’s not anyone’s notion of a significant art market.

The artists had journeyed across the plains to attend the opening of their show, “The New Old San Antonio: Tales from The Little Big Town,” organized by Rex Hausmann of Hausmann Millworks in SA and Darin White of the Lawrence art collective, b.a.l.m. White had sent a show to CAM in 2010, and ever since artists from Texas have been trickling up to Kansas. “The Little Big Town” is the culmination of a year’s exchange of talent.

Hausmann might have simply run works by the 25 artists who have studios at the Millworks to Kansas, but instead he and White assembled a disparate group spanning three generations, working in an assortment of styles. Alejandro Briseñio, whose exhibit “Moctezuma’s Table” was at SAMA last year, and Bill FitzGibbons, the director of Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, are established gallery artists. They weren’t on the bus, but their inclusion in the exhibit inspired others, like Fernando Andrade and Mark Gelatt, who are just starting out. Some riders, like Jung Hee Mun, who exhibited recently at Sala Diaz, made this their first out-of-state show. Others, like veteran sculptors Danville Chadbourne and Marilyn Lanfear, made the trip as an act of solidarity and encouragement to younger artists.

It’s not uncommon for a headliner or two to fly into town to represent a group show, maybe give a talk. But chartering a bus for the whole kit and kaboodle is a rare, mad act that didn’t make sense to me until we were on our way back home to SA, traveling through Thomas Hart Benton’s rolling green hills.

Though he taught Jackson Pollock at the Art Students League of New York, Benton was no friend to modernism. He preferred instead to paint Midwestern scenes in a representational style that, though tinged with hallucinatory perspectives, was quite palatable to the public at large. Benton’s painting The Ballad of the Jealous Lover of Lone Green Valley is in the Spencer Museum of Art’s permanent collection in Lawrence, located about 40 miles west of the Kansas City Art Institute where he taught in the late 1930s. A figure in the foregound of the painting is reputed to be modeled after Pollock.

New York has been a place where artists can get to know and learn from each other. But today the rent is high and the market’s the thing. But the conversation is not over. It’s happening here in SA, and in pockets like Lawrence. Joining the two is a peculiar notion; perhaps the results will be, too.

“The New Old San Antonio: Tales from The Little Big Town,” on view to June 17 at Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire Street, Lawrence, KS,