Arts : The art capades 

Up-and-coming artists put their own stamp on traditional media

There were a ton of openings on May’s First Friday — so many that I’ve decided to spotlight some up-and-coming artists as they emerged on the scene, and give you a rundown of how they put their stamp on traditional media.

Enrique Martinez’s Funny Little People at Three Walls (through May 26, 106D Blue Star, 212-7185) reveals a young artist who possesses both skill as a draftsman and a potent worldview. The first thing that will undoubtedly grab viewers is a drawing of a man spewing toxic green vomit on the wall. Swimming in this acidic sea of paint are a number of ink drawings and lithographic prints. These are contemporary cartoons in the vein of Pieter Bruegel, which tend to focus on the absurd and vulgar in everyday life. Subjects include cervezas, McDonald’s, monkeys, giant thumbs, conjoined bodies, and plenty of unsettling anthropomorphic forms.

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In Hellafortuna, Karl Frey has created doggie chew-toy-inspired canvas portraits in gouache, oil, and beeswax.

While immersing these intense lithographs in puke detracts from the serious skill it takes to create them, the scenes are pretty darn smart and the artist seems to be emphasizing his digestion — or indigestion — of modern culture.

Stand in front of Martinez’s epic “History of the World,” a large and immensely busy pencil drawing. It connects scenes ranging from ancient Mexico to Hitler living the American dream, and has more pop references than an episode of Gilmore Girls.

Slip into Joan Grona Gallery and wind your way to the far back for an introduction to Karl Frey, an artist who recently relocated to San Antonio from Boston (through May 27, 112 Blue Star, 225-6334). Hellafortuna is a playful show of familiar objects made into shaped canvases. Inspired by doggie chew-toys, the slight goofiness of the steak and fire hydrant comes from the artist having made portraits from rubber translations. Frey uses gouache and oil and then encases his works in beeswax; the resulting surface and shape make them more objects than paintings. The speckled rope-toy is divine.

Frey recycles the underlying wood panels after he cuts out his shapes, using the leftovers to make white cut-out paintings, square with rounded corners. Hung on rather elegant bathroom fixtures, these objects are all about negative space. They resemble pictureless flashcards, and the show relates to the Game of Memory because, in a sea of First Friday artworks, this one was weird and original enough to stay with me.

Finally, two UTSA MFA candidates blow kisses over the shoulders with their thesis exhibition at Satellite Space (through May 21, 115 Blue Star, 212-7146). Keith Williams and Russell Stephenson are big, big painters. For Bodily Systems, Williams created figure paintings about science and surgery. He takes poses and monumental body types from Baroque paintings and updates them with sci-fi inspired body cavities. He has been working on this theme — how much can we do to our bodies and still be human? — for some time.

“Malcontent” has dark, brooding shadows that complement the creamy fleshtones of “Redhorn.” If you love paint, you’ll have a hard time pulling yourself away from these, despite their sometimes gratuitous content. Williams’s “Pink Fish,” in which the bruised color is all the surgical gore you see and fish swim as if in an aquarium window, may be a “coming attraction” for future work.

Nearby, Russell Stephenson’s Intuitionism maps his nimble hopscotch from process to process. Stephenson is a print major whose patterns border Op Art. Three of his early collographs — busy, wave-like abstractions — hang in one of the closet-size galleries where they can create some fun, mild vertigo.

Stephenson’s earth-toned “smear” paintings immediately recall Gerhard Richter. The best, “Continuum,” is the color of a stirred latte. Stephenson photographed the painting and digitally blurred it even further to create the lovely “Vapoportrait.” His bas-relief paintings are impressive in scale but feel stiff compared to the artist’s glossy works and luminous digital images. Stephenson is pushing his work across various media while retaining his use of textural pattern, all the while revealing a good mixture of maturity and youthful sponginess.


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