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Contemporary Interpretations of 1980s Art in Blue Star’s ‘Homage’ 

  • Photos by Mari Hernandez

With “Homage,” Blue Star Contemporary celebrates its 30-year history as the first and longest-running space purely dedicated to contemporary art in San Antonio. Looking back, director Mary Heathcott invited seven local artists to create new works inspired by pieces in the original 1986 exhibit that ignited an explosion of artist-run DIY galleries, First Friday art walks and the equally long-running Contemporary Art Month.

Selected “Homage” participants had only the titles, names of the artists and lists of materials to work with rather than photographs of the actual works. Some of the pieces can be glimpsed in a montage of photographs from the original installation presented on one wall of Blue Star’s Main Gallery. The photos provide some sense of the excitement that pivotal exhibition aroused, complete with 1980s fashions and large-scale paintings and sculpture installed in the rather ragged interior of the freshly spruced-up warehouse.

The bottom half of James Cobb’s The Bath (1985), depicting the legs of a man floating in a bathtub, can be seen in the wall montage, but David Almaguer’s The Bath (2017) presents a man sunk into an easy chair and holding a remote, soaking in the blue glow of a TV screen. Almaguer’s large-scale aerosol mural Blast from the Past pays homage to his childhood memories of 1980s movies such as Terminator and Batman along with a nostalgic nod to VHS tapes, the pre-digital liberator from network TV schedules.

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Ed Saavedra composed an emotional response to Gary Schafter’s Draw What You Feel (1986) by recalling a recent experience he had riding along San Pedro Avenue and seeing a “young man naked as a jaybird” being pursued by police, grateful the “swashbuckling nudist” wasn’t shot. He illustrated what he saw in a small, funny octagonal painting, but he also used headlines generated by police misbehavior to create his sobering Yanaguana Mandala (2016).

Holly Moe pioneered a decidedly low-tech technique, cigarette burns on low-pile carpet, to create her mysterious domestic interiors, such as the shadowy Midnight (1986), that were often displayed on the floor. Michele Monseau goes high-tech with her digital video projection, Midnight, coming down (2017), which uses “deconstructed yarn” as a background in an image of a setting sun slowly fading to a couple walking away into the night, while the soundtrack features a match striking to light a cigarette. Moe’s influence extended beyond the visual art community as a proprietor of the Bone Club, a “home away from home for San Antonio’s lonesome punks and misfits.”

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Kathy Vargas, who now chairs the art department at the University of the Incarnate Word, created soft-focus, abstract black-and-white photographic momento mori in a series titled with the abrupt command to Discard This Image. Anthony Rundblade transforms this directive into an either/or choice by running a red stripe down the middle of his photo collages using images from medical books.

Kent Rush, a longtime art professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio who had a 46-year retrospective last fall at REM Gallery, generally doesn’t give titles to his abstract images of urban detritus. But this gave Jennifer Khoshbin the freedom to go off into an entirely realistic — though somewhat surreal — direction with her richly detailed graphite drawings and cut book collages of children wearing animal masks escaping from machines, asphalt, oil, automobiles and other perils of the modern age in Untitled (and Un/Safe) (2017).

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Danville Chadbourne is known for his lengthy, lyrical, philosophical titles for his abstract ceramic, wood and found-object sculptures that often seem like lost artifacts of a forgotten civilization. While sharing the same title from Chadbourne’s 1985-86 acrylic on earthenware and concrete piece, Joe Harjo tackles the political debates of the Trump era in his 2017 screen-print The Unforeseen Memory of Abundant Life, which, sadly, may serve as a momento mori for what’s being lost after decades of liberal democracy. The poster’s tagline may read “Count Your Lucky Stars,” but how much longer will we be able to count on such progressive “prizes” as reproductive rights, affordable healthcare, income equality and NEA/NEH grants?

Thirty years on, San Antonio artists remain at the forefront of the city’s progressive vanguard, but the forces of ignorance, superstition and fear seem to be pushing back harder than ever.

Homage $3-$5 // noon-8pm Thu, noon-6pm Fri-Sun // Blue Star Contemporary // 116 Blue Star // (210) 227-6960 // // Through May 7

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