On the night of Blue Norther when Dallas saw its first hard freeze of the winter, the cold was not the only surprise hailing from the North. At Kirk Hopper Gallery, Roger Winter connects his present New York circle of friends with his Dallas buddies of the past through a show of collage and assemblage.
The Dallas artists represented here were connected with the short-lived Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts (DMCA). In fact, one of Roger’s collage works for a DMCA exhibition One I at a Time is loaned from the Dallas Museum of Art, which merged with DMCA.
“Among eight pictured in this work, I am the only one still alive,” Winter comments.
The collegial relationship between the DMCA staff extended to influence their artistic output, in the decades after the merge with the DMA. Among them, David McManaway, Roy Fridge, as well as some of Winter’s work are featured in the show.
Winter moved to New York City full-time in 2000. It was there he met Marty Greenbaum and Nancy Willis Smith, who are also included in the show. “Roger and I draw together. He is like a magnet, brings people together.” Greenbaum told us while resting on the sofa in the back room of the gallery.
The show’s title — One Plus One Equals Three – is an expression that David McManaway used to describe his “Jomo” works. It relates to Max Ernst’s comment that when more than one reality exists in a single work, it causes a “spark of poetry which leaps across the gap as these two realities are brought together.”
I have often overlooked assemblage works in large exhibitions. They require a different mindset, accepting the as-is physical quality of individual objects while anticipating the would-be metaphysical potential of subtle juxtaposition. In any encyclopedic art exhibition where the history of art is narrated in the duality of inheritance and rebellion, such works feel always like a digression.
Winter proves the power of collage and assemblage by grouping similar-minded works in an intimate space. Slowly, I got used to the transformed pictorial, spatial and contextual relationships of those found objects and became eager to explore what’s newly affixed to the work.
In the vocabulary of assemblage, McManaway’s message is at once profound and effortless. His uncanny ability to bring greatness out of ordinary objects and then twist and turn and create simple, exquisite forms took me off-guard here and there.
Imp Shrine, an assemblage sculpture piece, seems to live in its own universe despite its small scale. On a miniature, shrine-looking stool props up a stark twig, with an imp figurine sprouting at the very top. It struck me that the work’s playfulness coexists with its elegant but frugal usage of objects. I kept looking at the red-hatted imp. The idea of the figuring was as foreign as its meaning was elusive to me. What attracted me first is its formal visual presentation of a primeval looking shrine, flanked by two small objects. Yet that serious overtone is immediately and perhaps perpetually counterbalanced by the frivolousness of the rest. In a typical gallery, we wow and hmm, and occasionally coo before walking away. But in front of McManaway, I could not move on with a conclusion, only to move away with the residual stimulus.
I had the pleasure to chat briefly with Greenbaum, who traveled to Dallas for this group show. His works don’t look like collage pieces. Greenbaum draws and blends different parts into a rich harmony of texture and colors. The scribbled and gestural lines hide and seek elements, which are mostly partial facial features in a distorted scale. I know the word graffiti meets surrealism sounds cheesy, but it takes a lifelong experience to carry out a sense of becoming in such a lucid and lyrical way.
As a painter, Winter invents pictorial spaces with a flattened background, which can be further dissected into different geometric forms. The dislocated subjects, rendered in a realistic style, invite viewers to interpret in their own terms.
Winter, who curated the show, also includes two works by Romare Bearden. In a catalog filled with his well-written essays, he says Bearden’s works have surpassed most, if not all, of the work of his time. They are sensible, riveting and joyful to see.
But before I left, I stopped to see the self-portrait of David McManaway again. (I had seen it at his estate before.) It is madness mixed with humor. At the time of the creation, there were probably thousands of objects at David’s disposal and even millions of ways to arrange them, he did it as if he were directed by objects themselves. Sometimes, unconventional brilliance can feel intuitive at the same time.
Like many visitors in the gallery that night, I could not help wandering through it section by section. There I saw a Mickey Mouse, a recurring subject in McManaway’s work, only to turn into a black mouse that sniffs down toward bodily/figurative objects in the lower half of the board. Just pure, lighthearted magic!
Still, my heart sank, knowing it might take a long time to see the magic again.