Dark Scenes from Dallas Art Openings— Feb 16, 2019

The dark, drizzle and cold did not dampen the excitement for Saturday’s art openings. We counted seven openings— six in the design district and one in The Cedars. We almost made it to all of them.

A couple stood out and comprised a theme worthy of the evening.

Cris Worley Fine Arts is featuring Shannon Cannings with her solo show Triggered. The subject matter – toy guns – is magnified and reimagined on large canvases with vibrant colors and lucid forms.

There is a sensation of looking at mundane consumer items anew. Under the perfect lighting, they take on an elevated status. The plastic’s translucency, the shiny reflection and the distortion of glass reminds that the initial appeal may not be only the gameplay.

Cannings, standing tall and sporting a toy gun pendant, was easy to spot. She says, in her studio, there is a vast collection of these cheap plastic toys. They aren’t worth much. “But having kids means that I cannot have any in the house,” toys though they may be.

“I am even thinking of buying a gun safe.”

Not long ago, little thought was given to the presence of toy guns. Cannings is not alone in that change in perspective. American’s have scrutinized their relationship with guns in recent times. But does harmless consumerism, in this case toy guns, promote gun culture? We begin to wonder.

Cannings has chosen two different backgrounds for her main subjects. They are either rippling water or pure bright colors. The former screams for actions and movement, while the latter quietly awaits foul play with that new plastic smell. Viewers inevitably walk into her paintings and inch closer and closer to the happy colors. But what will be triggered next – the nostalgic feeling of childhood or the social consciousness of our gun culture? It’s left to our interpretation.

At Ro2, Candace Hicks from Nacogdoches transforms the backroom into a series of innocently presented crime scenes. The title of the show Paper Cuts refers to her medium: papercraft compositions. Mounted in white decorative frames, each piece is sculptural and often “steps” out of the frame. They look whimsical at first, with so many elements of cut paper that take on different shapes, forms, perspectives and meanings. Only a second glance reveals what lies beyond the landscape. Drawing inspiration from crime fiction, Hicks invites a narrative of sexual victims by blending women’s bodies with the wildness of nature. Here and there, braids, a brassiere and a broken-off heel are lost in the woods with ants, spiders and butterflies.

That interplay between bright colors (made of Canson Mi-Teintes paper) and dark dramas leave me not knowing whether to laugh or frown – Maybe Almodovar would take in the scenes and develop them into a movie. (Wouldn’t they make an excellent animated movie intro?)

Hicks said her husband is an entomologist and would give her feedback on the anatomy of her insects. I would not be able to tell, but her craftsmanship certainly thrilled me. Those fine hairs on a spider or the tiny legs of an ant are nothing short of a small wonder.

Last, but not least, at Liliana Bloch, a group of lithographs by David Newman takes over the front room. Surreal, mysterious, and to some degree, absurdly humorous, the imageries combine machinery components with figures from the Dutch golden period.

Newman said he remembered stories when students, right before defending their thesis, went through sleepless nights organizing thoughts on art. “It is like those old professors looking down at you. I thought, I would like to use that.” Newman sourced from Rembrandt’s paintings and put those figures in strong contrasting light. The juxtaposition with pipes and gears creates a detached visual layer that does not exist in the process. They look very much like collages, which is what Newman’s envisioned. But the harmonious tones from the print process (most four to seven layers of printing, each of which is for one specific color) unify elements into a whole.

David Newman at Liliana Bloch Gallery

Not all of the work we saw last night was dark. Work at Craighead Green, Mary Thomas and Holly Johnson didn’t fit into this vein. But I am sure glad the sun is out this morning.

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