The Austin Chronicle

Art About Texas

June 21, 1996, Arts

Various Artists

Gallery of the Hills
through July

Don't be put off by the name. Yes, Texas is an inspiration for numerous artists, many of whom too often produce stereotypical, yawn-inspiring rodeo scenes and tumbleweed portraits. (Will we ever get past that?) As Austin folks know, there's a lot more to Texas than glittery red ropers and Tom Landry still lifes.

Fortunately, the artists showcased here are also aware of that. Initially, what's most striking about this show is the artists' diverse styles and subjects; it's interesting to see how differently five people perceive and convey the same subject. Not only are the works aesthetically different, each artist employs a different tool; oils, pastels, sculpture, acrylics and printing are all put to use here.

The oils, by Lisa L. Miller-Gray, feature hazy, blurred scenes, as if seen through eyes full of quivering tears. Think of gazing, tears in your eyes, at a large woman in a pink housedress, walking a poodle down a long stretch of highway. There you have "Panhandle Pink Poodle Pilgrimage." Motley pilgrims, to be sure.

Anne Nelson Sweat's pastels portray familiar scenes: Texas' favorite rock glows with a smooth purple surface in "Enchanted," and an all-too-shallow body of shimmering blue water trinkles downstream in "Barton Creek Blues."

The collection also contains beautiful limestone sculptures by Walter Allan -- smooth, sublime works that look almost like petrified wood -- and J.D. Challenger's serigraph prints of colorful, solemn Native Americans. Betty Pitman's realistic acrylics of Texas wildlife, the show's most conventional pieces, add a nice traditional segment to a commingled show.

William Morris and His Circle

Various Artists

Wren Room, Harry Ransom Center
through August 16

William Morris believed an artist could not exist outside a community of like-minded folk. Given that, he would certainly be pleased with this collection, a grouping of his works alongside those of his contemporaries, Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

To label Morris as an artist, however, is a little misleading. Paints and canvases were not his tools of expression; poetry, decorative arts, and social commentary were. With these, he became one of the most important figures in the late Victorian era. This exhibition memorializes two centennials: Morris' death and the publication of the Kelmscott Chaucer, the most important work from Morris' printing press.

This show tells a tale, one easily discernible in the letters, notes, poetry, and pictures of Morris and his pre-Raphaelite artist friends. The Englishmen had "enduring but tempestuous" relations, which bordered on soap opera drama. A sort of precursor to 20th-century literary circles, Morris' group could be catty and vicious, a clashing of brilliant minds distracted by their own insecurities. Nevertheless, it makes the collection all the more interesting.

The biggest strain in relations was between Morris and Rossetti, a well-known painter who found a perfect model in Morris' wife Janey and engaged in a fairly public affair with her for several years. (This after Rossetti's first marriage ended in his wife's suicide, and he buried the sole manuscript of many of his poems in her coffin, only to dig them up years later, dip them in antiseptic, and publish them!)

Rossetti later enjoyed using Morris' youngest daughter, May, as a model; the pieces here with May prove the artist's stance as pre-Raph-aelite master. His "Study for Mary Magdalene," with the bold lips, beseeching eyes, and flowing, wavy hair common to Raphaelite subjects, is a beautiful, quiet moment in this somewhat turbulent show.

Several of Morris' books on design are included, as well as books printed at Kelmscott Press, including the mammoth Chaucer. The show is as interesting cerebrally as it is visually, giving insight into the minds of the guarded Victorian intelligentsia.-- Cari Marshall

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