The Austin Chronicle

Where Cement Is Beautiful and Cranes Are Elegant

Savoring the Shared Texas realism and pop-art imagery of Brian Bowers and Sodalitas

By Rachel Koper, November 14, 2003, Arts

America: We are a free people living in a country whose natural resources are blighted by the effects of industry. Brian Bowers' recent Texas landscape photographs manage to put the byproducts of our success -- railroads and stop signs -- in a good light. He harnesses a theatrical beauty in a photo of a lightning storm behind a power plant, a railroad crossing in the foreground. The slow exposure combined with the variety of light sources under the big black sky is stunning and mysterious. Bowers has several three-part series of boxcars and signage. One piece that sums up his crafty humor portrays a puffy-clouded sky over a majestic landscape of rolling hills. It's picture-perfect except for the postage-stamp pink-and-turquoise billboard that reads "Defend Life." He portrays common objects in a poignant manner.

Sodalitas is the moniker of three collaborating artists: Jana Swec, Shea Little, and Joseph Phillips. Together they make sophisticated mixed-media art. The pairing with Bowers makes good sense. They share pop-art imagery and a sort of Texas realism -- a wholesome all-American aesthetic. Sodalitas' work combines black silk screens, found collage materials, stencils, blocky text, and diagrammatic drawings and painting, all over metal, canvas, or wood. Despite the versatile use of materials, these are focused, consistent pieces. By modulating their colors, somehow even gray looks good. Good color is like good curry: The flavors work in concert to form an impression. The piece Kent Ave. Brooklyn has a lemon-yellow sky with chocolate water tanks surrounded by black urban clutter. Tucked in the dark midground is an ochre truck. The piece feels rich and finished but not overworked. Industrial landscapes with cranes are mapped in black silkscreen to provide a realistic immediacy. I like the heavy equipment. When cropped at Ed Ruscha angles, the telephone poles look really important. Sodalitas makes good pop art: flat graphics, jaunty angles, and efficient compositions. One clean stencil piece is even called Ivory Soap.

It is the strength of composition that allows the viewer to enjoy these artists' work from across the room as well as up close. All the artists have a crisp vision and are very selective. Sodalitas amuses and soothes, and Bowers' photos make you happy to be Texan. And Sodalitas' cool, modern palette can make you think concrete and rust is pretty, even when you leave the gallery. end story

Works by Sodalitas and Brian Bowers are on display through Dec. 13 at Davis Gallery, 837 W. 12th. For information, call 477-4929.

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