‘Christa Palazzolo: City Folk’

Christa Palazzolo was an astounding painter before she left Austin for New York, but her solo show at 1906 Gallery shows that her artistic skill has only deepened

Arts Review

Christa Palazzolo: City Folk

1906 Gallery, through April 12

Roberto Ainslie has just opened 1906 Gallery, a new space for visual arts and, in doing so, has added another laurel of glory to the burgeoning Eastside scene and has made me think of how coffee tastes after you've held it in your mouth, cold, a whole minute. The latter is because I first saw the artwork of Christa Palazzolo, the artist whose solo show inaugurates the meager but ambitious gallery, in Quack's 43rd Street Bakery in Hyde Park about three years ago. And when I saw those works – portraits and figurative studies – they were so far beyond what normally passes for coffeehouse exhibition fare that I was stunned. And so, forgot, for about a minute of enraptured staring, to swallow what I'd just swigged. By then the coffee was cold, but my visual cortex was warming toward combustion, sparked by the walls' displayed wonders.

About a year later, UT's Creative Research Lab included a new Palazzolo piece in its "Grid" show. It was titled Talking Heads, and it was a series of eight portraits of historical women (Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, Joan of Arc, and others) all glammed up as if for a modern-day fashion shoot, the images rendered with a layering process involving acrylic latex, spray paint, and oil paint. Together, these portraits formed a single 4-foot-by-8-foot work of thematic and visual interrelationships that exercised several lobes of the viewer's brain at once.

And now here's 1906 and Palazzolo's first solo show. The artist no longer lives in Austin, having absconded to the Big Apple a year ago, but the relocation hasn't dampened her ability or industry in the least. If anything, Palazzolo's further urbanization seems to have had a deepening effect on her work, allowing her to better illuminate the subjects she's chosen to capture: the colors more subdued, the execution more studied. This exhibition's called "City Folk," and that's just who it depicts in several 3-foot-by-4-foot oil portraits of formal composition and unerring accuracy, just as plain and as beautiful as they are, without any Talking Heads-style supravisual commentary.

You can go to this show as an artist yourself, as someone struggling to master portraiture and lifelike depiction, and See How It's Done Well. You can go as someone who wonders what worth such painting might have in this age of instant digital photography and Photoshop wizardy; you'll stand in the middle of the small main room of 1906, drink in what the artist has taken much time and effort to accomplish, and you'll wonder no more. You can go as someone who wishes they'd been around at the start of Chuck Close's career and so could say, "I knew him way back when"; because, just from the evidence presented so far, in considering the obvious technical skills and the thinking person's whimsy those skills are sometimes in concert with, I'm suggesting the trajectory of Palazzolo's career won't be terribly dissimilar.

As for now, what good fortune for 1906, what good fortune for Austin, to have work of this caliber on display.

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Christa Palazzolo:City Folk, Roberto Ainslie, 1906 Gallery, Creative Research Lab

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