'Cantanker/us,' a show of artwork by the staff of the visual-arts magazine Cantanker, is a rare opportunity to consider both sides of each artist/staffer's practice

<i>Fall</i> by John Mulvany
Fall by John Mulvany


Else Madsen Gallery, through July 6

It may not be apparent to some readers just how many visual-arts writers are also visual artists. At the Chronicle, three out of the four writers who regularly cover the visual arts (that is, all except me) also make art themselves. While to my knowledge these three have never exhibited together, the staff of Austin-based Cantanker magazine celebrates their publication's one-year anniversary with a show of their artwork at Else Madsen Gallery.

A few of the artists directly reference writing and Cantanker in their work. Shea Little uses pages from the magazine's third issue to create one of his signature stitched compositions. Little also teams with Jana Swec, a collaborator – along with Little and Joseph Phillips – in the Sodalitas collective, to produce a group of paper cylinders that seem to grow out of the wall. The face of each tube presents a series of brightly colored concentric circles that resembles tree rings, a reminder of where all of the pages that make up our publications come from. Debra Broz's words in my mouth similarly combines sparse passages of found text with stitched paper, but with a more minimal effect.

One Night Stand, an installation made of fine-art packing materials by Sean Gaulager, looms overhead in a niche set within the gallery ceiling. Another meta-artwork, this piece seems to reference not writing about but exhibiting art. Cardboard boxes lined with packing tape and shipping labels jut out at odd angles, the detritus of any large gallery show. The boxes' precipitous installation also works as a metaphor, at least for this writer, for approaching deadlines.

It takes a lot of people to produce a magazine, and Else Madsen is a relatively small gallery space. The fact that 14 artists are included in this show pushes some work into a long, narrow corridor, making photographs by Margot Herster and Clarisse Noelle, as well as a charcoal drawing by Hillary McMahan, very difficult to view. Perhaps space constraints also encouraged some artists to contribute smaller pieces, which don't hold up in the exhibition's dense installation. In the case of Paul McLean's digital patterns and Cherie Weaver's delicate drawings, this effect is compounded by the works' quiet presence, which is effectively drowned out by some of the other pieces in the main space (particularly John Mulvany's large, red-toned painting of two gun-toting boys). What the show lacks in visual balance, however, it makes up for with a diversity of artworks as varied as the viewpoints that these artists express in print. "Cantanker/us" is a rare opportunity to consider both sides of each artist/staffer's practice.

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Cantanker / us, Cantanker, Shea Little, Jana Swec, Sodalitas, Debra Broz, Sean Gaulager, Margot Herster, Clarisse Noelle, Hillary McMahan, Paul McLean, Cherie Weaver, John Mulvany

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