The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Rachel Koper, January 16, 2009, Arts

'A Grand Affair'

Wally Workman Gallery

Through Jan. 31

This time of year, I always resolve to go to more art galleries. Ideally, a viewer has a grasp of a gallery's oeuvre, of all the artists it represents throughout the year. Wally Workman has done us all a favor with her January show, "A Grand Affair," by exhibiting a couple of (or eight) small works by each of 30 artists she represents. It is great to see this sampler of mostly painters, like a mixed chocolate box of visual delights. It gives insight into what shows not to miss as she presents solo shows throughout the upcoming year.

The gallery is focused on art made by überconsistent producers such as Will Klemm, Erin Cone, and Gordon Fowler. Others are respected fixtures of the local scene but have a few more undulations in the limns of their interests, such as Jennifer Balkan, Helmut Barnett, Jan Heaton, Susan Kemner Reed, and Jill Carver. This is to say they paint well, and they like to toss some current events or an experimental piece into their series. Reed exemplified this risky willingness to be "of the times" by painting still lives of various lovely objects on a table but tucking in a newspaper with a politically charged headline. Balkan painted a cute retro robot that happens to be surrounded by maps of Washington, D.C., adding layered meanings to the work.

Also painting robots this year, Rob Harrell seems to be loosening up in a good way, moving a bit closer to the wet and wide confident strokes of Carol Marine's still lifes. I associate Harrell with backlit full-body images of attractive women, and many of those will be featured in his February solo show. However, I love this series of vintage toys; it's nostalgic, precious, and not sexy. His color palette is rich, and even though each square is one centered toy, Harrell is able to vary the backgrounds to create a strong depth of field in his compositions.

New to the gallery this show is Erika Pochybova-Johnson. She brings a neon palette and layered tiny polka dots into the mix. Her very fresh, fun work seems to be influenced by Eastern European miniature painting and has some kinship to Faith Gay's crafty flat-pattered modernism. New to me but not the gallery is Fatima Ronquillo, who paints pale women and girls in a classical style. They are dainty, dreamy, and a bit like antique dolls. They have very feminine, lacy clothes that are soothing and cozy, relaxing to the eyes (perhaps like a dose of laudanum).

This exhibit demonstrates the variety and interesting scope of artists in Workman's stable. I think because she shows lots of paintings of still lifes, landscapes, and figures, she often doesn't get the credit she deserves as a contemporary curator. "A Grand Affair" is a good chance to get up to speed on what's ahead here in '09, and every piece for sale is less than a grand. How's that for responding to the recession?

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