The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, September 11, 2009, Arts

'Here We Are: Christa Palazzolo and Brian Halloran'

Big Medium

Through Sept. 26

After the initial shock wears off ... after about three or four minutes have passed ... you may stop wondering, "How the hell does someone take the soft mud of oil and make it look like there's an actual human being standing right in front of you?"

That's when you'll notice the excellence of spatial composition, the wise choice of theme, the cleverness of the design. This is true of most of Christa Palazzolo's paintings, and it's gorgeously evident at Big Medium, where the artist's newest paintings share wall space with recent works by Brian Halloran in a two-person show called "Here We Are."

Palazzolo's latest series concerns the ubiquity and tenacity of consumer disposables, showing portrait subjects cloaked and masked and otherwise encumbered by bubble wrap, by trash bags, by plastic cups and bottles and dead cell phones, by the kind of crap that clutters up what we'd prefer to think of as the natural environment. A pair of 5-feet-by-4-feet portraits stands out in almost full-bodied, life-sized starkness; a pair of watercolor-and-pencil pieces, no less stunning in their realism, brings other textures to the display. Also, there are Cibachromes and a random, unnerving fact communicated with cunning, original typography.

And then there are Halloran's works, also in oils. They're even larger than Palazzolo's biggest, oh sweet Jesus, filling entire walls one at a time. The man's style isn't the same photorealism, but it's no less recognizable as reality, with just a hint of Ivan Albright grisliness haunting the edges of his figures. Figures, plural, for most of these are ensemble pieces: a family entertaining its babies; a couple of guys working on the engine of a car; kids in the back of a truck, riding through burning fields that illuminate the Mozambique night; and, especially, ToysRus, December 24th 8:30 PM. This last is painted as if captured by a fish-eyed security camera, showing several cashier lines thick with holiday shoppers, the glut of commercialism, for good or ill, rendered in all its polychrome diversity. You'd need a lot of space to encompass such a complex scene, with maximum impact, on canvas; Halloran's ToysRus is an 11-feet-by-7-feet horizontal masterpiece.

In this Big Medium show, the emphasis is on big as much as it is on excellence; and the painters' craft in service of art doesn't get much better than this.

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