The Austin Chronicle


Renfro's paintings elegantly evoke a sense of sorrow-tinged wonder about humanity's triumphs of creation

Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, January 10, 2014, Arts

Wally Workman Gallery, 1202 W. Sixth, 512/472-7428
Through Jan. 25

The idea – for too many people, it seems – is that there's nature and then there are humans and their works. Like, a dam built by beavers, a nest chewed and mindlessly sculpted into existence by wasps: Those are somehow more fundamentally natural than a condominium tower, an oil refinery, a suspension bridge ungapping the distance between one firmness of terra and the next.

Which is, of course, poppycock.

And what brings the truth across the divide separating misconception from actuality – the truth that it's all natural, even the human-based bits that seem intent on rendering this planet ultimately uninhabitable by the species doing the construction – one of the things that bridges this gap so elegantly is the series of oil-on-panel paintings by Angie Renfro, now on view at Wally Workman Gallery.

When Renfro's attending to the classical naturalism of unaltered landscape and wildlife, her oils work wonders of description, capturing not just the way these creatures (bees, whales) and places (meadows, forests) precisely look but also something of their essence, of what it's like to be alive and witnessing the paintings' subjects. Something about the way the artist handles light, the intentional maneuvers against photorealism, the welcome roughnesses of this-is-paint-that's-happening-here, floods a vicarious experience of the considered world into a viewer's sensorium. And that treatment doesn't stop, doesn't shift, when Renfro's subjects include concrete ductworks along a traffic'd highway, what appear to be oil refineries, the tops of telephone poles and their various gall-like attachments.

There's that book from several years ago: The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman, about what would likely happen to this planet – in 10 years, 50 years, a thousand years, and more – if all the people on it suddenly disappeared. Renfro's paintings bring that book to mind, evoking a sense of sorrow-tinged wonder that all of humanity's triumphs of creation are, in the end, doomed to wither and decay as surely as the rest of the natural world. And yet, here we are now, in that tony gallery on West Sixth, not yet extinct at all, still alive and thriving and hungry for all the beauty that life yet serves. How fortunate that some human-made examples of that beauty are so artfully arrayed on the familiar Workman walls.

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