"Painters Painting Painters" at Davis Gallery

With 10 artists making portraits of themselves and one another, it’s the variety of styles that provides the show’s strength


Flight of Fantasy by Karen Offutt

"Painters Painting Painters" highlights portraits by 10 artists, each of whom contributed three portraits: two of other artists in the show and one self-portrait. The work tends toward the naturalistic rather than the abstract. For example, Johnnie Sielbeck's self-portrait, Favorite Brushes, is a simple and sincere look at the artist, seated and wielding her tools in a shaft of sunlight. Similarly, Chris Chappell's Mike Peterson in My Studio shows Peterson reclined with his legs crossed in the bare corner of a room. Chappell's expressive brush strokes make the image modestly frantic, but the figure of Peterson remains serene amidst it all.

The show's strength is its variety of styles, and the most arresting of those styles may be Karen Offutt's. What makes Offutt's work stand out are her choices with light and gesture. In her self-portrait, Lighthouse, Offutt appears to be sitting on a very low stool or possibly kneeling on the floor. In either case, Offutt, dressed in jeans, sandals, and a gray hoodie, is crouched with hands clasped and head lowered as if in prayer. She is downcast, meditative, and brilliant with light in an otherwise darkened room. The lighting and composition lend the utterly contemporary Offutt the kind of gravity and drama I would expect from a saint in a Baroque religious painting.

The same gravity applies to Offutt's Dissection, which appears to be a portrait of artist Denise Fulton. Fulton is painted in bust on a muddy background similar to the one in Lighthouse. She wears a dark shirt and has dark hair, but little is lost as Offutt again manages multiple compelling moments with a deft manipulation of light. A glow emits from Fulton's arm and shoulder, then disappears into shadow at her neck, only to reappear along the dyed blond streaks of her hair. These streaks guide us to Fulton's somber expression, eyes downcast, as in Lighthouse. Finally, a wisp of blue lining one side of Fulton's head foregrounds it against the murk behind her.

The third Offutt piece is Flight of Fantasy, a portrait of artist Jennifer Balkan. It is almost an opposite of the other two. Balkan is seated in a blue dress. The muddy background has been replaced with a pattern of flowers and brightly colored birds. Perhaps most significantly, Balkan is looking up rather than down, her eyes wide and attentive. She is optimistic in a way the other women in Offutt's paintings are not, but all the same, she doesn't smile. She seems to be waiting for something, trying to be patient with a vaguely uncomfortable process, like portrait-making. This counterintuitive choice to find beauty in something other than the smile is a recurring theme in historical portraiture, as well as in Offutt's work. I am especially appreciative of that choice in a time when it seems hardly any moment is too serious to say "cheese" and grin for a camera.

The only regret about the show is that it is difficult to tell who painted what. I have to assume, by process of elimination, that Lighthouse is a self-portrait, but it took some work to figure that out (assuming I'm right). Offutt's paintings are not displayed together, and the works are not explicitly labeled. Close examination provides answers, but not all of them, which is too bad. However, for the artists whose styles are as striking as Offutt's, it hardly matters. The work speaks for itself, regardless of the subject.


“Painters Painting Painters”

Davis Gallery, 837 W. 12th, 512/477-4929
www.davisgalleryaustin.com
Through Nov. 5
READ MORE
More Davis Gallery
"Radiant: A Group Show" at Davis Gallery
In this group show, artists' odes to the sun, and brilliance in general, provide a sense of life and a lot to think about

Sam Anderson-Ramos, Aug. 4, 2017

"Seeking Surreal" at Davis Gallery
Each of the artworks in this group show finds some place where the fantastic makes contact with the everyday

Sam Anderson-Ramos, July 8, 2016

More Arts Reviews
Street Corner Arts' <i>Pocatello</i>
Street Corner Arts' Pocatello
Rich performances highlight the pain, hope, and heart in this staging of Samuel D. Hunter's family drama

Shanon Weaver, Dec. 8, 2017

The Hideout Theatre's <i>Dance Dreams</i>
The Hideout Theatre's Dance Dreams
The improv artists in this production do an impressive job of detailing the falling and rising fortunes of a ballet company

T. Lynn Mikeska, Dec. 8, 2017

More by Sam Anderson-Ramos
“Pio Pulido: The Last Exhibit of the 20th Century” at the MACC
This retrospective is like visiting an artist's crowded studio and yet provides just a glimpse of this visionary's output

Sept. 1, 2017

“Teresa Hubbard/Alexander Birchler: Giant” at the Blanton Museum of Art
“Teresa Hubbard/Alexander Birchler: Giant” at the Blanton Museum of Art
The film is good at showing the fate of the film set of Giant, but it leaves open the question of what's happened to Marfa

Aug. 25, 2017

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Davis Gallery, Jennifer Balkan, Chris Chappell, Denise Fulton, Felice House, Karen Maness, Revi Meicler, Karen Offutt, Mike Peterson, Johnnie Sielbeck, Robert Summerlin

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)