"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

Field of Orbs, by Laurel Daniel

I like the sun. Not just the sun but its heat, those days, like this past week, when the temperature is near or above 100 and the cicadas are chirping in long, unbroken cadences. When the sky is absolutely blue and the line between shade and sunlight is so sharp it can be traced with a pencil. I like visiting the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center or Enchanted Rock and walking on uncovered gravel paths. I like the way the heat stings my skin. I like the way I start to sweat immediately. I like the way the sun turns pale rocks white. I may be the perfect audience for "Radiant: A Group Show," which features 24 artists and their odes to the sun, and to brilliance in general.

Some work is on the minimalist side, such as Chun Hui Pak's aptly named painting Radiance, a kaleidoscopic starburst of reds, oranges, and yellows that mimics the sun and stylistically recalls a Mexican mural or Native American emblem. William Wahlgren's Yellow Sky III uses the same palette as Pak's and is similarly elemental. In essence, it is an abstraction that re-creates a dramatic, cloud-covered sky, a zoomed-in look at the deepest portion of a rich sunset. It could also be what an astronaut might see on her descent into Jupiter.

Others reference the photographic quality of sunlight. Chris Gray's Lanterns is a small, square, black-and-white image of spherical lamps hanging from a tent ceiling. In the context of this show, surrounded by mostly larger works, Gray's small photos come across like precious miniatures, delicate and collectible. Their gentleness is in stark contrast to the luminescence of works like Pak's and Wahlgren's, not to mention Salient Beings (and the thoughts they create together in the night) Exchanging Vows, an automated sculpture by David Hefner. The piece is too complicated to thoroughly describe here, so I'll just say this: art history slides, lamps, motors, chaos. It's a big piece that fills much of the gallery's 12th Street window, and amusing for its dedicated messiness. A nearby statement recommends you visit between the hours of 9:15pm and midnight to get the full effect.

All of these pieces provide a lot to think about, but the works that resonated most with me were also the simplest. Giota Vorgia's Dancing Light is a painting of smooth, colorful rocks shimmering beneath the surface of a shallow pool. The water is invisible. All we can see are the swirls of brightness made by the sun reflecting through the water onto the stones, which are so smooth and enticing that I want to pick one up immediately. Julie Davis' Waco Taxi Co. and El Cobertizo, San Miguel are small paintings of run-down rural buildings, the kinds you'll see on the side of the highway on the way to other, less forgotten places. And maybe the most simple of all, Laurel Daniel's paintings of sunflowers. They are only what they are, images of the preening, familiar flowers arching toward the sky in rows and fields. They are optimistic, reassuring, and somehow determined. The realist environments of these artists remind me of tranquil Bob Ross paintings or the languid hills and farmhouses of Romantic painters like John Constable. One reason I enjoy being in the sun at its peak may be that it forces me to slow down. These landscapes do the same. The sun is life, of course, and it is pleasure. Let's appreciate it.

“Radiant: A Group Show”

Davis Gallery, 837 W. 12th, 512/477-4929
Through Aug. 19

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Davis Gallery, Chun Hui Pak, William Wahlgren, Chris Gray, David Hefner, Giota Vorgia, Julie Davis, Laurel Daniel

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