The Austin Chronicle

"Jonathan Muzacz: Stained Slabs" at the Butridge

With his solo show, the artist revs up the gallery by bringing in the street in eye-catching style

Reviewed by Melany Jean, July 13, 2018, Arts

Jonathan Muzacz's signature is like a jangle of limbs, knotted in the corners of his works. "JMUZACZ." M and Z bridge improbably over the U, with the last Z nested inside the C. The moniker can be seen all over town: at the new Komé spot, on the Austin Vet Hospital, on the Dougherty Arts Center. Muzacz paints murals, a democratic, community-centering art form. For his show "Stained Slabs" at the Butridge Gallery in the Dougherty Arts Center, Muzacz brings his mural aesthetic, seen on the exterior of the same building, indoors to pay homage to another form of community-centering street art: the custom car.

Moving away from murals for the show, Muzacz dabbles in a variety of mediums and textures. Woven blankets are hung next to black and white comic book-style screen prints, and neon pieces oppose found item sculptures. On each side of the gallery, there is a sculptural focal point. On the right wall, shards of mirrored glass radiate from the center of a seven-foot mounted disc. Approximating flashy wire wheels, Dayton catches your eye as soon as you walk in and reflects the rest of the show back to you in a smattering of angles and colors.

Center of the left side of the gallery, rotating on a rubber tire turned plush pedestal, is a 1965 Schwinn custom lowrider bicycle by John Mireles. The collaborative nature of Muzacz's homage placates a knee-jerk wariness of attempts to bring such a subculture into the gallery space. The same discrepancies that can occur with street art – who gets paid and who gets fined and how that division aligns with racial lines – could apply, but Muzacz brings the community into the fold and doesn't lose sight of the Mexican-American origins of the style. The opening featured a car show, and the space feels celebratory rather than exploitative.

Muzacz shines in his paintings, each of which puts a well-honed mural artist's sensibility to effective use, employing a stained-glass appearance to assemble prismatic vignettes that feature the cars front and center. The stained-glass refraction acts as a hyperbolic extension of the custom cars, an amplification of wire wheels' segmentation and the suave meeting of planes on the body.

Olde Pecan Street, a five-foot-tall acrylic, spray paint, and marker painting, situates the lowrider within the community. Idyllically, in the foreground, a woman plays guitar next to an embracing couple as a black man in a suit cycles by. In the middle of the composition are a fuchsia lowrider and a food truck, all before a backdrop of storefronts and pecans overhead. It's an Austin slice of life mural-style composition. Across the room, Tropicana, a painting of a citrine car jacked up at an unbelievable angle in front of a dreamy California background, awash in Fanta colors and palm trees, pays tribute to lowriding's West Coast origins.

The titular Stained Slabs refer to Houston's lowrider scene, where custom cars, or Slabs, cruise slow, low, and bangin' in candy paint. This low and slow ostentation revels in the community and street life that foster it. As a mural artist, Muzacz is uniquely well suited to explore that street life and successful in producing a show that celebrates lowrider culture from the streets of Austin and elsewhere.

“J Muzacz: Stained Slabs”

Julia C. Butridge Gallery, 1110 Barton Springs Rd.
Through July 14

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