The Austin Chronicle

“Dave McClinton: Despite It All” at the Butridge

The digital collagist’s new solo exhibition is peopled with many colors

Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, January 18, 2019, Arts

The history of this country, hey, it's all there in black and white, right? Except that it's not – not when we're talking about race. And not when we're talking about the exhibition of work called "Despite It All" by Dave McClinton that's currently galvanizing the walls of the Dougherty Art Center's Butridge Gallery.

The history isn't all there in black and white when we're talking about race, because half of that putative binary has been systematically suppressed, denied, debased, and deleted, to one extent or another, for longer than our portion of the planet's been officially the USA. And McClinton's work isn't all there in black and white, literally, because the array of colors that make up the many stunning images the man's wrangled via complex digital collage – that array is off the goddamn charts.

"The African-American community is currently rediscovering our history, which has not been fully illustrated," reads part of the artist's statement for this show. "It's my goal as visual communicator to review historical information and inform people by bringing these concepts to life."

When McClinton says "visual communicator," he's not just tossing out a handy synonym: He's a graphic designer by trade – he worked for this very Chronicle back in the day – and the wonders he can wreak with design software and the colors of Pantone's endless rainbow are evidenced in a series of 27 large portraits that, as the artist says, "tell the story of love in the face of fear, pride in the face of debasement, ascension in the face of subjugation."

That story's illustrations loom large upon the familiar DAC walls: faces and bodies of African-Americans, historical or modern, built from photos of faces and bodies sometimes combined Frankensteinwise with textures and elements of nature – the slag glass hair of the woman in Carry Blanco, the boll of cotton erupting from the head of the young man in My Supple Nature, the single red leaf standing in for lips in Fetish Minimize – and often enhanced with a profusion of colors that expand this show's palette beyond the already many-hued varieties of human skin. Also, much as "being-all-there-in-black-and-white" implies printed text, neither are the damning documents of earlier times neglected in McClinton's dark materials. The market ledger filled with the names and details of slaves, translucently overlaid to eradicate the lower face and upper body of the man in Register, is a chilling case in point.

There are many cases in point here, and the point is – again, from the exhibition's statement – "Distributing these stories about the strength and trials of the African-American experience can help visually define our identity." Indeed. If only all identity could be so beautifully, powerfully defined as it is in "Despite It All," then ... well, that remains to be seen. But of course, it's also one of the main reasons – and problems – and goals – of art.

“Dave McClinton: Despite It All”

Butridge Gallery at the Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd., 512/974-4000
Through Feb. 9

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