The Austin Chronicle

"Lone Star Wild" at Davis Gallery

In this Tex-centric group show, so many creatures great and small, perfectly captured on every wall

Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, November 1, 2019, Arts

This is an exhibition of the creations of four Texas artists whose work here is focused on the natural world. The artists are Margie Crisp, David Everett, Billy Hassell, and William B. Montgomery, and the work is as impressive as the natural world depicted.

Actually, I'd reckon it's even more impressive, depending on the piece. Because most humans have this propensity for pattern recognition, and for pattern appreciation; and some humans – the quartet responsible for what's currently displayed in Davis Gallery's intimate rooms, for example – have a talent for reproducing or arranging patterns in ways that are conducive to the human eye's pleasure, and they've further honed those talents with hard-earned skills, and ... wow.

Sometimes that's all a person can say: "Wow."

As when encountering the first few of Billy Hassell's full-color serigraphs of wildlife in the gallery's vestibule; and you enjoy the images, sure, but maybe you're quick to pigeonhole the style. "Oh yeah, this is good stuff – but so Seventies, too, right? Like, wasn't there a series of postage stamps back in the day, with this same bright and thicklined, simplified style of rendering?" And you're being a bit patronizing, internally, to this artist, who: 1) isn't there and 2) in any case, draws and colors so much better than you could ever hope to, you ever-so-jaded twerp of a critic.

And you stroll through the rest of the gallery, your optic nerves serving up the diverse feast of natural glory as represented by Crisp in her meticulous and majestic portraits of birds – that quartet of verticals featuring birds and flowers on one wall, especially, each well-balanced tableau backgrounded in gold leaf and bursting out of its thin black border to tickle the strictive frame, like unorthodox icons devoted to what's really divine in this universe – and Montgom­ery's highly detailed and animal-rich landscapes, not unmarred by the presence of Homo sapiens and all the industrial detritus that invasive species brings; and, sitting atop plinths among the walls of paintings and prints, David Everett's sculptures, painstakingly hewn by hand from blocks of wood, transmogrified into smaller or bigger replicas of specific fish and birds and cacti and lizards and so on, and all finished in lifelike colors via several layers of oil paint.

And you've been so focused on these wonders that you don't look up to see what's on the back wall until you're standing there right next to it. And what's there is a stunning panorama, an enormous painting of a swamp's interior at sunset, a river-bottomed and tree-crowded vista of moist and moss-dripping wilderness replete with alligators and turtles and insects, the whole space of it throbbing with blobs and strips of gradient orange that glow among the verdant botanical weave as our planet's star sinks below the unseen horizon and its dying light reflects perfectly off the water's surface: It's a complex symphony of wetland diversity, this painting, it's a vibrant revelation of rhythm and hues.

And, wait, on a nearby wall, another painting in a similar style: a coyote, framed by a circular quintet of woodpeckers in the air (and an accompanying group of agave on the ground), the colors and figure placements so precise and compelling that they function almost as typography, communicating to your eyes a message: You will remember this fleeting scene forever, long after it's gone, until your own end of days.

And both of those paintings are by Billy Hassell, toward whose previous works you were rather offhandedly dismissive; and now you want to kind of genuflect by way of compensation, to offer up hosannahs of praise that might properly express your adoration of that trickster coyote and its halo of succulents and birds, of that gator-bedecked stretch of crepuscular swamplandia, of the artist responsible for their existence. Because, in a more accurate world, this – this whole "Lone Star Wild" show – would be what's meant by intelligent design.

“Lone Star Wild”

Davis Gallery, 837 W. 12th, 512/477-4929,
Through Nov. 30

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