Visual Arts Review: Malou Flato: “Greatest Hits”

Texas nature artist presents a garden of vegetal delights at Davis Gallery

Tasajillo, a painting by Malou Flato (courtesy of Davis Gallery)

The life of plants and their gambits of sustenance and reproduction provide human eyes with some of the more wonderful sights in this world. So many diverse biological systems evolved toward the miracles of photosynthesis and pollination, now long supplying our planet’s collection of creatures with food, with the very air we need to survive – and all that botanical splendor is the embodiment of forms following such function.

Artists, too, provide visions for viewing, often delighting senses in ways that help to make life a pleasure beyond merely surviving in it, and sometimes – perhaps inevitably – an artist will choose to express the beauty of our natural world, the landscapes, the bright floral exuberance of whatever a biome can support. This is what Malou Flato does.

Born in Corpus Christi in 1953 and now living and working in Austin (with a second studio on her great-grandfather’s ranch in the Texas Hill Country’s Edwards County), Flato causes a world of flowers and more to bloom where only blank walls were before, meticulously applying pigment to surface, rendering intimate images of botany at the edge of hyperrealism. 

“A teacher of mine, Roberto Juarez, introduced me to a Japanese paper that appears translucent,” the artist notes on her website. “I paint both sides and guide the colors as they bleed through – you see all the paint on both sides. The paper seems to disappear and is just a vehicle that holds paint.”

Malou Flato causes a world of flowers and more to bloom where only blank walls were before.

Flato – who has also worked in costume design, printmaking, digital prints, ceramic tiles, and sculpture throughout her career – has, with this newest solo show at Davis Gallery, moved beyond paper and brought her renditions even further in terms of permanence and size. The artist’s “Greatest Hits” exhibition, which runs through April 6, displays a panoply of paintings – stunning portraits of cacti, succulents, deciduous flowering trees, lupines (the beloved Texas bluebonnets), and more – and each of the plants is captured via Flato’s well-practiced brushes in oil on canvas, 5-foot-by-6-foot canvas, turning the Davis Gallery’s tony but welcoming interior into a polychrome garden of vegetal delights.

Pride of Barbados

The level of accuracy in these painted creations is, frankly, astonishing at times. One wishes to move in close, to make sure that the hi-res effect of the thick crimson fruits in Flato's Tasajillo, for instance, isn't the result of digital or photographic wizardry; but one hesitates, not wanting to get too near and thus be impaled on the long thin spikes jutting from the cactus' branches. This is two-dimensional work? That seems capable of drawing blood? Ouch – that’s realism.

And this gallery-gathered garden isn’t populated with plants from some far-flung corner of the globe, but with plants that are, so to speak, among our cherished friends and neighbors here in the Lone Star State. If you’ve ever hiked your way over Enchanted Rock or other parts of the Hill Country – or, hell, if you’ve merely paid attention to what’s growing around you in Austin’s somewhat more asphalt-cloaked neighborhoods – this “Greatest Hits” show will reward you with an occasional thrill of recognition: “Hey, I know that guy! That’s a Pride of Barbados, like the one in my Tía Isabel’s front yard!”

“Texas is my inspiration,” says Flato, in the exhibition’s notes. “I have made my life here, and I would like to think that my art reflects the place I know best – and that maybe I’m adding something worthy to the visual and cultural scenery.”

We can affirm – and you can see for yourself, citizen, at Davis Gallery right now – that Malou Flato is adding something very worthy indeed.

“Malou Flato: Greatest Hits”

Davis Gallery

Through April 6

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