Business in the Front, Party in the Back

Heyd Fontenot's new paintings are not to be missed

One of Fontenot's recent drawings
One of Fontenot's recent drawings (by Heyd Fontenot)

Heyd Fontenot's paintings are currently gracing the walls of Art Palace for a monographic show titled "Business in the Front, Party in the Back." Besides the clever title, a colloquialism for the common North-American mullet, the show is at once an adherence and a departure for Fontenot.

The paintings on display are a continuation of the artist's charming, subversive, and breathtaking rendering of naked friends/family/acquaintances. They peer and pose, resolutely owning their mortal coil. The nudes are squat and compact, like a horde of exhibitionist gnomes, drafted with a few self-confident lines. This is especially true of Fontenot's works on paper, which are clean and precise. No fussy figuration here. I prefer cuddly. No one who poses for Fontenot looks bad, which I only assume means that the artist is sincerely and completely invested in each of his subjects at the moment of, perhaps, their greatest vulnerability.

And yet, the figures in the Art Palace show, familiar faces that pop in and out of Fontenot's works, are plopped within a completely unfamilar context, existing in a turpentine wasteland of Easter-egg coloration. The little nudes are juxtaposed with one another, but this time around in darker combinations. They are no longer the dionysian revelers but something more akin to ghosts in limbo. It's a welcome change for the artist, whose previous work sometimes bordered on kitsch. And you know I loves kitsch! But kitsch be banished! These canvases and drawings feel meatier and messier. And that's a good thing.

But if that scares you, know that there is still whimsy in the show. The aformentioned drawings are always light, and Fontenot is diplaying a small bookshelf of 10 thin volumes that correspond to watercolor portraits, each book sporting a hand-painted spine. Simple, delicate, and remarkable.

"Business in the Front, Party in the Back" is open until March 11th, at which point the artist will turn his focus to the upcoming 2009 Texas Biennial. Below is a video of curator Michael Duncan conducting a studio visit with Fontenot.

Heyd Fontenot from Texas Biennial on Vimeo.

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Art, Heyd Fontenot, Art Palace

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