If you haven’t visited the David Shelton Gallery before, I suggest taking a detour west off 281 on Evans Road to reach the gallery on Stone Oak Parkway. Make sure your brakes work — the twisting road goes up and down hills with inclines that would be extreme in the Rockies. The drive offers great views that soar out to the distance, but the scene is a bit unsettling. The spanking new beige houses that line the ridges of the affluent neighborhood are no doubt done in good taste, but perhaps a bit too much so. They look more like drawings of architectural models than real buildings, idealized like maquettes. The visual journey through uncanny suburbia is good preparation for the show at Shelton, which was set up on the quick, but delivers some unexpected treats.
Works on Paper presents new works by Sara Frantz, Kelly O’Connor, Al Souza, Dan Sutherland, Michael Velliquette, and Matthew van Hellen*. It was organized almost as an afterthought by David Shelton to accompany San Antonio Draws, an exhibit designed by curator Lyle Williams opening soon at the McNay Art Museum. Though paper is most commonly associated with drawing, the show at Shelton presents a variety of technique, including graphite drawings, ink drawings, collage, cut paper, and cut and sewn paper works.
The exhibit displays a wide range of contemporary stylings with the medium, but I forgot that it was a paper show as soon as I entered the gallery. On one wall were drawings by Sara Frantz and gallery newcomer Matthew van Hellen. Frantz is well known locally for her pencil studies of the barren expanse she travels by road making the daily journey from teaching in San Antonio back to her home in Austin. Her drawings are immensely small, but have incredible impact, seeming to fill the room.
Drawing carefully crafted views of rural buildings of the sort she sees on the highway, Frantz has left all signs of vegetation, anything not man-made, off the page, blank. This whiteness of subtracted space blends into the background, overpowering the scene. Her works read as an honest emotional record of the vastness of the Texas countryside, the almost inconsequential impact of the built environment outside the cities. On the same wall is even smaller mark making by Matthew van Hellen. Colored circles, each maybe a millimeter, cluster in the middle of each sheet. Van Hellen’s work is a just companion to that of Frantz, using scale to similar effect. These small pieces, however, more than hold their own in the room, balancing with their very modesties the garish display on the opposite wall.
Kelly O’Connor works with found advertising sheets to make richly colored works that celebrate the retail life of media and shopping malls. The original advertising is scanned and reprinted, often large, and contrasting with the dulled tones of the old paper are bright pinwheels made of sparkling sheets, which O’Connor often places radiating from the eyes of the photograph’s models. The effect is strangely lacking in cynicism, not at all negative towards the mercantile, but filled with nostalgia, weirdly happy.
Michael Velliquette also uses cut colored paper to great effect. His work seems to reference tribal masks, something vaguely ethnic, non-European, but has more to do with child’s play. Using scissors — not at all the sort of instrument usually found in a studio artist’s toolkit — he cuts and layers colored card stock to make shapes that vary from symmetrical designs to allusions of faces.
Dan Sutherland also works with colored paper, sometimes using the same bright materials used by O’Connor, but to make three-dimensional constructions instead. One cut paper piece by Sutherland on view at Shelton Gallery is an intricate sculpture-like piece, made of shapes that form a tiny room-like box hidden in a vitrine. Like mechanical clockworks, its many pieces are hard to discern. Sutherland is perhaps more known for his paintings and graphite drawings, which abstract space into fragments. He sometimes uses the conventions of architectural rendering, but to make spaces that are impossible outside the world of painting and drawing. Two pieces from his “Head & Skull” series in graphite are on display in the show. In Mortal Element a skull is constructed of a constellation of marks that read as small objects, doodles, and designs that when seen close-up fill the entire expanse in twirling abstraction. To see the shape of the skull, which is depicted naturally, the viewer must stand back five or 10 feet to make out the pattern.
When standing back far enough to read Sutherland’s skull, something happens in the room. The small drawings by Frantz and van Hellen leap forward — not just the artworks but the wall itself, as if the drawings’ white backgrounds were melding into the white walls in some sort of contagion, becoming huge. Something also seems to happen to the small gouache painting by Frantz hung on the wall’s center. Close-up, it is a realist scene of trees with floating white forms, perhaps mists or flowers, in the middle of the composition. Seen from the distance of the room’s center, it echoes the shape of O’Connor’s Woman Times Seven, a reworked movie advertisement on the opposing wall. This is probably serendipity, but uncannily, it is there.
Also on view are sewn-paper works by Al Souza, including Black Lagoon, a tightly constructed geometry of egg-like shapes cut from found photographs and text. •
Works on Paper
David Shelton Gallery
20626 Stone Oak Pkwy.
Through Mar 12
*Correction: Second and third references to 'Matthew van Hellen' originally appeared as 'Michael van Hellen' online. However, names are corrent in our print version.