Art: Wednesday, May 30, 2002
Paint Against the Machine

Fort Worth’s ‘neuve invention’ artists are on the outside, looking into the establishment.


Art is everywhere — in Fort Worth. Well, duh, you say, you situationist you. Art is whatever an artist points his finger at. Uh-uh. That’s not what I’m talking about. I mean, there’s a lot of art hanging in Fort Worth in a lot of non-traditional spaces. Most of it is bad. Only most, though, not all.

And when we start talking about non-traditional spaces, a hot topic now since Fort Worth’s workaday galleries are preparing to shut down for the summer, we’re also talking about non-traditional artists. Many of these creators could be considered “neuve invention” artists (think Gaston Chaissac or Mario Chichorro); they’re not quite “outsider artists,” because they’re cognizant of the art marketplace and their relationships to it, but they are largely self-taught and comfortable on the fringes of formal art wheelin’ and dealin’. They exhibit their work in pool halls, clubs, and restaurants. They don’t have any contacts to Fort Worth’s gallery establishment — and they really don’t think they need any, either.

“They’re clilmbing up a steep hill,” says Daniel Blagg, who, with his twin brother Dennis Blagg, runs Art Space 111; Daniel, non-degreed himself but now one of Fort Worth’s premier painters and gallery chiefs, knows whereof he speaks. “Academia has such a grip, and I think the true cutting edge is going to emerge from academia.

“The gallery scene in the art world at large is definitely based in academia,” he continues. “At times they will slip outside, but that’s unusual. When they do, it’s rewarding, but, boy, it’s a real hard road to haul.”

What’s funny is that some of what passes for “adventurous” or “alternative” or “non-mainstream” in Fort Worth borders on pop. What this could mean is that pop may be a lot harder to pull off than abstract-expressionism or conceptual down in these parts, and that if you’ve seen one big-breasted, tiny-waisted, cartoonish nymph (Lisa Yuskavage; who’s more surrealistic than pop, but still . . .) you’ve seen ’em all. Which could be why big galleries around town haven’t come kickin’ down Hernandez’s door.

There’s no other way around it: Hernandez is a fantasy artist who idolizes the female form. Looking at his nudes, it’s easy to get lost in the lines of his girls’ slender hips, the curls of their thick lips, the curvatures of their perfect feet. What can be overlooked, unfortunately, is the ginger-yet-painstakingly deliberate application of oil paint that makes his women come alive. “Lust,” a wall-sized painting separated into two framed canvases at the Wreck Room, is a frenzy of naked, brunette Playboy-ish models licking, sucking, and touching each other in very private places. Their sweaty, glowing bodies, resplendent in the caressing shadows all around, reflect the red lighting of the Wreck Room to the point in which the deadly sin of unbridled desire becomes palpable. Heat radiates from these canvases, physically and emotionally.

It wasn’t until Hernandez coughed up enough dough to take a continuing education course in life drawing a few years ago that he realized he wanted to paint full-time. Up until that point, he had merely been dabbling in it; his coursework at Trimble Tech revolved around graphic design, not painting.

“It would be good to be known and stuff,” he says. “If I could make a living painting, that’d be cool with me.”

Probably the last place you would expect to see worthwhile “neuve invention” artwork is in a pristine locale like Billy Weir’s Sky High Billiards near Ridgmar Mall. At least the Wreck Room has some grunge charm. Alas, hanging all over the jaundiced walls of Sky High are large-ish ab-ex pieces by one of the pool hall’s part-owners, Toby Weir.

Now you wouldn’t call these works “pop” — but they do have a slave-to-commercialism sentimentality built into them. The object this time is speed. Brush strokes, in blatant candy colors — from primary hues to pastels — strut and jive in groups of three or four from every angle imaginable. The eye races. Something new pops out from their brilliant tableaux with every gander.

Is Weir an establishmentista? Hardly. He has only a couple of high-school art classes under his belt — and no connections to the Fort Worth art scene.

“I’m definitely an underground artist,” he says. “But all good painters who made a lot of sacrifices started out that way.”

Hernandez and Weir are only two new “neuve invention” artists in a sea of them plugging away beyond the aloof eyes of Fort Worth’s tastemakers. All I’m saying is — to paraphrase Hernandez — there’s good stuff here in town, everywhere; you may just have to dig a little to find it.

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