Studio visits with Keer Tangchuk, Erin Stafford, Carolyn Sortor, Gabriel Dawe, Joshua Goode, Jennifer Thompson, Giovanni Valderas and Partner Organization The Dallas Contemporary featuring artist Pia Camil
At one point in our Forum I asked what really connects Fort Worth to Dallas. I ignorantly assumed it would be arts spaces, exhibitions, or community engagement, but Christopher Blay answered “Interstate 30.” It was such a simple and logical answer that I was almost embarrassed I had asked it. I had driven that 40 minute stretch of highway between the two cities so many times before, but this time the cities seemed so much more connected than I remembered, and perhaps that sentiment was a remnant of our forum in Fort Worth.
The drive is a smooth one until Arlington when the massive amount of construction slows traffic down significantly. It was a Sunday, and I had planned the drive to arrive in Dallas just in time for the Sunday Dollar Mimosa Club at Maracas restaurant in Deep Ellum. It is a networking event that came to life by Darryl Ratcliff of Ash Studios around the time that I was at a curatorial residence at CentralTrak in 2015, with the purpose of connecting arts communities in the city in a casual and no-pressure setting. At the time one of the issues I had come to notice in Dallas was that each of the neighborhoods had their own micro-arts communities popping up around the city that didn’t necessarily talk with each other, mainly because of the urban planning of the city that relied on highways that cut through the city but don’t necessarily take people within the city.
For two years the Dollar Mimosa Club had been going strong, and every few Sundays of the month at least 20 people drifted in and out of a communal mimosa brunch for about four hours. I wanted to be there in time to give hugs, catch up with my Dallas community, and to visit with new faces, since different faces show every week. It’s a simple and easy event to put together, but the impact is immense. By this point I had been on the road for four days, and had met a ton of new people, but there’s something to be said about walking into a familiar crowd when one is spending so much time traveling, it feels like a homecoming, and indeed, Dallas was a homecoming.
I sat at Maracas that day with about 25 other wonderful people. We talked about Fort Worth, about the Biennial, about the new artists emerging in Dallas, and with the artists at the table I was able to listen to them talk about their work. I met two of the Nasher Grant winners, and spoke with Roberto Munguia who told stories of the first iterations of a Biennial in Texas which took place in Fair Park in the 90s through the initiative of a young and scrappy group of artists.
At the end of the brunch we all exchanged cards and hugs and went our separate ways, most I would be seeing in the coming week, but many I would only be in touch with via email and text messages as is normal in our transient relationships. I made my way to Oak Cliff and to the welcoming arms of my hosts for the week, and mentally prepared myself for a rigorous week of studio visits and organization visits.
It felt good to be back in Dallas, after all, I was in home #3.
My first full day in Dallas began with a bittersweet visit to CentralTrak artist residency. In 2015 I was there on and off for a full year as a curatorial residency, and it was a time right before the funding of the residency was in serious jeopardy. Centraltrak was always a hub for artists traveling through Dallas, and connected communities in ways many other institutions or organizations didn’t have the capacity to do. The talent that was still passing through CentralTrak made it obvious that the city would suffer a serious loss come summer when the residency is slated to close until further notice. Residences had only two days to vacate their studios, and the emptiness of the place was a far cry from the excitement I normally felt there.
I walked into the space of photographer Rachel Cox, whose thoughtfulness and consideration for her subject matter was obvious in the time it takes for her to complete a body of work. Upon completion, however, Rachel’s sensitivity to her subject, thought process, and even personal investment in the the work reveals a carefully crafted story that offers moments of intersection between her lense and a viewer's personal perspective. I walked down the hall to Clayton Harper’s studio and we talked about how technology and screen time has quickly changed relationships and communication, and specifically how images such as emoji’s stand in for words on a screen. Clayton’s work speaks to the normalcy of screens in our lives, and draws attention to their placement by flipping large flatscreens in a vertical orientation to simulate the presence of a human body.
I left CentralTrak and made my way back to Oak Cliff to meet with Erin Stafford, whose work I had been following for some time, and whose studio I was excited to get into, and watching Erin in her element was more rewarding than I could have imagined. Her giddiness and excitement about her work is completely infectious, and it’s clear that she absolutely lives to be an artist. Most of Erin’s living space is her studio, and as we walked in we had to maneuver around a large boat covered in cheap fabric flowers, then a faux fur covered porcelain bathtub in the middle of the space. Erin was just happily living with both, and giving the objects the space to have their own personality as she contemplated their next life. It was fitting to walk around the objects, Erin’s work plays with the fictions of gender and the constructs of what femininity is versus how it is portrayed in fairy tales and movies.
Most of Erin's living space is her studio, and as we walked in we had to maneuver around a large boat covered in cheap fabric flowers, then a faux fur covered porcelain bathtub in the middle of the living room. Erin was just happily living with both, and giving the objects the space to have their own personality as she contemplated the next phase of their lives, thus It was fitting to walk around the objects and to allow them to command the space they needed.
After visiting with Erin I made my way to the design district to talk with Carolyn Sorter whose work in video, performance, and installation speaks on borders, systems, and location. Carolyn's work questions the acceptance of the status quo by that question the acceptance of the status quo. Carolyn showed me her recent work that plays with the icons we see daily in Google maps and the shadows they create on the screen to help indicate place. However, Carolyn's work is not just about location, but the subversive statement Carolyn is exploring is how location and its demarcations relate to borders, nations, and urbanism.
The day had been a long one, and although I saw many familiar faces along the way, and although I was in a city that I still call home, the multiple visits back to back are always exhausting in the most wonderful ways. The final visit that day, however, was the best way to end that first full day in Dallas. That last stop of the day was in the home of educator and artist Joshua Goode. Joshua's reputation as an artist had preceded him, and I was excited to get time talking with him about his practice. I walked into his garage studio space that was almost completely filled by a giant plastic horse with the beginnings of what will eventually be armour made from paper togs. As I looked more closely I realized that the objects filling Joshua's space told the story of a childhood that never really went away. Children's toys were fused into shields, and embellishment for a massive sword. Baseball cards that Joshua saved from his own childhood were crudely sewn together and made into life size body armor. Everything was wearable, everything spoke to Joshua's personal history, and the work retained the mythical quality of youth that was never completely lost.
I was only in city number two, but every step of the way people were concerned about my energy level and exhaustion. Already so many offered to feed me, help me with laundry, make coffee, etc, but I was still on such an adrenaline rush from being surrounded by my professional family. My second morning in Dallas began with the ray of sunshine that is Alison Starr, who also happens to be a member of the Beefhause collective, and gallery coordinator for Mountainview College, part of the system of community colleges in the Dallas area. I had seen Alison at the Dollar Mimosa Club, but was grateful for the chance to sit, properly catch up, and see the facilities at the college.
We walked through the beautiful gallery and she toured us around the art building which had views of the beautifully landscaped campus. We sat and talked about the Biennial, about our partner organizations which Mountainview Galleries was, and about the changes taking place in Dallas since I had last been in residence at CentralTrak. Alison and I shared stories about Chuck&George, or the Bryan's and their epic Halloween parties. Dallas is a big city, but I remembered, sitting there with Alison, just how connected everyone really is, and how supportive they are of their community especially in the last few years.
Alison and I hugged goodbye, and I promised to peek into Beefhause which was between shows, and I made my way back to the design district to visit with Gabriel Dawe, and artist who I've long been wanting to meet, and who I've missed every time I was in Dallas. Gabriel has been in two past Biennial editions and I was eager to see how his trajectory as an artist evolved to the site specific installations with string that he is currently known for, and asking his story was so very worth it. Gabriel started pulling work from boxes. Evidently much of his life had just come back from storage in Canada, and as he pulled out work he told stories of his grandmother, about bending gender roles in a traditionally Mexican family, and using traditional craft medium such as embroidery to look at queerness. Gabriel pulled out his first crochet piece ever, and it was a striking, colorful, and somewhat technically crude asshole. I could see his maturity in the work, and I could see his drive to learn the craft despite imposed gender roles that kept him from it as a child.
Seeing an artist's trajectory and references is so important to understand their language and process. However, there are some artists that allow environmental changes to move their work from one phase to the next, and artist Kris Pierce is one of them.
Kris plays with technologies and oftentimes, the stories people leave behind when new technologies are introduced. Recently he has explored the narcissism of wealthy millennials and their extravagant lifestyles. Kris's work utilizes the evolution of technology to inform his work, and I found myself sitting in a chair with a VR Headset on my head, virtually flipping through TV channels from the comfort of the image from what was once his bedroom in adolescence. We gave hugs, promised to stay in touch, and made my way to lunch with Sue Anne Rische and Ryder Richards, to talk about their recent work over a fresh meal. I had seen Ryder's most recent work at a show at BlueOrange in Houston just a few months before, and in that same opening I had the pleasure of meeting Sue Anne, who completely captivated me. Our conversation ebbed and flowed between work and life, and back again, and even though it had been a long day sitting with them was a much needed reprieve between artspeak.
I was glad we all made the time since Sue Anne was headed to a residency in Japan and I knew it would be quite some time until I saw her again, but Sue Anne is one that knows how to stay in touch and her random "check in" messages always brighten my day. Since the next visit required a drive back to one of the mid-cities in rush hour traffic to talk with young artist Jennifer Thompson whose Biennial submission of collages intrigued me.
Jennifer is a young artist and part of a new satellite A&M Campus in Commerce. It was another moment that I was grateful that the Biennial offered the opportunity to meet artists I didn't know. Jennifer takes images from antique life magazines and collages them to bend the definition of the "American" life the magazine was selling, and the amount of study that Jennifer put into her technique proved that she was constantly making and exploring her technique further. We talked about the history of control through images in the United States, how definitions of an american dream were further reinforced by mass production of magazines like Life.
I returned to Dallas, and once again to the neighborhood of Oak Cliff to visit artist Giovanni Valderas whose work I had seen popping up on social media, and became even more interested when I read his Biennial submission. Giovanni had lived in Oak Cliff a number of years and has been witness to the changes that gentrification brings. Developers have been buying up portions of Dallas, and city leaders haven't exactly contributed positively as much of the city's history has been bulldozed for new development. Giovanni began responding to the issue in the language that he knows best, and began mimicking the visual language of real estate listings with signs in Spanish cut from materials traditionally used for piñatas.
Giovanni's work illuminates the traditions of the neighborhood and highlights the changes it has seen in the last five years. His work is a visual reminder of what it was, how it is changing, and the image of change when it begins.
Gentrification was certainly the topic of Dallas, and even more specifically the lack of usable and affordable studio spaces for artists. Everywhere I went I was reminded to ask artist Keer Tanchuk about her consistent studio woes. As I walked into Keer's studio I secretly crossed my fingers and hoped this would be her last move. The impeccable space is almost exactly what Keer needs to work comfortably and as she began to pull out smaller works painted on tin. Most of Keer's work was at the Dallas Contemporary on exhibition, but she gave me insight to her process. Her work is always on tin, a medium reminiscent of the ExVoto devotional paintings in 18th and 19th century Mexico. She cuts the tin in various abstract shapes following the pattern and brushstrokes on the medium, and she was generous enough to show me how the cutter worked by cutting one of the many scraps she had lying in storage. The work is classical, it references the Rococo painters of the 19th century, but her scenes capture the beauty in the banal. I made a mental note to make it a priority to visit the Dallas Contemporary the next day, visiting Keer was special, but I definitely wanted to see more work.
She showed us more studio spaces and gave me a quick walk through of the entire building then we jumped back in the car and headed home for the night.
There was one more day in Dallas. The time had been totally packed but there were still two artists I wanted to talk with. The morning began by crashing a workshop by Nasher grantee Chelsea Antionette at the Dallas Recreation Center in South Dallas. The workshop was part of Chelsea's project that explored the use of headscarves in Louisiana as subversive protest. The workshop was her first and it provided historical context for the power and history that headscarves actually have in their semi-forgotten history. During the workshop we learned about this history, about the self-empowerment of free, wealthy women in Louisiana, and we learned ways to tie head scarves.
Most of that day was spent in the South Dallas and Deep Ellum area, and the next stop was for burgers and a chat with Montoya Williams, another Nasher grant recipient whose digital collages explore fetishisms related to the black body. Montoya and I talked about her collages, about her plans for the Nasher grant, and about the changes the city has seen over the years, and how her grant project relates to it. Montoya plans on making virtual reality stations in public libraries of the Pleasant Grove neighborhood, a traditionally disenfranchised neighborhood oftentimes forgotten by the city for basic services, which through Montoya's lenses show the neighborhood as it was while she was growing up
In it: a neighborhood of people working to take care of each other.
We finished our burgers, said our goodbyes, and I made my way to the institutions and organizations that supported our Biennial from Dallas. I went to the Dallas Contemporary and walked through Pia Camil's installation of used tshirts and became immersed in Keer Tanchuk's massive installation of paintings. I visited the Nasher, said hello to Lucia and gave hugs to Jed before walking through the peaceful installation by Roni Horn and taking a minute to dip my feet in the meditation pond (I'm not actually sure if that's allowed, BTW).
I am strangely accustomed to this extensive amount of travel. Being in multiple places at once is how I’ve built my lifestyle over the past few years. That said, travel is strangely hyperbolized as exotic, adventurous, and exciting, when in reality it’s isolating and lonely. At the end of the day I am constantly missing something, someone, and wish that I could just put everyone I know in my pocket and take them with me everywhere I go.
Every time I leave North Texas I leave with the feeling that I need more time, that the time I have is important, but never sufficient enough, and I am incredibly grateful for my family community in Dallas that patiently tolerates my itinerancy. No visit to Dallas is a visit without spending time in the home of Brian Scott and Brian Jones (AKA the Brian’s) also known as the collaborative team of Chuck&George. Their long time presence in the city has been a cornerstone of the arts community, and their welcoming spirit has fostered many conversations and collaborations within their home studio. They graciously welcomed us into their home once again with fresh food and perfectly crafted cocktails. Their home is a window into their creative brains and a massive installation in and of itself. It’s a beautiful, trompe l’oeil piece of life that tells their story as creators as well as their influence on the arts community in Dallas.
I write that the Brian’s welcomed “us” because in Dallas I was accompanied by one of my dearest friends in the world, Sean Gaulager, whose help support has made the travel a million times easier, and whose presence adds much more fun to this work adventure. I never have all the answers, and can adapt to the most random situations that I’m plopped into, and Sean understands that same sentiment.
I am so grateful to Keer Tanchuk and Greg Sunmark whose incredible hospitality made the city feel like that much more of a homecoming, and whose generosity in breakfast, dinner, and end of day tequila made the long days much easier.
In the end I never have enough time for everything, and in Dallas I had to prioritize artists whose studios and practice I hadn’t seen and didn’t know. I was able to catch a talk with Arthur Peña and Justine Ludwig at the North Park Mall, one of my favorite art spots in the city (a mall splattered with works by artists in the modern and contemporary art historical canon), give a hug to Francisco Moreno who happened to walk into Gabriel Dawe’s studio while we were there. I missed out on so many visits, including on with Zeke Williams (Zeke, I still owe you that text message and I’m sorry!) who’s work I am very familiar with but unable to see the latest work being produced (maybe a Facetime chat is in order, Zeke!).
Leaving Dallas is always bittersweet, and no matter how often I go or how long I spend there I never feel like I truly have a clear grasp of the city. I still don’t totally understand how a city with so much space can be so developed by out of town developers and how artists can so quickly get pushed out of their space, I definitely do not understand how the city spends time researching arts events on social media which then result in closing events when there is no money for police pensions. However, one of my favorite arts venues in the world is a shopping mall in Dallas (the first in the world), and the arts community is one of the most welcoming and persistent community I’ve come to know. Dallas has so many resources, and grassroots organizations like Ash Studios which has created community around its space, or larger institutions like the Nasher who created a micro-grant to help artists realize projects in the city. Even Justine Ludwig’s vision at the Dallas Contemporary has created space for local artists to show in the same playing field as well renown international artists. The MAC will be the next to strengthen the arts communities in the city and I can’t wait to see what Dallas has ups its sleeve in the next few years.
This post was written long before I heard of the passing of Sylvia Hougland whose incredible vision and advocacy has brought about much more support for the arts in both Dallas and Fort Worth. Sylvia will be incredibly missed, and I am lucky to have spent time in her orbit. Thank you Sylvia for your powerful voice and your beautiful presence.