by Lew Thomas
… writers and critics will prophesize with your pen, and keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again. -B Dylan
There are many Houstons. There's the fall and spring Houston and there's Houston summer. Some people say it’s year round. But in the fall and spring, those Houstons had energy, people in the streets, festivals galore, the culture glowed even as the economic reports grew dim. Life then offsets the weight of Houston summer and the toll it takes on boards of directors who govern the business and culture of Texas. On the other hand, the Houston Proud Astros lead the National League West. They have a manager with player-intensity, a dozen class ballplayers, and they win in the Astrodome. The manager has a yogi at his side and neither of them fears the teams of California and New York.
Editors are like managers, only they depend on writers and critics to use their pens. Sometimes they’re a wild bunch to deal with. They don't make any money, for one thing, and that makes them justifiably bitter. Another thing to remember is that the spring and summer issues of a Gulf-Coast quarterly are put together during the winter and spring before publication. The fall issue is done in the summer when the heat index is the cruelest: when the problems of art and politics are managed by the few who haven’t left town. It is a time of empty streets, nature induced power surges, and breakdowns in commuter solidarity. It’s the time of rolled up windows, closed galleries, and overrated movies like the seductively styled romance Room With a View, a love story with dumb servants, a dumber intellectual, and the background violence of the working class used needlessly as an establishing scene for a yuppy affaire du coeur. Given the mental climate, one needs a friend in Houston summer. It s not a happy time for lonelyhearts.
The fall issue of SPOT despite summer production, belies this climate of improbability. Just as the spring issue of SPOT dealt with the dilemma of regional experience, and the summer issue operated as an archive for the remembrance of Foto Fest, this issue, produced in the air-conditioned days and nights of Houston, connects the industry of image making with the diversity of its sources: still photography and allied books, video and filmmaking, Dick Talk and “the untamable land of Texas.”
April Rapier has written a profile which doubles as a report on a missing artist, the Austrian filmmaker, Kurt Kren, who currently lives in Houston, and can be seen regularly at the Museum of Fine Arts. One of the few “authentic” artists irregardless of residency, who has for more than thirty years pioneered the making of structural films which go back to his early associations with the Materialaktions movement in Vienna.
Sometimes it pays to be non-commercial for what is set in type is not always printed, not even in stone Such was the fortune of SPOT when it received in the mail Phillip Lopate's resourceful critique of the Houston International Film Festival thanks to a profit publisher who decided to call it quits.
In “Melting the Material World,” Mark Johnstone warns us that the image may be dangerous to our "lived" experience because it constitutes the "most common form of the object in today’s world.” He claims that our use of this object is misunderstood, and he calls for radical adjustments in education to help us contend with the mass produced imagery now joining our minds to the surface of the world.
Perhaps, HCP, with its current obsession for the “new,” fuels this kind of inflation with a policy of “more is more” noted by Jill Kyle in her review of the "torrent of images" that were shown in recent exhibits: Grand Illusion: Large Format Polaroids, 1985 HCP Fellowship Winners, and the Painted Photograph of Daniel Babior.
But the “new” keeps on coming with HCP’s fall exhibition, Texas 150: New Texas Photography, the only "requisite thematic element (according to April Rapier, co-curator of the show) is that the imagery debut at the Center.” This is reasonable enough when one considers the pool of photographers to choose from in a state where economic jitters threaten to close all art parks except those in the “majors." This show draws on a wide range of technique and philosophy, from documentary to sculptural mixed media incorporating photography. In this curious grouping no one issue or position will dominate. It promises to be a free-for-all between the classical and the avant-garde photographers of Texas.
The photographers come from places in Texas that sound like a rodeo circuit: Fort Worth, Dallas, Lubbock, Austin, Houston, Beaumont, Abilene, Odessa, and Terlingua. Luther Smith, Skeet McAuley, Dennis Darling, Jim Estes, Steve Goff and Bill Wright, working in black and white and color, adopt a witnesses’ position in viewing the environment and its inhabitants from a transparent point of view. Also working the straight side of the photographic street, T.R. Mackin and Keith Carter explore the personal in a more introspective manner. Susan Grant and Bill Frazier take up the postmodern slack with staged and simulated images from the present and the past. Barbara Riley and Rick Dingus venture outside the strictly photographic realm, incorporating hand-applied color and line to a painterly end. June Van Cleef, Margo Reece, and Roger Cutforth work the aesthetics of printmaking and painting into the domain of the photographic. Sally Grant’s 3-D altarpieces and Elizabeth Ward's installation panels venture into the conceptual, and Ron English's mural trompe l’oeilphoto-productions destroy the line between illusion and reality.
In this issue. Roger Cutforth’s “Portraiture from Both Sides of the Camera” treats photography as “rumor—unverifiable information of uncertain origins." Only in SPOT can this be coupled with James Hugunin’s "Nuclear Phafl-Out," Peter Brown’s riddle, "Thoughts on the State of Photography,” and the controversial video tape, Dick Talk, by X, which publicly opens up to women the slyly privileged discourse of sexuality.
October is not only world series time, it’s the fifth anniversary of HCP. For this one, a master photographer and a legendary curator will share exhibition space at the Center. John Gutmann s photographs of the south and southwest (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Arizona) taken on a return trip from New York to San Francisco, 1937, "depict the American vernacular from the New Orleans Mardi Gras dancers, who didn't miss a beat even in the hard time of the depression, to the distinctive features of the U.S,highways with giant billboards and gaudy gas stations." These photographs operate on several levels of meaning, conveying considerable information but going far beyond documentation to become images of emotion. The fabulous Walter Hopps will complete the celebration with a “staged exhibition,” Four Walls, encapsulating time, invitation, installation, and the construction of a documentary
I'm ready when you are. senor. . .let's overturn these tables, disconnect these cables, this place don’t make sense to me no more, can you tell me what they’re waiting for, senor? – B. Dylan