This is not a review. It is my response to a single piece of work in a show, one artist to another. As a disclaimer, M was one of the artists that showed in Christina Rees’ (my wife) gallery, Road Agent, and here is showing again at the Fort Worth Contemporary Arts, my wife’s second appointment. No conflict here exactly, because there aren’t that many decent artists in the area, so you tend to get to know everyone pretty quickly. In other words, when artists write about artists, there’s always a conflict of interest.
M’s video is the single best piece of art I’ve seen by anyone in DFW that could make the claim of being a “local artist.” This is a flawless, complete piece of art that is highly sophisticated and would stand up in any context. Every detail is well taken care of, and from a technical point of view, it is well produced and apparently effortlessly conceived. I’m not talking Guernica, Mona Lisa levels of bulletproof-glassed-masterpiece here. I am saying, however, that this is real art. It’s not my place to say whether it’s big or small, important or not – just that it’s totally authentic and it’s the real deal. It isn’t derivative, and it is not tired, predictable, or conventional.
The video, projected large on to the gallery wall, starts as a still square-on symmetrical shot of an almost life-sized interior – a view of his grandmother’s living room – with furniture removed and only a carpet, two full length windows at the corners of the room, with curtains ruched and tied back, like in a hotel. At the center and top of the frame there is a lit chandelier. The color of the room is incandescent yellow, not quite acrid or acid, but on its way to a Nigel Cooke yellow, though somehow slightly warmer. That yellow is Last Waltz-ish, maybe, something in between a Sir John Soane’s regal grandeur and the faded yellowed taint of aging lacquer. Now, temporarily at least, it looks abject and forlorn. It contains the memories of a respectable 1970’s Texan living room: a few martinis perhaps, TV talk shows and movies, the six-o-clock news, dance music from the 1940’s.
The video is initially static, with nothing to gaze at except the empty room, a sense of memory and the past emphasized by the grubby rectangle that delineates the place where a painting– a reproduction maybe or some cipher for art – used to hang in between the windows. There is also a matching yellow fitted carpet, and an empty box with two fenestrations but no view to the outside. It is a place where ordinary people live their lives in a civilized manner.
The room is very formal – Rachel Whiteread formal. You stare at the back wall, projected onto the back wall of the gallery: a back wall on a back wall, making a tautology. It begins to dawn on you that it might be a stage. So you watch with the expectation that you do at the Hammersmith Odeon before Lou Reed, or Be Bop Deluxe, or whomever you saw in 1981, comes on stage and the theatre’s old safety curtain (fire curtain) is still lowered concealing the stage. You know something is going to happen because the video loops and you probably hear it before you see it.
Then, a flash: almost subliminal, white light, and angular shapes appear that you can’t decipher. And then, in a startling fashion, M’s body jumps repeatedly through the space, apparently falling into the wall and then passing through it – or into a different continuum altogether, like in the “Time Tunnel.” The action is synced with the sound of assertive, but arresting synthesized beats — the sound and the image apparently fusing into a single prodigious action, a vision, or a real being, brought momentarily to life, as if by a defibrillator’s shock and a jolt. The action also seems to tip the room back 90 degrees because it looks like M is descending downward through space, the back wall becoming suddenly the unreachable floor beneath. And then, he finally lands on the carpet instead of disappearing into the wall – the man who fell to earth – and the landing corrects the room back to the horizontal with a thump.
Suddenly, the video cuts to a close up of M’s white be-trousered mid-riff and a tidy belt with a snazzy buckle, hips and pelvis gyrating and twitching, not like a male stripper, not like Elvis, a touch of Tom Jones maybe, a hint of Will Ferrell. His forefingers pop from each hand like guns helpfully pointing to his groin on a four count, alternating from one hand to the other, and then both at once. It’s another tautology: the frame is already filled with M’s packet – his creative promise – it doesn’t need to be pointed out, which is, of course, funny and charming.
The edits fade and wash over each other now, dream-like and misty. Then back to the room and he’s appearing from the right hand window as an apparition running toward the camera smiling or laughing like a small boy charging through the woods, again and again, like a circular thought at the brink of sleep. And then he’s gone, and the room fades to a white room and then the room itself is gone. Maybe it was a white room after all? Maybe it’s a happier room now.
The video is slight in one respect, deceptively simple, but completely compelling. It’s about formalism maybe, it’s a classic figure/ground painterly device, and it’s about something much deeper, much more human and fundamental. It’s a very strong piece of art. The room is the onerous blank canvas – the time-honored inertia that foreshadows any creative process.
He is Puck, or some older, darker version of Robin Goodfellow – Fort Worth Puck – sometimes mustachioed a la Errol Flynn, sometimes a la David Niven, and sometimes blank, depending on which tree he last came down from. He doesn’t drink martinis because he doesn’t use booze since his job is to serve the Fairy King. He can therefore, even as a non-gay white man, gyrate with the easy loose abandon of a seasoned Harry Hines go-go dancer. Mostly benevolent and mischievous, appearing out of the ether and back into it to tell us something, to cause a little trouble, and give us something to think about. A brief encounter. Almost a briefs encounter. It’s about birth perhaps.
Take your family to see it. Take the kids and take grandma. It lasts about eight minutes, and you can watch it as many times as you like. It is the best single piece of work by a native I’ve seen here since I arrived.
What will he do next? M has been holding back for a long time. There is a wealth of talent in there. I think he will be the next Dallas-Fort Worth art star. Problem is, he doesn’t appear very often, because he’s not human. He only appears when he feels like it, which is rare. He resides in the spirit world. Dallas needs to prepare itself and make ready for local art to do something great. Artists are only as good as their environments. M only appears when all the circumstances are just right. We need to make that happen more often, somehow or other.