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Visual Arts

Safe Room’s Portal Sees Artist and Curator Returning to Texas From Afar

San Francisco-based artist Melissa Dickenson returns to Dallas for the first time since her work was shown at W.A.A.S. Gallery in 2012, with a solo show at The Safe Room at The Texas Theatre.

San Francisco-based artist Melissa Dickenson returns to Dallas for the first time since her work was shown at W.A.A.S. Gallery in 2012, with a solo show at The Safe Room at The Texas Theatre. Curated by Lauren Fulton—who formerly worked as a research assistant at the Nasher Sculpture Center, but is now an independent curator and graduate student in Chicago—Portal features new works inspired by Dickenson’s recent “jail cell” residency at San Francisco’s Alter Space.

Dickenson and Fulton took a break from installing Portal to talk about working together, arts communities across the US, and what it’s like to use a 9’ x 12’ jail cell in a former BDSM store as a studio space.

FrontRow: Lauren, what drew you to Melissa’s work? Have you been working together as an artist/curator team for long?

Lauren Fulton: We haven’t been working together for too long. I first encountered Melissa’s work when she submitted for consideration in a juried show I helped organize at W.A.A.S. Gallery here in Dallas. Limbo included nine artists, and Melissa was awarded the jury prize. That was in late 2012, and I’ve continued to follow her work since.

I was originally attracted to her choice of materials; the idea of constructing work out of what is basically a very thin layer of film or plastic, and the sense of depth created when paired with her painting technique. The work from then appears much more minimalist. She continues to discover possibilities for these same materials, but the work has evolved with greater layering and dimensionality. Her approach to liminality and transitional states, specifically in relation to time, seem to me to come across more intensely now. These ‘thresholds’ – relating well to the concept for Limbo – have become much more pronounced, in my opinion.

FrontRow: Where does work like Melissa’s fall in the spectrum of what is happening in contemporary painting?

LF: Although she identifies as a painter, I think Melissa’s approach is one that treats the traditional canvas as more of an object to be manipulated. This isn’t a new approach but it’s still pretty prevalent right now. While I can’t speak for San Francisco, this can be seen with work by a number of Dallas artists. However, it’s Melissa’s application that comes across as very fresh to me.

FrontRow: Lauren, you recently relocated to Chicago from Dallas, and Melissa, you’ve lived in Baltimore and San Francisco. Have you seen much (or any) cross-pollination between art communities as you’ve moved around the country, or is it your experience that most cities tend to be rather isolationist in regard to their art communities? For example, Texas has four major cities, but the art communities in each don’t really interact with each other in any significant way.

Melissa Dickerson, Reverse Bird, 2014.
Melissa Dickerson, Reverse Bird, 2014.

Melissa Dickenson: Living in Baltimore for 12 years there was an amazing art scene, very vibrant and definitely supported by the community; it has a similar feel to it as San Francisco. The common theme however is that in both cities there was always this conversation of moving to New York or LA. In Baltimore there was a big dialogue with DC artists, and I would even go as far as to say Philly as well.

However, the problem we face as artists in the Bay Area is the ever increasing tech folk that are driving the creatives out. Here we wrestle with moving to LA, because there really isn’t another California city that has much of an art scene as LA. Oakland is like our Brooklyn, so that is always another topic. The two communities of Oakland and San Francisco do have a great repertoire for communication and cross pollination, though. It’s kind of awesome.

LF: I would agree that major Texas cities are pretty contained, and there are gaps that certainly can and should be bridged. Texas has always been a strong place for the visual arts but regionally somewhat separated and lacking a consistent dialogue within the state, between artists or institutionally – for instance Dallas and Houston. But I think there are a couple people and organizations in both places beginning to really work on that.

Chicago is a different story. Many Chicago artists and curators are very active in Kansas City, Detroit, Brooklyn, etc. Certainly not only the Midwest. When it comes to galleries and art spaces in general, Chicago also presents a more noticeable DIY approach. Recently though I’ve noticed some spaces in Dallas really promoting work from Chicago; one of the most apparent being Gina and Dustin Orlando at Circuit 12. Their effort and enthusiasm is terrific.

Portal: New Work by Melissa Dickenson is on view at The Safe Room at the Texas Theatre August 2- September 13, 2014. Opening reception is Saturday, August 2 from 6 – 10pm.