February 22, 2017

The House that James Built

Two very different artists tackle the idea of place at Galleri Urbane.

If the current exhibition at The Design District’s Galleri Urbane could be summarized in a single word, it would be: Home. Lucy Kirkman Allen and Heath West are two very different artists, but their paintings tackled issues of domesticity in a wide variety of ways, that ranged from detached to downright invasive.

The show was a homecoming of sorts for Lucy Kirkman Allen. As a former Dallas resident, she made quite an impact on the regional art scene as a member of two different collectives: SCAB (Socialized Contemporary Artists Bureau) and Studio DTFU (Studio Don’t F*ck This Up, and as for the purposely dyslexic acronym, don’t ask). These mischievous groups defined the 2012 anarchic approach that was the Dallas art scene of that time. Shows were thrown in barbecue restaurants in Deep Ellum, or Kirkman Allen made work under pseudonyms and created work that was superimposed over pieces at the DMA via cell phone.

Now living in rural Virginia, Kirkman Allen has tempered her approach. She describes the impact of her environment as being “slower,” which is clear in a fairly traditional exhibition of paintings titled When a Man’s House is Finished.  Utilizing the rustic backdrop of her newfound life has played heavily into her work. Using old photographs of a family that once lived in the house where she makes art, Kirkman Allen’s paintings not only directly reflect the history of her own surroundings but also the imagined reality of what once was. In one of the original photographs depicting former residents of her studio, a family holds up an ominous sign that reads: We are here in the past Come visit in your time machine. Kirkman’s Allens paintings, rendered in a monochromatic black-white-and-grey act as the time machine. Only, some faces disappear in Kirkman-Allen’s work, along with the original plea in the family’s sign. An extra varnish or sheen further tie the work to the photographs.

Kirkman-Allen’s return to Dallas helped to draw a significant crowd to the opening, which may have worked out for Heath West, who resides in Houston. West is a licensed architect and as such, his work tends to focus, naturally, on the intricate details of structures in a show titled, Neighborhood of Infinity. Arches, beams, bricks, and tiles are given a certain amount of loving accuracy. The setting is more metropolitan than Kirkman Allen’s proximate contributions. West’s work is explosively colorful. It’s also fantastical; West is said to be inspired by Italian cinema, including horror films.

Galleri Urbane founder Ree Willaford sees some thematic continuity between the two shows. “It’s interesting. They end up paralleling really well, next to each other,” Willaford says.

In the same breath, she goes on stress the differences. “Heath’s investigating relationships between realism and spatial abstraction, utilizing interiors and architectual spaces with color and layering figures and objects and playing with illusions in a room,” says Willaford. “He’s almost the viewer, from the inside looking out. And Lucy’s are all about women on the outside taking pictures in front of the house that James built.”

Willaford also describes the twin exhibitions as “intimate pieces.” But the blank-faced figures that populate West’s paintings and the lack of detail in Kirkman Allen’s work also create an ominous distance between the viewer and the work. The two artists act as voyeurs as much they do stoic interpreters of history. It is in the distance between these roles that they complement each other’s output and what makes both exhibitions successful, which according to Willaford the opening was indeed. “The end of the street was packed with cars,” she said.

-Christopher Mosley with contributor Michelle Rawlings

The Details: Heath West’s Neighborhood of Infinity and Lucy Kirkman Allen’s When a Man’s House is Finished will be open at Galleri Urbane  through March 25, 2017.