The intentional tourist

Texas artist Frank X. Tolbert2 gives us a new look at the Old World

Tolbert has also produced one of the most reverent (and therefore comical) portraits of alcohol I've ever seen. The smaller studies for it are at both galleries, but the big painting is at the Mulcahy: a green-and-white Heineken oil can, pierced twice on the top since they don't have standard tabs in those parts, sits alone and gleaming against a giant blood-red background, with a cigarette's wispy smoke wafting up and out of frame. I laughed aloud with startled recognition when I saw it. That can on that crimson bar is exactly the way you feel after your fourth (sixth? ninth?) lager: melodramatic, effusive, brooding, and all the red is so Germanic and brusque (and everyone slur: Zumprosit!).

The MAC has most of the bigger drawings, and Mulcahy has many of the medium-size graphite-meets-watercolor sketches. The single-thought thumbnails are at both spaces, though Cynthia Mulcahy has a huge stash of other drawings from this series in her office, ready for the serious fan to rifle through. Worth the time, since Tolbert has the kind of observational acuity that can turn a single hour--as in the time he spent at the Berlin Museum of Erotica--into a vast tangle of decadent and incriminating works rife with implication. One hour as one lifetime. At that "family" museum, he saw a painting of a cat with a dismembered penis hanging from its fangs; the image must have amused and haunted him--it invades his portraits of his own sex life. Here's Frank and Ann getting it on in a hotel room and--doh!--the black cat, its mouth similarly full, leaps through the window to interrupt what should be a private moment.Here's a serene moonlit beach and, hell, there's that cat again. In other words, Tolbert's an Everyman--albeit a watchful one--who just happens to get down on paper the compulsions and fleeting notions we can all identify with--and with amazing results.

You feel that so much hanging on these Dallas walls is still connected to Europe by some invisible artery. When Tolbert left Europe, he brought some of it home with him, but he damn sure left some of himself back there too. That kind of street-level travel has a way of expanding not just your vision and your soul, but your sense of humor.

Berlin/Paris/Texas by Frank X Tolbert2 is at the Mulcahy Modern through May 29 and the MAC through May 30. Mulcahy Modern info: (214) 220-2024. MAC info: (214) 953-1212.

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