Believing the Hype

Former Dallas artist Dan Rizzie disappears out East, then re-emerges as the real thing

Instead, Rizzie seems to have concentrated on graphic work, especially prints and monotypes done at Austin's Flatbed Press. The monotypes, one of which, from 1994, is the only Rizzie work from the period which made it into the MAC's exhibition, show how Rizzie's imagery was changing. Employing directions and images he had abandoned earlier, his symbols became rounder, especially organic: tulips and petunias and the occasional floating teakettle. His focus shifted from creating the illusion of deep space to a preoccupation with surface. He remained an old-fashioned modernist, still exploring paradoxes--old and new, image and abstraction, the personal and the universal. But there was a new emphasis on his surroundings, and a new sensibility.

And slowly, by the end of the '90s, a new career. Rizzie's work doesn't appear to have been exactly flying from the few galleries in which he exhibited; at one point, Rizzie was reduced to hanging pictures in a trendy east-end eatery. But gradually, Rizzie began to put his career on a sounder basis, finding his place among the community of east-end artists--a community that, while not what it once was, still exists. He was invited to participate in local group shows at East Hampton's Guild Hall, as well as at a show in Southampton's tiny Parish Art Museum. He began to get 10-word notices in the Long Island edition of The New York Times. Of course, the few critics who noticed him were still damning Rizzie with faint praise--but at least it was attention, the right kind of attention, and praise.

With the current show of Rizzie's work at Pillsbury & Peters, we get to see what he's been doing.

"Tobacco" (2000) typifies Rizzie's new act: This time around, the work is spare, subtle, and elegant.
"Tobacco" (2000) typifies Rizzie's new act: This time around, the work is spare, subtle, and elegant.
Dan Rizzie's late-'80s canvases, such as "Heart" (1987), became fitting symbols of Eighties Dallas excess.
Dan Rizzie's late-'80s canvases, such as "Heart" (1987), became fitting symbols of Eighties Dallas excess.

Details

Runs through October 8 (214) 953-1212

Dan Rizzie: Rhythms of Nature continues through October 21 at Pillsbury and Peters Fine Art (214)969-9410

McKinney Avenue Contemporary

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Anyone eager for the late-'80s Rizzie is going to be disappointed. Gone is the Bud Lite cubist, the bold colorist, the brash young Turk. In his place is a more mature Rizzie, an artist whose work is subtle and simple and balanced, his compositions well-positioned in pictorial space. This time around his primary source material is not high modernism, but English botanical prints. In works like "Tobacco" (2000) and "Onion Flower" (2000), Rizzie is spare, economical, with an emphasis on surface and textures, analogizing antique lace with natural forms, creating a deeply personal imagery of organic shapes and muted colors.

Pillsbury is peddling it as less-is-more. "What I like about his work is that it's gotten simpler," says the 50-something former Kimbell director, now a partner in Gerald Peters' Dallas gallery. The good news is that, in most of the pictures, less is at least not a bore. The most successful pieces, such as "Lily" (2000), are pared down, painterly, ultra-elegant collages that wink at Rizzie's own past and show how far he's come. A less successful group of pictures uses pure abstractions--winding vine-like lines and colored spheres--to represent veins, or the record of Rizzie's wanderings, or even crows in a tree. Interestingly, some of the weakest work in the 31-piece show, which is nearly sold out, evokes the artist's new home. Pieces like "Where I Live" (1994-2000) and "Windmill-Sag Harbor" (2000) seem forced, evidencing no real feel for place and little emotional attachment--even less than some of his '80s work displayed.

Rizzie's new pieces still incorporate the symbols he has used for years: curlicues and colored spheres, shorthand, initials, and abbreviations. The difference is that he's finally forged this shorthand into his own painterly language, a unique style which is contemporary and ancient, vaguely Oriental, and utterly American. The work is still autobiographical, the result of digging deep into Rizzie's own personal history--hence pieces such as "Islamabad" and "Letters from Lucca," a painting in part about Rizzie's travels through Tuscany. Now that the hype is almost gone, for the first time in his career, he's speaking with quiet authority.

There's actually something reassuring about the downward trajectory of Rizzie's career, about the struggle and the now-reasonable prices, about the dignity and maturity of his new work. It's a satisfaction beyond he-flew-too-close-to-the-sun schadenfreude. In fact, it's almost enough to restore one's fragile faith in contemporary art. It will be interesting to see what someone like Ted Pillsbury can do for someone like Dan Rizzie. Maybe there are second acts in American lives.

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