The smallest exhibition, Sight Unseen, features two works each from artists Max Marshall and Kay Seedig. Marshall’s two works, “Build-a-Cam” and “Birds aren’t real,” although distinct, are interconnected: A camera placed on the plastic pine tree that constitutes “Birds aren’t real” films viewers who are then displayed with a time-delay on a monitor that makes up part of “Build-a-Cam.” Juxtaposed, the two works ask dark questions about self-perception and identity.
Meanwhile, Kay Seedig’s work “I just want to masturbate in piece” — a cross made of plaques embossed with different renditions of the phrase “Before you go to bed at night, give your troubles to God. He will be up all night anyway” — pokes and provokes the relationship between religious culture, cultural religion and sex.
The largest of the exhibitions, fading cowboy, is a solo show of the work of Stephen Abernathy, a Dallas painter and sculptor. He uses Sketchbook to draw paintings on his phone and then projects them onto the canvas and paints them. The resulting works look like a nonrepresentational Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Two of Abernathy’s paintings on display at 500X Gallery were inspired by the music of blackbear. “You Think That You’re Vogue” (the first few words of blackbear’s song “Role Model”) is a pale pink and dark green composition that takes a subtle dig at the ways in which people use clothes and other exterior ornaments to express superiority. “Teenage Waste” (also the title of a song by blackbear) is a hot pink composition covered in the detritus of teenage years: condoms, pills, “the money, the power, the sex, the fame … the drugs, the party, the rules, the game,” Abernathy says.
The other solo show, floor rituals, spotlights the sculptural paintings and text-based works of Dallas artist Elizabeth Hill. This is Hill's first solo showing in a major gallery. In 2019, she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from UNT, where she majored in studio art — concentrating in painting and drawing — and double minored in art history and in women’s and gender studies. She’s currently one of 16 artists in residence at nonprofit arts incubator Cedars Union. Incorporating approaches to design inspired by history and philosophy, Hill's work grapples with mental health, stereotypes and identity.
“The way that I do my art is my response as a Black woman with my Blackness and my womanhood intersecting,” Hill says. “All of my art is a response to the world around me, all of the stimuli around me. I have these box forms that were literally just physical representations of mental compartmentalization.”
Mental compartmentalization is oftentimes a process of recognizing negative feelings and stuffing them away for another day, Hill argues. But the process of creating works about mental compartmentalization is therapeutic for Hill because it forces her into her head — to recognize and process what she’s going through and what she’s feeling in response.
“A lot of my works are visual, physical representations of mental compartmentalization and trying to sort out this scrambling ball of whatever is in your head,” Hill says. “A lot of my works center around my mental health, and me dealing with things, and visual representations of what the inside of my head looks like. Some of my works have scribbles. I personally deal with depression and anxiety, and so that represents that inner monologue.”
Back in April, Hill started incorporating text into her works, writing in a stream-of-consciousness manner to overcome her perfectionism, writing “whatever” was in her head, as she puts it, to “put it out in the exact way” she had thought of it. She created the installation word vomit for Terrain Dallas, an outdoor gallery in Oak Cliff, for which she wrote her thoughts on 30 hot pink signs placed around the lawn.
“People were welcome to come at any hour and look at my thoughts,” Hill says. “It was very new.”
Floor rituals is a continuation of word vomit. Hill repurposed pages she wrote in her journal and sketch book in the past year — about her habit of getting on the floor whenever she is overwhelmed, anxious or depressed — as an art piece. Floor rituals is an attempt to capture a holistic process, a full-body ritual, with words and lines. She even included a video of her bedroom ceiling, filmed from the perspective of lying on the floor.
The goal, Hill says, is to allow “the viewer to come into that part of me and to enter into that space that I’m in.” For that reason, she laid out her gallery space like a little nook or cranny, so that viewers feel as though they are “walking into a slightly different environment from the rest of the space,” she says, adding: “I wanted that wall to act like it was enveloping and surrounding you.”
The result is both profoundly personal and intensely political.
“I realized I was doing myself a great disservice by [repressing],” Hill says. “Like, one, because that’s just not healthy. And two, because I was kind of lending to or adding to the whole ‘strong Black woman’ archetype. Because I feel like I try to just be OK for myself all the time, but a lot of the times for other people as well. And it’s like, I am no use to myself or to anybody else if I am not right with it.
"I don’t want to lie to myself anymore and I don’t want to lie to other people. And I feel like once I start to embrace that I’m not OK, I can give myself what I deserve and I can open myself up to receive what I deserve.”