As we hit mid-December, here is an unconventional art show that has nothing to do with the "scene" and everything to do with real life at its harshest. Every fall, the art program at the Stewpot heads to the central branch of the Dallas Public Library to exhibit pieces created in its daily art class. The Stewpot is the social ministry of the First Presbyterian Church, and gives the homeless and near-homeless a place to go and tools to rebuild their lives.
So I walked in with a sense of altruism and a little bit of condescension. This show has a whole lot of pieces on display and, yes, some of them are by clear beginners. Knowing the artists are in dire straits, I responded to them with a hearty "Good for you!" or a sincere "How sweet."
Then I arrived at a wall full of work by an artist named Charles William.
/I kept saying, out loud, to no one in the room, "holy shit" and "Jesus" and, again, "holy shit." I even wrote down "holy shit" in case I might forget it later. I know nothing about this person but I know he has mastered, MASTERED, Cubism.
Several of his works were marked sold; I inquired about three myself and am now in the process of trying to fit them into my December budget. "Band With Red Shoe Pianist," "The Jazz Band" and "Playing By Ear" were the works that blew me away, but William has more examples mounted on that wall in a range of styles and subjects, including an excellent portrait series using a single face expressed with wild tonal changes. Hw has, without question, practiced the marks of Picasso and Warhol and burned them into his paintbrush. I could not believe what I was seeing.
Also notable are Leon Pollard, who paints about Texas, and Herbert Lee Jackson, whose works include "Study of Manet's Fifer" and "Copy of the Mona Lisa," plus portraits of Tchaikovsky and Mozart. (The Stew Pot's art program includes museum trips; and these clearly taken advantage of.)
There are some works in textiles and some works in Crayolas. There are abstracts, there are puppy dogs, and there is religion. There is a lot of pain on those walls, and a lot of longing for childhood through still lifes expressing a singular object that is, by now, the stuff of memories.
It's easy to become jaded by "art scene" bullshit, where partygoers are jockeying for free booze and a high number of gallery appearances on a single night of openings. Yuck. These artists are barely surviving, and making art is their safe haven. Life in its ugliest breathes in these works.
The Stewpot Artists Artshow is on view through December 27, 2012, at the Bradshaw Gallery inside the Dallas Central Library. Art pieces are reserved and sold on a "first payment received basis."