Dallas Observer Masterminds 2013: Meet the Winners of Our Annual Art Awards

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Late last year, as most of the city's creators went into holiday hibernation, the Observer's culture editor, Jamie Laughlin, assembled a team of fellow cultural obsessives and went to work, looking for this year's Masterminds.

See also: The Dallas Observer 2011 MasterMinds Awards

It's the third straight year we've done this -- identified a group of cutting-edge art producers, thanked them for making Dallas a weirder and more wonderful place, and lavished them with our love and some no-strings-attached cash. Last year, that meant $2,000 gifts to three visionaries: photographer Frank Lopez, dancer Katie Toohil and the folks behind La Reunion, a budding artists colony.

This year: Who knew? Jamie and the folks listed below tiptoed toward the ocean of nominations. Then they dove right in.

We didn't see Jamie for a while, but eventually, like always, she emerged, names in hand. (A thing you should know about Jamie: She always shows up, especially here on our culture blog, Mixmaster.)

We gave out six $1,000 awards this year; you can read about the recipients below. They can do whatever they please with the money, which will be presented in a ceremony on Saturday, January 26, at Artopia, our annual art-fashion-dance party at the Dallas Contemporary (details here). It's our hope, of course, that the cash helps them foster more weirdness and beauty and whatever else they foster -- if not by buying supplies, then by paying a few utility bills or replacing a suspect car battery. Whatever keeps them feeding their creative machines, so we can keep gobbling up the results. -- Joe Tone, editor

How We Chose These Particular Minds This year's winners were selected by a panel of local artists, curators, activists and media members. We leaned on last year's Masterminds: Catherine Horsey, speaking on behalf of La Reunion; local ambrotype and cultural landscape photographer Frank Lopez; and dance educator and performance artist Katie Toohil. Art and Seek's Jerome Weeks stacked submissions against his decades of invaluable knowledge. Jordan Roth, co-owner of Ro2 Art Galleries and possibly Dallas' biggest cheerleader, also donated his time and sage advice to the cause. We also abused the brains of Observer theater critic Elaine Liner and visual arts critic Betsy Lewis. We thank them all for their time, effort and input. -- Jamie Laughlin, culture editor

The winners were interviewed by Audra Schroeder, a contributing writer, and photographed by Mark Graham, a contributing photographer.

Dylan Hollingsworth

In her 1977 collection, On Photography, Susan Sontag writes that the "most grandiose result of the photographic enterprise is to give us the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads -- as an anthology of images."

In this new millennium, when we can snap and post photos with little or no context and create a hall of mirrors featuring ourselves, the work of Dylan Hollingsworth (left, pictured with Father Parisi, one of his subjects) feels particularly important. Storytelling works in tandem with his images. (Visit storytelling site cowbird to see this in action.)

"I was introduced to the camera by Hal Samples, who is one of my best friends," Hollingsworth says of the local photographer. "He took me along for the ride, opened a lot of doors for me and really showed me a lot about the power of serving others through photography. After a few years, how to use the camera as a tool for social consciousness became more apparent."

In his teens, Hollingsworth struggled with drug addiction, eventually landing in prison at 19. After his release, he slipped back into addiction, and ended up on the streets of East Dallas, where he nearly died.

He's now been sober for eight years.

"So a lot of my heart for the struggle and the people that aren't visible and desirable comes from me having been that person," he says.

In browsing the 32-year-old's work, this becomes apparent: Outsiders are often the focus in his anthology.

"More than aesthetic or technique, I watch for emotion and depth," he says. "Catching those will always take precedent over creating a perfectly exposed and framed photograph, although I hope to do that once in a while. I feel like I am often led to people and moments, and I try to have the camera and Dictaphone ready at all times, but I am also just there for the experience and relationship. That's what people really seem to want: Someone to listen, to take an interest and make them feel that their existence has meaning and validity."

You could apply this to his series on the residents of Gaston Avenue ("It's pretty raw and earnest there. All are equal."), or images of Costa Rican sex workers ("Maria is someone's daughter that loved her first boyfriend so much, she got his name crudely tattooed on her"). Tachowa Covington is a Los Angeles man who turned an abandoned tank into his home, which was eventually tagged by Banksy, which was then bought by an art collector, which forced Covington out on the streets. His story has parallels with that of Father Parisi, an elderly East Dallas resident whom Hollingsworth has been documenting for years.

"In a society -- and especially in this city -- where importance is placed upon status, achievement, tangibles and appearances, I love the fact that people like Tachowa have seemingly little but have so much to teach us about the one thing we really desire, which is happiness," he says.

"Father Parisi is similar: Older and eccentric and religious and slightly manic. ... It started as a potential story and now it's just a friendship. ... Can't say exactly why I'm there or if there is a greater story to be told, but we are friends now and that's enough. I find myself in a lot of situations like this."

Experience life through Hollingsworth's lens at dylanhollingsworth.com.

Chuck & George

The 20-year partnership of Oak Cliff painters Brian K. Jones and Brian K. Scott started at UNT in the early 1990s, when they were both studying art. And it started as a joke, Scott says.

"The core [of our studies] was the drawing class, and it was a real weird mixed bag, with a few students acting like their parents made them study art, and no one's parents say that," he says. "On our way to class, we would assemble objects for critique, and no one would know whose pieces they were looking at. ... We were trying to make amazingly bad art as a slight against people in the class who would complain. We're not against bad art, but that's how Chuck & George started."

To this day, they embrace the low and furrowed brow. Scott's paintings include dandy apes and cartoonish phallic imagery. Jones has a penchant for zaftig, ruddy men and women in various states of undress. Their aesthetics dovetail nicely as Chuck (Jones) and George (Scott), working collaboratively, highlight those fantastical, subversive worlds.

"We help each other with criticism, and we do lots of portraits of each other," Scott says. "We often start something and make an inside joke about it. If you were really good at forensics, you could figure out what we're talking about."

Their twin-speak is no doubt the result of the couple living and working together for so long, and being able to finish each other's paintings as easily as each other's sentences. "Sometimes I'll give him assignments, sometimes he gives me assignments," Scott says. "Or he'll start something and I'll finish it. If it's been awhile since we did something, I'll know exactly what he did and I did. It's a good thing our collaborations have become more seamless." Scott also cites European art duo Gilbert & George as an influence: "Gilbert and Sullivan gave birth to Gilbert & George, who gave birth to Chuck & George."

They've turned their Oak Cliff home into a gallery, filled with collective and individual works. And, as a reflection of their lovably warped minds, much of that space just happens to be inhabited by doughy freaks and naked clown-men.

"We both have a passion for the strange," Scott says, laughing. "Brian Jones will watch any bad zombie movie, but some are too bad for me to watch. My more recent paintings are called The Carny Sutra, and if you look at Brian's paintings, he for sure loves the oddity. His desire to paint flesh is to paint the sores on the flesh. It's all about the gruesomeness of being alive."

Find Chuck and George at chuckandgeorge.net.

Carolyn Sortor
Video artist

In September, the Omni Hotel was turned into a giant TV as part of the Dallas VideoFest's Expanded Cinema event. As a city, we trekked to fields and parking lots to take in the Bladerunner-like spectacle. It pushed many of us out of our comfort zones, and got us looking at art -- video art especially -- in a different context.

We were also, without knowing it, looking inside the brain of Carolyn Sortor, one of the driving forces (with VideoFest's Bart Weiss) behind the Omni's repurposing. She's a video artist and curator for Dallas VideoFest, "instigated" CentralTrak's Co-Recreating Spaces project, and made a video project out of her 2011 wedding, which she is editing. She says her transition from lawyer to artist was a slow burn.

"By 2008, I'd saved enough from my work as a lawyer to cut my law hours way back," she says. "I learned the basics of editing video, which was very freeing, and also co-curated the first [VideoFest event] The Program, which enabled me to see hundreds more of the contemporary video works I'd been reading about but hadn't had an opportunity to see, as well as, I hoped, helping the general opinion of video art in DFW turn a corner."

As a curator for Dallas VideoFest, her more experimental tastes have blurred the lines between tech-heavy video production and art, with last year's programming its most ambitious yet.

"I'm basically looking for work I love," she says. "My curatorial focus for the VideoFest has always been on video art that might also be shown in an art gallery or museum, rather than distributed theatrically or broadcast on TV.

"My curatorial criteria in general depend on the purposes of the show and the venue and expected audience. Since the VideoFest is mostly a smorgasbord of seated screenings and is attended by a wide audience, to my mind, it's generally best to avoid works that are extremely long, or more ambient or meditative, or that can't be appreciated without a lot of theoretical background knowledge. The risk is that with so much else to see, viewers will get restless and leave.

"Beyond that, I tend to favor work you might call complex yet appealing. One of the things I love about Shakespeare's plays is that, while they're jam-packed with insightful explorations of everything from individual hearts and minds to overarching issues of national governance and more, they nonetheless are (or at least were, during his time) accessible and enjoyable on many levels."

See Sortor's work -- including a version of Macbeth starring her cat -- at c-cyte.com.

Erica Felicella
Performance artist and photographer

You may have seen photographer and multimedia artist Erica Felicella in her "Visible Shell" last spring in Oak Cliff, for which she enclosed herself in a Plexiglas box for two days, effectively sealing herself off from the world. Her mantra, written on pieces of paper inside the shell rather than spoken, was this: "To see myself I went inside my own shell." Here's what happened next, as captured here on Mixmaster:

Once the box was opened, the artist encouraged everyone to take one of the pieces of paper home as a keepsake. Two young girls pressed and flattened out the papers, searching for tiny deviations in her message. "It changed!" said a redhead with a perky short haircut. "It went from, 'I went inside my own shell' to 'I go inside my own shell!'"

We asked Felicella, who works as a producer with Art Conspiracy, about her test of endurance.

What was the genesis of that idea? The original concept of the work came from personal interactions in my own life. From there, I began to watch how we interact with one another. Then society came into play: what roles we have in American culture and the pace in which we live our lives. It all boiled down to the reality that we do not openly display our emotions, and we no longer take, or have the time, to sit and contemplate. From all this, the idea of a girl in a box began. In the course of a year, it evolved into a complete work with an army of volunteers behind it.

What did you feel in there? Over the course of the entire project, which was a little over a year, my range of emotions was vast. I tried to mentally prepare myself for what I was going to feel while tucked away for 48 hours. Since I did not practice the confinement or sitting at all prior to beginning the piece, nothing could have prepared me completely for the journey I took. The feelings of being bored, uncomfortable, cold and hot, as well as incredible amounts of anxiety and exhaustion, were all present. I was so overwhelmed by the community's response and the amazing group of volunteers that assisted in the production of the work that it brought me to tears on multiple occasions. My writing gave me peace and became my occupation. It allowed me to continue even when I did not want to. In the end, I realized the freedom I felt from sitting and writing. I had nothing to rush off for and no place else to be but here. I became openly vulnerable to whoever was present. I felt connected in a way that has continued into my everyday life.

Believe me when I say that I am not a person who meditates; quite the opposite, actually. I am a fly-by- the-seat-of-your-pants, coffee-pounding gal on the go. That is yet another reason why I chose to do this piece. It was a crash course in sitting still and being present. I achieved some absolute moments of calm while I was contained, unlike any I have ever felt before.

The connection to the community was essential to this piece. It was about people and our everyday lives. I wanted the work to be put right in the middle of things. Without people or the community, the work would have been missing a key element. I was hoping for some community participation; what happened was far beyond my expectations. From the moment I entered into the shell, I was never alone. People came out to join in on the work even during the middle of the night.

Did it change you? Your art? The experience has left me changed in many ways, both personally and in my relationship to art. Since I exited the shell, I have tried to allow more time to sit, think and to live at a slower pace. The work also opened a door in how I now view the work I want to create. It has made me rethink my approach to some of my future concepts. As a photographer, one of my personal goals is to create images that the viewer can engage with. Taking my work from the walls to a place where people can directly interact or view as it is being created is something I will be continuing to do from here on out. I am currently working on the framework for the next two pieces that directly reflect these changes.

Find Felicella at cellaarts.com.

Delilah Muse
Flamenco dancer

Dallas isn't exactly synonymous with the flamenco, but Delilah Buitron, who performs as Delilah Muse, is working to change that. It starts with convincing the city that flamenco is high art.

"Flamenco has undergone a major evolution, and it is evident in its intellectualization of music, dance technique and focus on performance and production aesthetics," she says. "The Dallas Flamenco Festival has offered flamenco to Dallas in a new light."

As artistic director of the Dallas Flamenco Festival, now in its fifth year, the dancer/model/actress is able to spotlight the art form that has been her muse since she was 3, when her mother enrolled her in a Laredo dance school that specialized in flamenco. She continued dancing throughout high school and college, eventually studying dance in Spain. In 2006, she started performing burlesque in Dallas. "I never left my flamenco or my artistic theater endeavors," she says. "I was dancing flamenco on the weekends, performing theater at SMU in a Spanish production and dancing burlesque late at night."

She met Troy Gardner, owner of Exposition Park Café and Mobile Gourmet, and in 2009 they started the Dallas Flamenco Festival and the FLAME Foundation arts nonprofit. "Our goal was to produce the biggest, most amazing flamenco festival that Texas has ever experienced," she says. "We thought it was going to be a snap, but little did we know ..."

With the festival, Buitron is intent on not only educating and getting the word out to a growing flamenco community, but seeking out talent and bringing productions to town. "We are working on grants and fundraising to bring back Perro y Sangre, a flamenco drama and collaboration piece featured in last year's festival," she says. "As we move forward to the future of the festival, we wish to bring a fashion show with fashion-forward flamenco designs, another world-class flamenco production and periodic resident artists to teach at Estudio Flamenco Dallas."

Move with Delilah Muse at dallasflamencofestival.com.

Jeffrey Schmidt
Director and set designer

Jeffrey Schmidt is sorry for his tardiness. He's been in Austin, he says, working on Parkland, a new JFK-assassination movie.

"I play Richard Stolley," he says, "the Life magazine editor who bought the 8mm film from Zapruder, played by Paul Giamatti."

No big deal. That's just how Schmidt's life is these days. Last year was a banner one for the director and set designer. He directed Aaron Sorkin's The Farnsworth Invention, a play about the invention of TV, at Theatre Three, and On the Eve, a musical about time travel at Nouveau 47 Theater. Both plays faced similar logistical challenges, in that he had to devise ways to move ensemble casts around small spaces, and keep it interesting.

"The initial design idea for Farnsworth came one night when I was driving south of Dallas and saw a collection of really tall radio antennae with the blinking red lights," Schmidt says. "At night, they're kinda eerie and beautiful at the same time. The On the Eve set began with the idea that if it was end times, then the company only had access to what was around the theater. On and off stage, the theme became, 'Make do with what you have.' More importantly, I knew I wanted to provide the actors and the audience just enough detail to spark their imaginations. Let them fill in all of the blanks. Allow them to interpret how each of the many locations looked. Live theater exists only when it has an audience, so you have to invite them to be part of the collaboration."

Schmidt thrives on that idea.

"That is the most thrilling part of the theater process for me, the act of collaboration. Something created out of the simple act of sharing ideas. ... That was the key to On the Eve's success. As the director and designer, I had the final say in many regards, but I saw myself as more of a conduit for everyone's ideas and inspirations. I certainly didn't have the answers for everything, nor did anyone else. I had to provide leadership and direction while allowing for creativity and spontaneity. It's a delicate line on which to balance. In the end, it's worth it. Everyone had a strong sense of ownership for the project. Everyone gave a part of themselves. It would have failed without each individual's contribution."

Look for Jeffrey Schmidt's work at theatre3dallas.com and on other Dallas stages.

Up next: six artists who didn't win this year but whom we think you should know about.

The Finalists Narrowing hundreds of nominations down to six Masterminds took a little booze, a lot of work and some tough decisions. Here are six artists who didn't win this year but whom we think you should know about.

Danielle Georgiou Georgiou was everywhere last year, raising eyebrows via her Harakiri performance at CentralTrak, her participation with collective In Cooperation with Muscle Nation, and her Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, which infiltrated venues like Bryan Street Tavern and Double Wide. facebook.com/dgdg.daniellegeorgioudancegroup

Justin Terveen When lightning strikes in Dallas, Terveen is there. Like, every time. He has a Spidey sense about the weather, and he excels at translating the landscape of Dallas. He also captured other jaw-dropping moments in 2012, like when people were stranded on the Midway Stratosphere ride at the State Fair. theurbanfabric.com

Jeff Swearingen Actor and improv comic Swearingen has been all over North Texas stages in the last few years, and his endeavors -- like 2011's 48-hour Whole Whole Lotta Improv marathon -- go beyond just getting a laugh. marycollins.com/jeff-swearingen

Carlos Donjuan Painter Donjuan has elevated graffiti from Chicano subculture to fine art, via his colorful, often-masked images of people, fantastical creatures and rural landscapes. He's also a member of the Sour Grapes graffiti crew. carlosdonjuan.com

Willie Baronet Baronet's eye for design led him most notably to "We Are All Homeless," an art project in which signs collected from the homeless were given to random people, shedding light on those who are often ignored. williebaronet.com

Bart Weiss As the artistic director of the Dallas VideoFest, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, Weiss' passion for video art is unmatched in this city. He's stayed on the cutting edge of technology and championed emerging artists, a forward-thinking mindset reflected in 2012's festival. videofest.org

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