It was definitely not on my list of galleries to watch, until now. But when Ryder Richards sent out an announcement about the opening of Reconstructing Perspective at Brazos Gallery, I figured it wouldn't hurt to get out of the regular gallery loop and see what's going on just outside the traditional Dallas art scene.
Richards, an accomplished artist, teaches at Richland College and runs the Brazos Gallery there. It's a small space with white divider walls, bright track lighting, and industrial grade carpeting. The highlight of the space are the floor-to-ceiling windows on the front and back walls which flood the gallery with light.
The show opened at 4 p.m. last night with an opening reception, and about 50 people or so had come through by 6:30. Not bad for a small campus gallery. There were only a select few pieces on display, all from artists Andrew Douglas Underwood and Chaddy Dean Smith. They were deceivingly simple photographs of landscapes and historical buildings -- as well as text and maps -- some on the wall and some presented in photo-essay format in oversize books in cases below the work on the walls.
All of the pieces cause you to look closer -- to read or examine -- and ask, "What is really going on here?" Georgia O'Keeffe once said, "I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty." Underwood and Smith seem to be doing something akin but opposite. If they make the details so small and specific, the viewer must lean in to learn more.
Underwood's "Four Thieves Vinegar" is comprised of photographs of ten plants, the ingredients for a potion that was said to keep one from getting The Plague. The photographs were accompanied by the tale of the thieves who are said to have crafted the recipe so they wouldn't get sick when robbing the dead and dying of their belongings. Once caught, the story goes, the thieves gave up the recipe to avoid jail time. Individually they are simple plants, together they represent life.
Smith's "Drought, Copper Lake" is a triptych of photos, a seeming landscape portrait of scorched land where water once was and still should be. With a "No Wake" marker pitifully lying on its side, its message a painful irony. The photographs were all taken from different angles, despite appearing as if they are a single, panoramic shot divided into three. The viewer is convinced by his or her eyes of one thing, but the reality is another thing. It is a trick. There is no fact, no truth. There is only perspective.
I asked Richards to tell me a little more about the work and the artists that are Reconstructing Perspective.
What is Andrew Douglas Underwood trying to do with these pieces? His work has to do with the idea of recreating a site. It's actually kind of romantic despite being research based. [For "Dover Castle, Key to England",] a fog bank rolled in when he took these photos. He was trying to capture a romantic image but he juxtaposes it with the intellectualism of the map.
Why is this art and not simply a history lesson? I think it's about the small decisions that Andrew makes. He's trying to generate emotions as opposed to telling you what to think. He's pretty lenient with the way he's portraying history and he's bringing a lot of himself into these pieces. He makes them as art but displays them in a very dry way to blur the line between fact and art.
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At first glance, Chaddy Dean Smith's work might seem like little more than sweet, nostalgic photographs. What is it that makes them more than that? Smith's pieces look like three images of a panoramic view, but actually he moves the camera, sometimes over one hundred feet to one side to take the next image. While they look as if they were created from one perspective, it is actually three perspectives.
What is Smith's intention with this work? We, as humans, can only see the world from one perspective when we look at a landscape, so Chad has disrupted that idea. In some ways this relates to the idea of Picasso's cubism where he showed an object from all sides at once, but more to the point is that Chad has convinced us that we are still seeing one continuous view, which is more about the idea that "the camera doesn't lie." But, obviously, our mind [does].
[It's about] taking old ideas -- the camera exposes truth -- and the perspective of a single point of view and [creating] a modern portrait of a fractured psyche that is attempting to hold itself together. We are all holding multiple viewpoints at any one time and so absolute truth is impossible. These images seem to reflect that.