Texas Toes and Conceptual Art

After my first outing in
the city, one thing is clear: I do not
have Texas toes
. I’m not talking about shape or size. What I’m talking
about is the sheer number of women in this city who, by default of the weather
and the season, have to wear sandals so frequently that feet and toenails have
become a true force in Houston’s fashion world.
And I’m not talking about
just any sandals. I’m talking frills and ruffles and beads. Sandals made from
vinyl, sandals made from leather, sandals made from plastic, sandals made from
foam, sandals so teensy they’re hardly there at all, sandals so impractical
that walking in them looks challenging…All of which is to say nothing of the
painted toes, pedicured to perfection. Never mind some of the women I saw today
wore sloppy sweat pants and crooked ponytails. Their toes looked good and clearly, in Houston heat,
that’s what counts.
This afternoon at Lawndale
Art Center, Howard led a brief tour of three exhibitions for his Studio
Critique students. My practical, bland sandals and unpainted (dare I say naked?) toes and I got to tag along.
Thankfully, most of his students were busy looking at new work in the
“Southern/Pacific” show, curated by Paul Middendorf.
As a writer who also
freelances about contemporary American craft, I’ve always struggled to find an
entry point into the visual art discussion. Photography and printmaking in all
its forms? No problem. But painting? Eek.
So I listened intently as painters talked about mark making, source material,
post-minimalist aesthetics, and feminist works with expressionist biomorphic
tendencies (huh?). Students referenced [name of famous painting everyone but me
seems to know] in relation to [more famous paintings I don’t know] or talked
about the “marriage” of colors or the “blending” of hues or the “violence”
between panels.
“I’ve always had a hard
time with green,” Howard confessed to his students.
Another nodded in
agreement, pointing to a neon turquoise panel in one of the exhibited
paintings. “This one,” she said, “this is the one that gets me every time.”
For my part, Jeremy
DePrez’s piece in “The Power of Negative Feedback” show titled “Cute Cardboard”
kept me thinking. [Shown at right and yes, the canvas shape is intentionally altered.] But it was the conceptual engagement I had with the painting,
not the painting itself, which had a staying power for me. At the end of the
day, if you’re not versed in art history and you don’t own the language of
visual art, and the work you’re looking at doesn’t come with a ready-made
context, what’s left? Sadly, for me, it’s often concept…and while I value
concept a lot, I’d much rather have narrative.
Today’s collaboration: Howard pulled a title from
New York Times magazine, “Ironworkers of the Sky.” I wrote
a flash fiction piece and he did a drawing using the title.
2 of 25 Ways of Looking at Houston: These sprayers
run all day long, despite the drought, 
trying to entice Houston-area
businesspersons to eat lunch at this restaurant. You get sprayed on while
eating your food? Yes. And the water evaporates from your skin before you can
say, “Ahhh.”

Showing 4 comments
  • Kyle Lang

    Okay. Two things. One, I want to read "Ironworkers of the Sky" when you get done with the prompt. It sounds like a Hayao Miyazaki film. Second, I want to visit you and sit under the sprayers while we eat.

  • Oma

    Where are the sandals?

  • dragon

    Toenail art. I think we need photos…

  • Katey Schultz

    I wanted to take a photo of this one woman's toes SO BADLY but I thought it would be really weird if I walked up to her while she was enjoying the exhibit and asked that. I'll work on it. Maybe some stealth toe photography in the coming weeks…

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