Thoughts in Motion

Two Lubbock boys examine living on the line in Texas

For the most part, Allen and Drake seem more concerned with the collaborative process than with narrative content. The upshot is two strong personalities attempting to remove themselves out of individual comfort zones. Nevertheless, the ad-lib nature of the collaboration effects a seamless blend. It's well-nigh impossible to tell where Allen leaves off and Drake begins, thereby creating a third presence.

If the Blaffer show veers close to corny melodrama, two individual exhibitions mounted by Drake and Allen in conjunction with their collaboration successfully encode a tangled personalized iconography. They remind us that real boundaries are not just geographic, but are also epochal and psychological.

For his solo exhibition at Texas Gallery, James Drake presents large charcoal drawings -- single images and diptychs -- of ordinary houses, a small-town drugstore, a snakeskin pattern and desert terrain. Handwritten in light pencil across the bottom of the ascetic photorealist works are phrases pulled from conversations, letters and novelettes. Overall, the feeling is road-trip panorama. Like conceptual artists Al Ruppersberg and John Baldessari, who have always concerned themselves with the multiplicity of syntactical and structural possibilities, Drake examines the connection between word and image, the relationship between art and its consequences as information becomes as complex as life itself.

An image of a generic-frame house is paired with the phrase, "She stood over the heater and cried, 'Lord, take me from this earth.'" A diptych titled A Little Girl Ran Down the Hall Screaming juxtaposes an image of El Capitan, the highest peak in Texas, and the empty shell of a suburban colonial "mansion."

Just as words arise from images in narrative, so do images arise directly from text. Visual symbols that take on direct verbal/written connotations stretch the viewer between image, text and the total work. Thus, Drake creates images with a language of movement. In many respects, they are stories told by and about externals, posing the larger question as to what truly exists inside these implied characters and physical structures.

A series of smaller works pair grainy photos of generic ranch-style houses or hillside views of Juarez's scraped-together shacks with pieces of snakeskin. Exterior skins, then, are transparent to a secondary layer of surfaces contained within our environments, ourselves. A snake sheds its skin much like we change houses or personnas. We molt our feelings. If anything, the slices of skin represent the snake that crawls through the heart.

Curiously, the snakeskin patterns also resemble frequencies of an electrocardiogram. But Drake metaphorically cuts out the heart, a V-8 engine covered in python skin, which he hangs like a captured animal from a huge welder's A-frame. Unsettling, if humorously erotic, its plugs and hoses become aortas and valves that spill onto the floor. While covering the engine in snakeskin evokes images of border products, where snakeskin seems to be recycled into boots, vests or hats and nothing goes to waste, the metaphor also includes the car as the lifeblood of border existence.

At Moody Gallery, Terry Allen attaches car speakers to the glass covers of Technicolor pastels featuring monumental Southwestern landscapes. In doing so, he defines a careful collage of details both visual and aural. He could just as easily be taking the pulse of the landscape, or transmitting voltage to a patient with cardiac arrest. Titled "Voices in the Wilderness," the drawings, objects and recorded sounds tie into Allen's obsession with motion and journeys -- how time, space and one's senses are intermingled as one travels from point to point.

Strewn on the gallery floor are wires that connect desert refuse: an old shoe, a broken chair, a rubber inner tube, a fake rock with graffiti, a cinderblock. The wires look like travel routes of sorts, mapping a trek to Juarez by way of Montezuma Castle, Sunset Crater and Shiprock. A monitor inside a large, head-shaped iron cage (with light bulbs for eyes) plays a silent video showing two seemingly endless and equally hypnotic journeys. Peering through a chainlink fence, we follow two men as they cross the Rio Grande by the Juarez bridge. We're also taken along Western highways through electric storms, brilliant skies, pastoral valleys and churning muddy rivers.

The sounds emanating from the speakers -- birds, wind, cars speeding on the highway, guitar riffs -- expand space and control time. The combination of dissimilar media creates an atmospheric condition of perpetual turbulence that engages the viewers bodily and allows for a dynamic interchange or flow of sensations. Significantly, one gets caught up in the idea of motion, rather than destination, as the installation seemingly evolves, resolves and dissolves into itself.

Taken as a whole, so much "boy" art may give one pause. After all, the engine as masculine power principle and the studio as sanctuary where sacramental beer is drunk seem antiquated gender identities in the '90s. But Drake's and Allen's Texas twang belies an attitude that's coarse, edgy and hard, obsessed with a clinical examination of the underbelly of human existence.

Admirably, the artists have been true to their cultural identities, refusing to resign themselves to or defend themselves against prevailing art tides. But remember, there wasn't much to do while growing up in Lubbock, and coming of age there meant establishing a close relationship with your engines -- light out on the highway or get stuck in the flatlands. Along the way, Drake and Allen have added a little soul to the nuts and bolts, a spirit to the machinery.

"Voices In The Wilderness" shows through September 24 at Moody Gallery, 2815 Colquitt, 526-9911.

"She Stood Over the Heater and Cried" shows through October 1 at Texas Gallery, 2012 Peden, 524-1593.

"Poison Amor" shows through October 9 at Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, 743-9530.

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