The Center of the Universe

Must artists move to New York to make it big?

"It is hard to get shows here," Rosmarin says. "The competition is fierce and there's a lot of good work that never gets shown."

Four years later, Rosmarin is represented by Danese Gallery in New York, but she maintains her Houston ties. Her new paintings at Texas Gallery are optically vibrant riffs on fabric patterns. Red X is a standout; its taped-off and crisply painted overlapping diagonal stripes of color have a hypnotic visual pulse that borders on the painful. Think plaid on steroids.

According to Rosmarin, living in New York has made her realize how interconnected the art world is. "I think I am more aware of the importance of staying on top of things -- but that can both help and hinder you," she cautions. "You can see so much work in the course of one day that you get back to your studio and feel overwhelmed. There are just so many ideas floating around out there. You think, 'How am I ever going to compete with this? How will my work stand up to this?' Being in Houston can make you a lot freer to develop on your own. In a place like Houston you may be aware of what is going on in the art world, but you're not as inundated with what's going on in the art world."

Susie Rosmarin maintains her Houston ties. Red X is currently on view at Texas Gallery.
Susie Rosmarin maintains her Houston ties. Red X is currently on view at Texas Gallery.

But Rosmarin has a pretty sage take on the way things work. "I think a lot of the people you see becoming 'art stars' move to New York on a wave of success," she says, citing former Houston artists and Core Fellows Jeff Elrod and Shazia Sikander as examples of the phenomenon.

Of course, Texas artists with a potent enough blend of chutzpah and talent have also moved to NY cold. "Erik Parker is a good example," she says. "He's from Texas, and moved up straight out of school. He's just extremely driven. He moved here and got his career going from New York."

There are no set scenarios, and Rosmarin emphasizes the diversity of people's experiences. She knows many artists who live in New York and show only in other cities or in Europe. She points out that the same thing happens in Houston, where "an artist like Bernard Brunon shows a lot in Europe but rarely in Houston." Meanwhile, an artist like Trenton Doyle Hancock continues to work in Houston and has been included in two Whitney Biennials.

Thedra Cullar-Ledford is a Houston artist who moved to New York last February when her husband, a graphic designer, was laid off from Dynegy. Sitting outside on a sunny, unseasonably warm May day, Cullar-Ledford confides, "It's horrible to say this, but we were really able to move here because of September 11." The resultant drop in housing prices made it feasible. Still, she has less space. She left behind a studio full of big heavy sculpture in Houston, and now she's making smaller works on paper in their one-bedroom apartment.

Even when artists leave the Bayou City for the hypercompetitive Big Apple, they try to carry with them that sense of freedom and unconcern that has marked local creativity. As Cullar-Ledford says, "If I can retain some of that 'I don't give a shit' attitude, I'll be okay."

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