“The Grand Tour, Texas”

Omar Vera illustrates his trek to the Texas-style Paris, Florence and Rome

For “The Grand Tour, Texas,” Omar Vera visited three iconic art meccas…sort of. The artist traveled to Paris, Florence and Rome’s Lone Star State namesakes — mimicking the rite of passage of young intellectuals who trekked across Europe during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. “It was a response to the initial irony of these grand names belonging to kind of small and obscure cities,” says Vera. “These cities were using those names to find an identity through the past or through an association with the past, [and] that’s kind of what I was doing as an artist.” During his stay in these towns, Vera produced charcoal and ink sketches and terracotta sculptures of public architecture, artwork and other local symbols.

Florence was the smallest city and seemed to be the least aware of its name. Vera says nothing jumped out at him in the beginning, but after a day of sitting and drawing near the town’s main (and practically only) intersection, some locals steered him in the right direction. A school principal pointed out the oldest building, a library; a group of kids — “I think they were meth heads,” says Vera — led him to an abandoned school building, and some police officers pulled over just to ask what he was up to. “They were really excited that someone gave a shit about their city,” he says and laughs. Vera had initially been nervous about being unwelcome in a small, Texas town, “particularly being dark-skinned, like in Florence, which is 90 percent Caucasian, but everyone was really friendly.”

Paris was the most self-conscious about its name. “There’s a mini Eiffel Tower. It has a cowboy hat welded to the top of it,” he says and adds he didn’t draw it. “It felt so stupid.” Instead, Vera opted for the city’s buildings, which were built back in the 1940s and 50s when Paris was booming with industry. These days, it’s virtually a ghost town. “I was trying to capture this sense of emptiness of a city that at one point in time was really vibrant,” he says.

Roma (Rome), a border town along the Rio Grande, produced one of Vera’s most interesting and coincidental works. “I saw this female dog walking down the street with immensely swollen teats,” he says. The image conjured up the statue of the original city’s founders, Romulus and Remus, who were nursed by a she-wolf who is often depicted in a sagging state much like the dog in Vera’s charcoal drawing. “It was just kind of serendipitous,” he says. “It wasn’t at all what I was looking for, but it was much, much closer to the point then anything else I might have thought that I wanted to see.”

“The Grand Tour, Texas” opens today from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Regular viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Through September 27. Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main. For information, call 713-528-5858 or visit www.lawndaleartcenter.org. Free.
Mondays-Saturdays. Starts: Aug. 22. Continues through Sept. 27, 2008

 
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