Bunnies and Bad Unicorns: Lisa Chow and Y.E. Torres Meet Somewhere in the Middle

Lisa Chow + Y.E. Torres = awesome
Lisa Chow + Y.E. Torres = awesome
Courtesy of Fresh Arts

Once upon a time a salacious, R-rated performance artist who calls herself a "bad unicorn" hijacked a PG-rated visual artist notorious for her sweet-as-pie creations. The result of this artistic commandeering is a visual and performance-based collaboration to end all collaborations.

Meet Lisa Chow. She is a Houston-based illustrator with an overactive imagination that you might liken to that of a child. Her work is described as "delicate, surreal and strange." Imagine pastel-colored Easter bunnies wrapped in sparkles and hugs. Since graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, Chow has been spreading her fantastical paintings and drawings all across Texas. But when she applied for a show at the coveted Spacetaker Gallery, something magical happened, and this magic comes to fruition Sunday, July 29, with an afternoon tea party.

"The idea was actually conceived by Jenni and K.C. at Fresh Arts (née Spacetaker)," Chow tells us of the grand scheme in a recent interview. "And I thought it was awesome!"

"The idea" was to merge Chow's work with another artist whose style is, well, quite different. Fresh Arts invited Chow to meet performance and visual artist Y.E. Torres, known for her titillating and thought-provoking performance art pieces, and the two hit it off. Torres also applied to have a show in the gallery, which was what spawned the concept of merging the two.

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"Jenni (Rebecca Stephenson, Executive Director of Fresh Arts) and I saw both of the artists' submissions and thought, 'Wouldn't it be the most bizarre thing to get these two ladies together!'" says K.C. Sharnberg, Fresh Arts Program and Marketing Director.

Luckily, Chow and Torres also thought the idea was just wacky enough to work and the result is the current exhibition, "Once there was, once there wasn't: Two tales from the minds of Lisa Chow & Y.E. Torres."

The show, which opened July 14, began as a straightforward visual arts exhibition of Chow's solo work. In this current showcase, Chow has created a series of candy-colored paintings, reminiscent of illustrations one might find in an antique children's picture book. The series features a faceless girl and her rabbit companion. According to Chow, the paintings tell the story of a girl who follows a rabbit into a dream world. It's Alice in Wonderland and The Velveteen Rabbit rolled into one. Not surprisingly, these were two of Chow's favorite books as a child.

Art by Lisa Chow
Art by Lisa Chow
Courtesy of Fresh Arts

"This series explores what's real and what's imaginary," says Chow. In addition to exploring narrative and themes, this series also marks Chow's exploration with wood and oil paint, new mediums for her.

And just when you thought things were cozy, enter Y.E. Torres. Torres is also known around Houston; her reputation precedes her. Torres is a dancer, model, costume designer, visual artist and self-proclaimed "bad unicorn."

Torres's bunny is quite different from Chow's.
Torres's bunny is quite different from Chow's.
Courtesy of Binarium Productions

Her work is often performance-based and provocative at that; she's been known to take a few pieces of clothing off. As a visual artist, she works in 3D designs. Stuffed animals, papier-mâché, masks and collage are mediums that you may find in her arsenal.

Even her visual artistry falls on the curious side of the spectrum. For this show, for example, Torres has created several sawed-off unicorn horns and stuffed unicorn genitalia. Her stuff is out there, but in the most appealing way.

At first glance, the two women couldn't be more different. Chow is a pretty and fresh-faced girl who cannot help but look innocent, especially when placed next to Torres, a sexy, tattoo-covered femme fatale.

So what do a bunny-loving idealist and a deviant unicorn have in common, and how can they possibly collaborate?

"Working together has been so easy," both women enthusiastically reply.

Chow and Torres, opposites attract
Chow and Torres, opposites attract

Though the women weren't friends per se prior to this partnership, they were both very aware of each other's work and delighted at the prospect of working together. Despite their differences, doing this show together has had an influence on their respective works.

"With my show, I think I made it more sensory because of Y.E.T.'s (Torres) influence," Chow says.

"I see Lisa's influence on my work as well," Torres explains, "my color palette, especially."

The concept for this collaboration was simple. Torres's dark work would literally and figuratively take over Chow's. For the past week, Torres has been coming to the Spacetaker Gallery and adding elements of her own show into Chow's. Frames have been turned askew, Torres's 3D animals strewn about and the written description of Chow's show has even been scratched out and covered with Torres's collage pieces. Torres is turning Chow's daydream into something of a nightmare, in the most wonderful way. The result is fascinating and a novel concept given the two women's typical fare.

"My work is encroaching upon Lisa's," says Torres, "and every day I will add a little more until it completely takes over." Torres personifies her art as "chasing" out Chow's work. Even her art is bad-ass!

The upcoming tea party is being held as a midway spot before a complete morphing between artists.

"The tea party is the half way point," explains Torres.

Not only will the two works be completely merged by then, but there will also be a literal tea party going on at the Spacetaker Gallery with food, drinks and live entertainment. The two are encouraging tea party attire and a BYOBlanket attitude. If a tea party to celebrate the collaboration of these two polar opposites sounds crazy, then you are beginning to understand how delightfully bizarre the entire exhibition is and will be.

Would the two women do something like this again? "Definitely," they both say.

"Once there was, once there wasn't: Two tales from the minds of Lisa Chow & Y. E. Torres." Afternoon Tea Party (joint reception) with Lisa Chow & Y. E. Torres. July 29, 2012, 2-5 p.m. Spacetaker Gallery at Fresh Arts (Located in Winter Street Studios) 2101 Winter St., Studio B-11. For more information, visit spacetaker.org

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