Lawndale's The Big Show Doesn't Disappoint

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For 30 years running, The Big Show at Lawndale has been treating Houston to an exceptional collection of local works in an effort to entice art lovers and put the spotlight on undiscovered artists. This year's efforts continue the tradition of offering beautiful artwork from a variety of mediums.

The show, which opened on Friday night, features 115 different works from 106 different artists. The selection was juried this year by Erin Elder, the visual art director of Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe. Elder had her work cut out for her. A total of 981 works were submitted by 382 different artists. They don't call it "The Big Show" for nothing. The exhibition is certainly large and widely varied. I was hard-pressed to find any two artists whose work overlapped in style, which I appreciated.

If there were any common themes, it may have been the idea of the "selfie," which showed up in several pieces. It's odd to think about the "self-portrait" taking on a more technological viewpoint, since it is as old as art itself. It's difficult to even express the difference between the traditional self-portrait and the "selfie," save linguistics. The selfie just feels more egotistical in some respects. Whether this was intended by the artists of The Big Show or not, it felt that way.

Kia Neill's photo montage "Selfiempowerment," for example, is a picture of the artist (presumably) in digital form. Her eyes and forehead are covered by what can only be described as a heavily made-up rendering. Her eyes, adorned with neon blue coloring, look as if she has just stepped out of some dystopian future. The layering of facial images gives her the appearance of scars, which makes the image strikingly disturbing.

John Slaby's oil painting Selfie, similarly, tends toward narcissism. A superbly rendered lifelike piece, it shows the artist as a never-ending continuum. The image of his face covered by a cell phone repeats over and over and over, like a mirror looking at another mirror. It is quite commanding as an illustration of society's newly found love with pictures of itself.

In terms of commonalities in mediums, multiple artists incorporate found objects into their work, a trend that's been growing in contemporary art in the past few years. I love found pieces as a part of something new. It's a way to mesh timeworn objects with the present and in doing so can give the impression of a connection to the past. An example of this, and perhaps my favorite piece in the show, is Torie Shelton's "Wonder & Curiosity." Shelton has placed various "curios" in a large antique cabinet. The objects, some found and some created, are otherworldly. In addition to glass baubles and such, Shelton has created merged-animals from felt. There is a bat/deer, a kangaroo/giraffe and, the one I wanted to steal, a frog/hippo, aptly named a "frippo." The entire piece is as fantastical as it is engaging.

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Patrick Renner's "Specter" is another found piece used to craft something original. Renner has painted over a found piece of wood but this new coat makes the piece look as if it came from an earlier time rather than its 2014 creation date. It is a faded relic from yesteryear.

Of course there are many "traditional" pieces that also stand out. I was caught by Leslie Roades' "Pinkscape," an oil painting of a pink sunset inhabited by a flock of distant birds. The painting made me want to find wherever this location might possibly be and immerse myself in it.

Carrie Green Markello's acrylic piece "Super Cell," a painting of a young boy in Superman pajamas playing with an iPhone, also grabbed me. While it may not be a "selfie" per say, children and smart phones are of increasing relevance in our culture. It made me slightly sad to see this young boy so engrossed in a piece of technology (she said as she snapped a photo of the painting with her own phone).

As an entire collection, The Big Show does not disappoint. It is a lot of art, which tends to be overwhelming, but nonetheless, worth spending the time to take it all in.

The Big Show runs through August 9 and is free.

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