Sunday, March 1st, 2009

San Antonio, Texas: Marcia Gygli King: forty years

Spontaneous Combustion
Southwest School of Art & Craft,
January 29 – March 29, 2009

Botanical Paintings
San Antonio Museum of Art
January 29 – April 12, 2009

The Culture Series
University of Texas at San Antonio
January 28 – March 1, 2009

Marcia Gygli King Botanical Series 6: Carlina;.  Oil on canvas, 67 x 91 inches.  Collection of Clear Channel Communcations and Nancy B. Negley.  Images courtesy of the artist
Marcia Gygli, King Botanical Series 6: Carlina;. Oil on canvas, 67 x 91 inches. Collection of Clear Channel Communcations and Nancy B. Negley. Images courtesy of the artist

A large and diverse exhibition, Marcia Gygli King: forty years highlights the artist’s originality and perpetual ability for renewal. Laying focus on the unique and somewhat disparate developments throughout Gygli King’s career, the exhibition is in three distinct sections each set in different locations throughout San Antonio. To many, San Antonio may seem like a remote town mostly known for the Alamo and its rough-and-tumble past, and, also, an unlikely location for a retrospective. Yet, upon a recent visit, I found a robust art community full of involved participants and high-caliber work. Marcia Gygli King has roots in San Antonio and still spends part of her time there, thus it is an apt site for her retrospective. Although the location lends insight into some of her paintings, Gygli King cannot be regionally pinned-down for her work evokes a far more collective experience. Oftentimes eccentric and theatrical, Gygli King’s work ultimately provides intimate portrayals of the human condition through, often, poetic metaphors.

As the title of the first section Spontaneous Combustion—at the Southwest School of Art and Craft—suggests, seen here is the ignition point of Gygli King’s career.  Including early series (mostly acrylics on paper) done in both New York and Texas, Gygli King’s subsequent artistic interests can be traced back here. The Texas Tree Series (ca 1970s) are the earliest—and most representational—works in this section and foretell the natural metaphors found in later pieces. Texas Tree with Wildflowers # 3 (ca 1975), depicts a reductively elegant tree built with layers of garish, almost fauvist, paint colors. Azo yellow, spinach green and fiery red are ubiquitous, and, although unnatural, are entirely emblematic of a Texas summer. The trees’ palette—paired with their gnarling limbs and gestural tops—imbue them with a similar energetic intensity as the flowers of the laterBotanical Series (ca late 1990s).  Moreover, Gygli King does not simply record or abstract that found in nature, she infuses joie de vivre into these otherwise quotidian subjects.

The later series included in Spontaneous Combustion are from Gygli King’s early years in New York. Contrasting the vibrancy of the Texas Trees in the adjacent gallery, and, actually, the subsequent works in the exhibition, these works are minimalist and starkly subdued. In these pieces, such as New York Series – Khaki # 2 (ca 1985), a predominantly khaki-and-black palette seems to reflect her shift to an urban environment. White, textural rhoplex dots also appear in these series and throughout later works. As the artist states, the dots both relate to Mexican Día de Los Muertos imagery and also the mundane, repetitive work seen in a factory from her studio window in SoHo. Furthermore, these imperfect, repetitive dots also subtly convey the cyclical nature of everyday life and the passing of time.

Selections fromThe Botanical Series (ca 1990s) are installed at the San Antonio Museum of Art in a cramped gallery. The paintings are flat and convey spontaneity, due to the artist’s technique of painting directly on Plexiglas and then pressing the canvas to create the works. Inspired by nineteenth-century botanical prints by John Thornton and the lush garden Gygli King inherited in a new home, flowers prevail here as a metaphor for the rapid successions and fragility of human existence. Contrasting the lush backgrounds and precise rigidity of Thornton’s engravings, Gygli King’s paintings, such as Carlina (1997), are expressionistic flowers set against white backgrounds. Like Texas Trees, these works are instilled with energy and movement, yet in some of the works, black voids are added and relay the transience of both botanical and human life.

Culture Series: The Internet 2006.  Oil on canvas, 104 x 114-1/2 inches
Culture Series: The Internet 2006. Oil on canvas, 104 x 114-1/2 inches

Gygli King’s latest work, The Culture Series—at the University of Texas at San Antonio gallery—includes sizeable, theatrical narrative paintings that move in two trajectories: intimately mournful portraits, and genre scenes proclaiming the pitfalls of contemporary life.Cappie (1997), although a large and brightly hued painting, intimately depicts the artist’s mother on her deathbed. Surrounding flowers run parallel to the mother’s portrayal as all are vibrant, yet wilting. Many of the Culture Series, such as The Internet (2006), forebode present-day perils. Here, blank and daunting faces peer out of the painting and at the viewer as if a computer screen. Babies are being carelessly passed around, and, like Francisco Goya’s Black Painting, Saturn Devouring His Son (ca 1819 – 1823) a father figure in the background is consuming one. Although this series is the most visually complex in the exhibition, the correlative themes nuanced in the other series are forcefully presented here.

While Gygli King’s regenerative approaches are demonstrated in each section, the fundamental commonalities found throughout her oeuvre communicate the sincerity of her work. However, Marcia Gygli King: forty years erroneously omits her more sculptural works seen throughout her oeuvre that challenge and obscure the boundaries between painting and sculpture. Because her originality and experimental approaches are highlighted in this retrospective, these works would have been beneficial in further communicating her ability to continuously push the boundaries.