by Annette Carlozzi, photographs by Gay Block
Don’t look for anything too far reaching in 50 New York Artists and 50 Texas Artists. Quick visual primers, they are the latest in a series; the West Coast and Northwest have already been covered. They offer a fast hurtle through the chaotic landscape of late 20th-century art, with pictures of the artists and their work and a page of quotes apiece. It’s not unlike those dizzying, superficial half-day tours of foreign capitals. The reader, too, occasionally needs rescuing from the artists’ confusing jargon, yet editor’s notes are nowhere to be seen. Of the two, Texas Artists, with a thoughtful introductory essay by Annette Carlozzi, director of the Aspen Art Museum, is by far the juicier. Lone Star artists—the state is experiencing an art boom—are a colorful bunch. Some, like Melissa Miller, who paints leopards and tigers, and narrative artist Vernon Fisher have made it out of state. Certainly the Texas gang is a gabby, spirited lot. Take social satirist Peter Saul, whose paintings convey a sickening post-pop atmosphere. “I hate ‘good taste,’ ” he says. “It makes me puke.” Neo-Western painter Bob Wade, who “as a young buckaroo used to sit on the lap of my second cousin Roy Rogers,” today thinks big. Wade produces mythic emblems of the Lone Star State, including a 40-foot-long giant iguana that perches atop the Lone Star Cafe in Manhattan.
The artists back East, interviewed by Richard Marshall, an associate curator at the Whitney Museum, are more familiar—Willem de Kooning, Louise Nevelson, Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist among them. In some of Marshall’s too reverent interviews, there is a deadening note of self-importance. There are, though, a few revelations. Jasper Johns reveals, “In my early work I tried to hide my personality, my psychological state, my emotions—I sort of stuck to my guns for a while, but eventually it seemed like a losing battle. Finally, one must simply drop the reserve.” Eric Fischl, who paints adolescent boys eating fire and masturbating in swimming pools, intones flatly, “For me, painting is the process whereby I return my thoughts to feelings.” The portraits by Robert Mapplethorpe, mostly head-and-shoulders close-ups, lack vitality. It seems a strange omission on Mapplethorpe’s part not to show the artists’ hands. In contrast Gay Block’s photographs of the Texas 50 convey a much livelier sense of the artists in their world. (Chronicle Books, paper, $18.95 each, hardcover, $35)