30 November 2023 – 3 February 2024
Opening: Thursday, November 30th, h. 18
Adrian Landon Brooks
Esther Pearl Watson
Bruce Lee Webb
special guest Tom Russell
idea by Antonio Colombo
curated by Luca Beatrice
Classic movies have nicknamed it The Giant, because after Alaska is the largest of the United States. In the collective imagination, Texas is associated with cowboys and deserts. But for a number of years now, the state is also seen as the new frontier of American art. Private foundations have been formed, great architects have created remarkable buildings, collectors have multiplied, and the art scene is particularly lively, ranging through mainstream tastes, above all in the area of minimalism, but also alternative paths of research that reveal the region’s true spirit of curiosity.
We should remember, in fact, that American alternative culture stems from a very particular tradition that completely bypasses the European avant-gardes of the early 1900s, reinterpreting characteristic forms for which the new generations conduct interesting studies and investigations, starting from a simple question: how to combine styles and languages only marginally observed in official channels with the many forms of “outsider” culture of the present?
Much has been written today on the vitality of Texas. Austin is considered the capital of live music; one of the most important contemporary writers, Cormac McCarthy, who died a few months ago, set his most famous novels in Texas, like come All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men. The literary scene has produced the explosive Joe Lansdale, and Philipp Meyer, author of the “new western” The Son. At the openings of exhibitions, it is normal to come across the actor Ethan Hawke, born in Austin, or Wes Anderson, who comes from Houston.
After having explored at length the art of the West Coast, the focus of Galleria Antonio Colombo shifts into the heart of America, with an exhibition titled Texas Tornados, referring to the supergroup active since 1989, which works on the modernization of the Tex-Mex style, contaminating country-rock rhythms with the so-called Norteño approach. Here lies the key of interpretation of this very lively relationship with the tradition of folk and outsider art of the 20th century, crossed with the usual world of cultural contaminations that has represented the gallery’s poetic signature over the years.
The artists participating in Texas Tornados are nearly all showing for their first time in Italy, or even in Europe.
Adrian Landon Brooks was born in 1983 in Houston, studied at the San Francisco Art Institute, and currently lives in Wimberley, Texas. He calls himself a “muralist,” and in fact he has made various wall works, also for large companies like Facebook and Google, for the most part in Texas. The murals enable Adrian to explore forms, colors and compositions on a larger scale with respect to the works he paints in his studio. He works with painting and illustration, using carefully selected supports like logs of local wood, old photographs and antique objects collected over the years. From the experience in California, he says he has been influenced by the art of Barry McGee and the Mission School era. He reworks traditional folk art on the themes of love, sin and redemption, not without a certain personal mysticism that transcends notions of race and creed. Adrian has shown work in galleries and museums all over the world, and his creations have been featured in magazines like Juxtapoz, VNA and Art Mag.
Sophie Roach was born in Indiana in 1988. She is a multidisciplinary visual artist who uses familiar models and forms, and her own intuition, to create a unique visual language based on spontaneity and rhythm. She began painting murals in the city where she grew up, Austin, in 2013. Since then she has made large-scale works all over the States and abroad, also collaborating with international brands like Hermés, PayPal, Facebook, Google and Starbucks, among others. The themes of her wall pieces stem from her practice in the studio, where she makes intricate paintings and drawings. Assigning priority to intuitive signs rather than previously planned projects, her colorful abstract output sets out to reflect the diversity and repetition of a garden, a city or a song – all things that are reconciled with their inner forces. She finds inspiration by thinking about models of order, growth and destruction of our shared languages, in the constructed environment and the natural world. Sophie’s work combines abstract style with a taste for contemporary graphics. In her large murals, it is as if the painting of Paul Klee has met with traditional American illustration, in a union between geometry and visionary worlds.
Esther Pearl Watson was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1973. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles. Her paintings are strictly autobiographical, based mainly on the pages of her diary, recent events and childhood memories, reflecting an extraordinary background and an unusual family life. Esther spent a large part of her youth in Texas. Her family was always pursued by her father’s obsessive dream, as an almost visionary scientist, of building a functioning spaceship and selling it to NASA or to Ross Perot. Her artistic style has roots in the early years of her career, when she realized that her best source of inspiration was her own life. Esther has shown in important international galleries like Maureen Paley in London, and at international fairs such as Art Basel and Frieze London.
Bruce Lee Webb was born in Waxahachie, Texas in 1966, grew up in a context of love and religion, and then developed an interest in the occult.. An only child in a world of faith, he approached art by way of Sunday school decorations, old books and folk art brought back from his years as a missionary in India. Together with his wife Julie, he lived for several years in Dallas, where he studied the Hobo tradition, updating it in the world of skate and punk culture. The Webbs then moved to Waxahachie and opened a gallery in 1987, now joined by another shop in Fort Davis, Texas, featuring native arts and crafts, folk sculptures and hobo artists. Bruce’s works are a diary of what happens in his mind. His ongoing artistic research is often related to the world of the so called “Americana” music. He prefers the character of old canvases, feed bags or ledger paper, recording his thoughts in simple ink drawings.
Adam Young comes from the riverside communities near Lake Charles, Louisiana, where he was born in 1986. He lives and works in Austin. Adam has a deep bond with wood, inherited from his carpenter grandfather. His poetics, starting from his college years, has roots in the natural universe, and he has been influenced by the presence of artist colleagues whose work has inspired him. Adam’s creative process begins with his affinity for words and quotations, which he combines with texts and images on his works painted on meticulously crafted wooden panels. His work serves to remember the hidden code with which to discover the joy and goodness in the world.
The guest star of Texas Tornados is Tom Russell. Born in Los Angeles in 1947, then a naturalized Texan, he is a cult figure in the world of alternative music, the greatest living folk-country singer-songwriter according to the critic John Swenson. Since 1976, parallel to his songs he has developed a passion for painting and literature. With a degree in criminology, he has written a book of quotations with Sylvia Tyson, a mystery novel and a volume of correspondence with Charles Bukowski. Described as a modern-day Hemingway, he authored memorable songs, often set in the borderlands of Texas, such as Gallo del Cielothe story of a disgraced farmer who steals a one-eyed fighting rooster (rooster born in heaven) who won it all, until he met Zorro… or Blue Wing, the tale of a tattoo and the convict who wears it on his skin. Desperados, outcasts, losers, adventurers are the protagonists of his variegated tableau of humanity.
According to Monte Hellman, director of the legendary anti-western The Shooting, a primitive tension exists in Russell’s music and art, while the writer Annie Proulx has spoken of his restless curiosity and violent imagination. Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti says of him that his style represents the meeting of Johnny Cash, Jim Harrison, and Bukowski. During his long career as a musician, he has worked with Lucinda Williams and Calexico, among others. Luigi Grechi, the brother of Francesco De Gregori, has translated some of his pieces, and De Gregori himself has performed Angel of Lyon by Russell, on the album Per brevità chiamato artista (2008).
Tom Russell has shown work in museums and galleries in the United States, Canada and Switzerland, and his works have been acquired by the El Paso Museum of Art.