The Art of Humor: Two Texas Artists Who'll Make You Snort Laugh (NSFW)
A Gary Sweeney postcard.
Humor is one of the most effective methods of communicating a message, but in the art world it's often overlooked or dismissed. Occasionally we see someone just nail it, driving home that the two can be attractive and beneficial bedmates, like at the MAC's recent William Powhida exhibition. Powhida distills the residual spite from his former career as an art critic and titrates it through punchy, colorful lists and Mad Magazine-style renderings. It results in something that doesn't take itself too seriously but still delivers a message. I stumbled into something similar at two different gallery openings on Saturday. That's where Texas artists Gary Sweeney and Clay Stinnett proved that art doesn't need to be stuffy.
At Red Arrow Gallery's opening Saturday night, I fell hard for San Antonio artist Gary Sweeney. Before running directly into his series of woodcut paintings, I found a table scattered with Sweeney's postcards. You could say he's a man of letters, but "a mail carrier's worst nightmare" or a "pen pal's greatest playmate" is more appropriate. This hyper-communicator believes in doing things the old fashioned way: he's mailed more than 20,000 wonderfully-altered postcards in the last 20 years. In them, he slaps on odd bits of conversation, collages, or here at Red Arrow, original paintings printed out on high-gloss cardstock with room on the back for a stamp.
A prodigy! Wood and paint, by Gary Sweeney
When one of his favored recipients, Dottie Cramer, passed away in 2009, her family unearthed 600 of the things. This launched a couple projects for Sweeney. First, a limited-edition book called Post-Obsessive was published featuring several hundred of his greatest snippets of correspondence. Then Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence snatched up the originals for an exhibition featuring "1% of 20,000" Sweeney postcards.
Gary Sweeney post card "Well yes dear, I guess it IS a little like circumcision."
Here's another reason to fall in art love with Gary: He's the world's most thoughtful gifter. His wife of nearly 25 years, Janet Sweeney is a true crime addict. Courtroom who-dunnits are all she cares to read or watch, so for Valentine's Day Sweeney hired famous courtroom artist Gary Myrick to create a rendering of her as though under oath. That soon spiraled into a massive fake court case art series, complete with "hitmen" that Gary Sweeney "hired to kill his wife" and Sweeney himself on trial for Janet's botched murder attempt. If that ain't love, well hell.
At Red Arrow Contemporary you can currently see three of Sweeney's elaborately crafted but simply told works. He drills into a wooden canvas to create his effect, then paints the hollowed-out regions with retro pigments. The end results are hilarious fresh works that look more at home in an era of etiquette how-to's and "Jack and Jane" books. My favorite is this (shown above) untitled work about eight year old prodigy, Dylan-Luke Thomas.