Saturday, May 16, 2009

Review: Is Graham Mears the most stimulating painter in Shreveport? Exhibit of his mixed media work continues at Artspace, 710 Texas

Huge, crusty canvasses with ginormous animals and hunky humans leering at you, pretty much ready to chat - or spar - with you. That’s what I see in the mixed media work by Graham Mears on display upstairs at Artspace Shreveport. I think it’s the best show around and that Mears is the most stimulating painter in Shreveport.

Some 15 years ago I saw some of his paintings at his house - Mears seems a totally low-key artist, not a promoter of his work - and they were large, politically-charged, collaged paintings that had a graffiti vibe.

Last year he showed a confrontational, amused red rhesus in part of a group of animals at an exhibit at Turner Gallery, Centenary College (he teaches art at Centenary). It was apparent that the intervening years - he and his wife and children lived in England, his home - had been good ones.

The current show at Artspace bleeds buckets of color. The canvasses measure about 5 feet by 6 feet.

Artist Tama Nathan points out, “Graham’s work is fun to look at. He has a wry sense of humor and a great sense of art history. When you combine the two, you have a wonderful piece of art.”

Mears’ impasto paintings somehow remind me of modern Pompeiian murals. They evoke Peter Bruegel’s version of peasant life. There’s the riotous texture of Jackson Pollock, the surrealism of Max Ernst.

Steve Ross, of Los Angeles and Shreveport, says, “I love the color and scale and the collage quality of his pieces. When you spend time revisiting them, they reveal so many different layers. They have meant something different to each person I’ve talked to. It’s really dynamic work.”

Fun erupts from Mears’ beasts: a rhino, a luxuriously extinct dodo bird, a heffalump, a camel-like figure. In fact, the beasts outdo the humans.

Nathan adds, “He has a good sense of anatomy and you know that he has control of the figures and shapes that he’s working with. It’s almost a narrative; you can do your own story on Graham’s art.”

Eyeballing the canvas gives the viewer another landscape. Much of the structure is provided by magazine clippings. Paint flows over and under the pasted elements. There are places where the paint build-up is volcanic.

His exhibit is called Adam and Eve in the Garden of Earthly Sunny D’s. Of the exhibit he wrote, “Adam and Eve in their grounds with birds and animals. The two carefree characters are images taken from sixties sun and health magazines mixed with art historical references and a few quick still lives. Awkward marriages of humans in nature, figure around relationships that are alone, silent and content. Sun and health, sin and shame.”

Mears was born in Buckinghamshire, England, in 1965. He has an MFA from the University of Alabama. Tuscaloosa, and a BFA from West Surrey College of Art and Design, England.

He is represented by Little Shanty Gallery, Shreveport.

The Artspace show has been given an extension. Megan Clark says she expects the show to remain at Artspace until the end of May.

Please see more photos of his work at Shreveport Faces.

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