Gladys Poorte’s art expands into several dimensions


Compulsive doodlers among us will recognize a kindred spirit in the paintings (and even sculptures) belonging to Gladys Poorte.

The Austin artist (by way of Argentina), unlike the common scratch-pad scribbler, professionalizes the genre with fully realized worlds populated by fanciful objects of her own design. And the resulting work, on view at the Davis Gallery through Dec. 6, looks, if you can picture it, as if Salvador Dali were a video game designer assigned to early aughts Mario Bros. games.

But the starting point for Poorte, whose past credits include a 2009 Texas Biennial nod and shows at D. Berman Gallery, is absurdly more work-intensive than a few sketches.

Her interest in creating these mysterious scenes began with still-lifes, she says, on the phone from Argentina, where she’s visiting family. Looking at the finished product, dried flowers and the like, she decided that “they were like little alternative worlds.” That idea took hold.

In her new show, a co-billing with Austin’s Hollis Hammonds called “Constructs,” Poorte paints landscapes of futuristic shapes, springs, gears set either on a wide, nondescript plane or in an eerily-lit room that resembles a theater’s backstage.

The flights of imagination are most satisfying when Poorte lights a hidden corner of the scene in a mysterious golden glow. Point of view, she says, is equally important. “Sometimes you’re seeing (a scene) from above, sometimes from eye level.”

There’s a lot for the viewer’s imagination to play with here. And it’s a pleasant surprise that Poorte’s visions extend into three dimensions, with a whimsical sculpture and a diorama buried inside a box, which is only visible through a series of fisheye lenses.

With the box, you move around, from one window-lens to the next, tracking the scene of fantastical objects each time from a new vantage point. Finally you get the vision of a futuristic home, complete with an architect’s fantasy stairs, “floor-to-ceiling” poles bearing little flags, and conical chandeliers.

Are they decorations? Do they hold some untold ritual purpose? That’s up to you to decide, but in the meantime, you have the experience of simply peering inside this little private world, which is, to coin a phrase, really neat.

But how Poorte creates these little worlds is surprising: She makes them in real life.

“It’s like drawing with objects,” she says, of assembling these scenes, which she calls “sets,” in relation to their imaginary narrative. “It’s as if something is about to happen.”

Some of the figures are found objects, like the piece of a coffee maker that found a home inside the box. “All of a sudden it becomes something else,” Poorte says.

What cemented this process was a stage design class at the University of Texas. She was already making models, but the class gave her a more formal understanding of how it worked.

“Typically when you design a stage you can only see one side,” Poorte says. But in the case of the box, “it is as if you had a house and all of the rooms are interconnected,” through-designed with the entire scene in mind.

“I never paint from photographs,” she says. Instead, she makes objects that seem to match the feeling she’s trying to create, and then decides on the right scale and perspective and paints them on the spot. Generally once the painting was made, Poorte would disassemble the set.

Luckily Poorte has now put them on display for the first time, in a sculpture, and inside the box.

It turns out that the scenes that make up her paintings (some of which are rather large), are made up of shapes that are really quite tiny. In the sculpture, cascading platforms are linked with a curious ladder that doesn’t quite reach the ground. This one began as a painting, Poorte says, but “it seemed to me it would work better as a sculpture than a painting.”

Some of the objects inside the box have made their way into paintings nearby, so you can see, more or less, how Poorte ended up with a painting from the 3D objects themselves, as well as the imagination and scene-staging that went with it.

Poorte says fantasy artist Hieronymus Bosch as well as ancient Chinese landscapes informed her practice early on, and you can certainly see hints of that here. The story is just left to your imagination.

Also on view at Davis Gallery are the clustered yet somehow ordered drawings of Hollis Hammonds. Guitars, cars and whole buildings are sucked up into her recreations of imagery from tornado damage that’s recently scarred the midwest.

Hammonds also has a swirling mixed-media piece in a similar vein, using the curves of wood veneers to nestle in with household objects.



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