Heyd Fontenot

Art Palace, Austin

Through March 11, 2009
by Lauren Hamer

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      Heyd Fontenot
      Detail from Ten Books/Ten Portraits, 2009
      Courtesy the artist and Art Palace Gallery, Austin

      View Gallery

      Half-drunk and ten deep, the crush of the crowd at the Art Palace opening is the perfect way to enjoy seeing familiar faces rendered and exposed (naked) in Heyd Fontenot's paintings and drawings. Not surprisingly, I quickly run into a friend. “Last time we talked, I think I had your ex-girlfriend confused with someone else,” I remark to said friend. “Oh yeah? With who?” he replies. “That girl.” I turn and point and we both look, just to our right, at Fontenot’s useful illustration of the latter. The misrecognition is quickly righted, she is certainly not the ex-girlfriend in question. But like all the locals illustrated by Fontenot, she is depicted dead-eyed and square-jawed, nipped at the waist and barely more than an outline. The important bits are granted a gentle swell. But the nudity here is of no personal risk to the kindly modeled subjects (all of whom hail from the Austin art scene), nor is it the source of the crowd’s mild titillation. Rather, the subjects’ familiarity creates the fantasy of a cast of characters, each playing a role as a member of a ‘scene’—an art scene of as little substance as the empty pastel spaces the characters occupy.

      When Fontenot's works are compelling, they are tender, as I found several of the smaller monochrome works to be. A work in red watercolor of a boy retains something of its subject. Another of a woman’s head plays up the fish-like spread of her mouth and flared nostrils. Her image is more than simply recognizable: it begins to hint at some psychological depth. Reviewers consistently remark upon Fontenot’s cartoonist style, which here I find to be consonant with both early 90s Disney heroines and a kind of post-Barbie plaything popular with kids these days. A combination of mild provocation in pose and gesture with a reassuring bodilylessness, these kewpie dolls with pubic hair have the tits and dicks to prove they’re not babies. But neither are they particularly human. They all sport a blank, come-hither glance that could belong to an adorable deer or an hour-glass cartoon. In fact, a small cast of mild deer and elk and dogs accompany Fontenot’s pouty subjects, but animal or human, they all look out at you just the same. Both nubile and sexless, plump and adorable, they are anonymous and then suddenly familiar. “Oh, no,” my friend replies, “my ex, she’s on the wall in the other room.”

      Lauren Hamer is a freelance writer and graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin. She's particularly interested in the intersection of art and architecture with regard to early avant-garde movements, critical theory and contemporary practice.

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