Lonely are the Brave

Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, San Antonio

Closed August 15
by Wendy Atwell

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      Justin Boyd
      Opening night performance, Lonely Are the Brave
      Photo: Justin Parr

      View Gallery

      As a curator and an artist, Hills Snyder plays a shaman-like role, offering awakenings. He fulfills this expectation yet again with Lonely are the Brave, a show he recently curated at Blue Star. The art by Jesse Amado, Justin Boyd, Kelly O’Connor and Chris Sauter is mostly installation-based, theatrical and complex. Snyder writes in the exhibition notes that his own touches are “not artwork as such but tweaks by the curator,” yet this trickster charm is part of Snyder’s careful generosity. He drops clues like breadcrumbs, enticing viewers to explore the art like a forest in a long-ago fairy tale.

      One “tweak” is the Sage & Squirrel (2009), a folksy living room where viewers may sit and watch the 1962 movie that inspired the exhibition’s name. Filled with vanitas items (“Death wearin’ rappin’ Hamster cap; Snagglepuss, even”), it is a jumping-off point and a site of enrichment. A bookshelf next to the recliner offers titles that further the dialogue, a physical bibliography of supplemental reading.

      In the movie, Kirk Douglas stars as Jack Burns, a displaced cowboy who attempts to brave a frontier that no longer exists. Burns’s relationship with his horse symbolizes the sense of freedom and the unknown lost to the new boundaries of the West.

      In the large gallery room just outside Snyder’s viewing nook, Justin Boyd projects a loop of one significant scene from the movie against the wall. It is Burns attempting to escape from the law; to the left, the words “Promised Land” appear in mirror image. This serves as a backdrop to a signpost with broken bailing wire hanging down from it, once connected to the “Promised Land.” Boyd cut the wire, which he had used as a conduit and source of the sound, on opening night at the end of his sound performance. Replayed on a monitor, this eerie, shrill sound taints the area like a wasteland.

      A close-up of Douglas’s face captures the actor’s ability to channel bravery against impending defeat. Amado’s swags of multi-colored fringe are perfectly situated to mourn Burns’s loss with all of its allegorical implications. Draped across an 11 by 54 foot wall, the decadent, ceremonial material is held up with map pins and adorned with golden bubbles and silhouettes of gesturing hands.

      Sauter cut various-sized holes out of a plywood reproduction of his childhood bedroom. Outside, the blank plywood walls appear riddled with large bullet holes. But inside, the empty holes become simulations of stars in the night sky, transposed against the furnishings, which include books like Mysteries of the Ancient Americas. A telescope, built out of the round pieces cut from the walls, stands in the center of the room, pointed towards the stars. This wondrous, magical space stands as a testament to the expectation, mystery and excitement of discovery, and recalls another frontier: childhood.

      In O’Connor’s Mirror Magic (2009), a large, black mural is painted on one wall, and from multiple points in the painting, colored yarn stretched across the room like prisms. The scene sets viewers on the other side of the mirror from childhood’s synthetic fantasies. Disney characters, painted in dripping black, stare dumbly through O’Connor’s painted mirror.

      Wendy Atwell received her M.A. in Art History and Criticism from The University of Texas at San Antonio.


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