It takes an hour and 20 minutes to get from the Museum District out to “the country” where Kelly Alison lives and paints.
Today Alison is set up with a proper studio, but back in 1985 when Barbara Rose visited, she was still painting in her barn “The barn didn’t have doors,” recalls Alison “and my husband’s cows came in there and stood around as if they were looking at the paintings.” The thought of those cows nosing up against the preeminent New York scholar and art critic is sweet.
Why did Barbara Rose drive down to Brazoria County? She was co-organizing the exhibition “Fresh Paint: The Houston School,” a seminal survey of the work of 44 local painters at the Museum of Fine Arts. Though stylistically diverse, certain common threads ran through their art, Rose asserted, such as expressionist tendencies, color intensity and audacious attitude, even if like John Biggers, the artist came from somewhere else, or like John Alexander, moved to somewhere else.
During its run at MFA and then in New York, “Fresh Paint” caused brouhaha among art historians and critics who debated the fact of a regional art movement. “Fresh Paint” made Alison, the youngest artist to be included in the exhibition, an art scene star. She was in her 20s.
Alison is now 50. She still paints the outrageous neo-expressionist satire that got her included at MFA. Since that time she has shown in museums in China and Peru. An exhibition of 30 of her newest paintings is opening at G Gallery on May 3 and will run through June 4.
“Blood Money” is naughty. To create it the artist researched how many times the US government propped up a genocidal dictator since she was born — 40! Too much to address in one painting so she focused on East Timor, Cambodia and Nicaragua.
Pistols and hand grenades surround a Cambodian dragon, East Timor’s Indonesian goddess and a ghoulish skeletal allusion to Nicaragua. Drippy blood gestural passages intensify the chaos.
Dominating the composition are the cartoony video game character, “Mario,” representing the American everyman who works and pays taxes, and Monopoly’s Mr. Money Bags, a frequently employed motif who throws out dollar bills and missiles. Spread through the fracas are creepy looking Uncle Sams that aim pistols directly at the viewer.
One inventive trope is repeated in other paintings in the exhibition. Sheets of collage form a background to the work’s acrylic and oil painted figuration and abstraction. This paper was ripped from sketchbooks and university Philosophy and History class hand written notebooks. By presenting written text and sketchy imagery, condensed to the point of absurdity, Alison is echoing the assault of media and today’s unsparing virtual world.
The painting “Tada” similarly probes our global mess. Shadowy burka covered figures float among missiles and guns. Shooting cowboy dudes caricature imperialist aggression while a hubristic Mr. Money Bags appears as head of state.
Forgoing political commentary is the triptych “Continuum” which presents stylized plant and animal imagery inspired by the Nazca lines. According to Alison “Continuum” is metaphysically driven. Meditation on Nazca and Peru’s other mystical possibilities heightened her awareness and directed her to a spontaneous stream of conscious approach to collage placement and brush work. Feeling on the verge of accessing something significant, universal knowledge or inner truth, “I tried to be almost worshipal,” Alison said. “letting my skin go into it, I had this state of mind in some weird way, you could almost say it is some kind of prayer, focusing on the natural pattern that everything follows. I felt it calling me.”