Fictional 2: Bath House Cultural Center

“Fictional 2,” the current gallery show at the Bath House Cultural Center at White Rock Lake in Dallas, runs through August 6, 2011. The exhibit coincides with - and takes its life from - the Thirteenth Annual Festival of Independent Theatres (FIT) running this month in the Center’s black-box theater.

The City of Dallas’ Office of Cultural Affairs runs the Bath House – a bohemian bunker of culture on the beach at White Rock Lake – along with sister Cultural Centers: Latina, South Dallas, and Oak Cliff.  Some of the best places in town to see great local art.

Here’s the gallery show premise:  artists were given eight plot blurbs (and nothing more) from the upcoming Festival plays as inspiration for their work.  The blurbs were:

  1. A hack writer; fascination with squirrels; a cleaning lady.
  2. Dancing memories of an aging dancer; coming to terms; cycles of life.
  3. Aging lonely drag queen; descending into madness; on the verge of a breakdown.
  4. Albanian chef seeks sexy Bulgarian waitress; a serenade of love through food; singing oysters.
  5. Plane crash; the perfect life lost; light the way to salvation.
  6. Explosion of the myth of the perfect suburban life; 1950s; communicating with outer space.
  7. Two aging Southern belles in a seedy bar; a fortune-teller parrot; avian-induced epiphany.
  8. Coming of age; youthful indiscretions; the power of mentorship.

Intrigued?  I know, me too.  Go to the Bath House to see the plays and enjoy the visual art show afterward.

If you’ve never been to a Bath House gallery show, you probably won’t expect to see the variety of work they hang.  From hobby artists to full-blown professionals, the Bath House is a community place for local artists to get seen.  Fictional 2 celebrates of the work of 40 local artists with an almost subliminal background of soft light jazz for your viewing pleasure.

Talk about a show that runs the gamut of media and surface.  Ohmigosh, in this show alone, I counted the following used to make art:

  • acrylic
  • bamboo
  • board
  • bolts
  • buttons
  • charcoal
  • collage
  • cord
  • digital collage on canvas
  • encaustic wax
  • foam stars
  • fur
  • gelatin silver print
  • glicee
  • glitter (!)
  • gouache
  • graphite pencil
  • hand-made paper
  • ink
  • montage
  • newspaper
  • oil
  • paper
  • pearl
  • photograph on canvas
  • photograph on paper
  • raffia
  • ribbon
  • sand
  • sequins
  • wallet
  • watercolor
  • wire, and
  • wood

As an added bonus feature, that room at the end of the gallery hall is being used as the green room / dressing room for the actors, so my Saturday afternoon viewing of the show was enhanced by actors walking up and down the hallway, some in garish stage makeup and odd costumes.  As one show ended, the excited banter of actors high on performing leaked out of the room as they changed clothes and jabbered about the show.  It was awesome!

Albanian Chef Seeks Sexy Bulgarian Waitress

Matt Bagley

Digital print, collage, handmade paper

In a show this diverse, everyone is bound to find a few favorites.  I really loved about half the entries but I chose just three to picture to convince you it’s a must-see show.

Albanian Chef Seeks Sexy Bulgarian Waitress is a vision of uniqueness that I look for and love in a gallery show.  Artist Matt Bagley has made paper by hand and embedded (stretched?) it on a bamboo and raffia-woven, um, thing for the winner of the most interesting surface on which to work.  On top of this, he’s painted using reds and a pretty dark blue-grey purple, applied a touched-up photograph of a chef, and a really cool foreground digital image of a girl manipulated in a checker-board red and green pattern.  There are singing clams and a Harry Potter–like Griffandor coat of arms here too.  I love the use of texture and the overall shape of the piece and the shadow it casts.

Another work I liked that took a stab at this blurb was Richard Howdy’s Oysters Under Water with his pretty palette of blues and magentas and purples and his fluid ink lines.

The Hack

Cuyler Etheredge

Oil on canvas

Cuyler Etheredge’s painting The Hack takes a piece of one of the blurbs to illustrate.  The color draws you to the painting first and a photograph doesn’t do it justice.  It’s a bright orange shirt on the guy in the forefront, a primary-red McDonalds awing, and the blue jeans, jacket and cap of the three front characters that first grab your attention.  But this painting is an open-ended story.

What is the guy in orange doing with his messenger bag over his shoulder?  Why is the woman facing the other way and what is she smiling at?  (And how mad would she be that the artist painted her butt?)  My original thought was the guy with the blue coat and baseball cap must be the hack – he’s carrying a folded newspaper and got a little black book or PDA he’s referring to.  But now I’m not sure - you decide.  How ‘bout a play based on this painting for next year?

Another artist who used this blurb more literally by including the squirrels and the cleaning lady in a great black and white collage was Melissa Wertz in Two Hours of Untidy Writing.  This piece is a smile-producer with squirrels and a net trashcan complete with balled up paper and cartoon people all applied to the surface.  The interior walls have striped wallpaper made of scotch tape with the word SQUIRRELS repeated on the tape.  Genius!

The drag queen blurb, as you might expect, drew some really great entries.  Who doesn’t love the idea of an “aging lonely drag queen; descending into madness; on the verge of a breakdown?”  Don’t miss Stacy Smith’s entry, Agin’ Lonely Drag Queen or Guinn Powell’s Spiraling Downward for stellar examples of the drag queen theme.

Other work I really liked was Jane Cornish Smiths gorgeous entry Just a Phase, Juan Hernandez’ Golly, Christa Diepenbrock’s Leo and I in an Earthquake, Jeanne Sturdevant’s Eternal Dance, and Debbie Buie’s Lessons. 

My favorite piece in the whole show is this photograph, WWSD – What Would Scarlet Do? by Sharon Neel Bagley.  In the spirit of the theater genesis of the show, looks to me like Sharon got her props and costumes and actors together, traipsed down to Exposition Avenue or some other location of a “seedy bar,” and shot a memorable photograph – two Southern belles, blue eye shadow, leopard print, cute bartender in a wife-beater, Lone Star beer, fortune-telling parrot, tarot cards (inhale!) – ALL under an avian induced epiphany.  A simple girl with a dream.

WWSD – What Would Scarlet Do?

Sharon Neel Bagley

Photograph on canvas

Theater, art, music and escaping the 110-degree temperature outside is a very successful afternoon in my book.  Thank you, Bath House!