By Wayne Alan Brenner
Co-Lab Projects' N Space and new HI5H Gallery are invigorating additions to the gallery scene Both highbrows and lowbrows will want to browse these new artspaces
'Row Home' Mark Johnson
Co-Lab Projects' N Space, 905 Congress, 300-8217
Through July 14, by appointment
'Blood, Sweat, & Mostly Tears' Bart Kibbe, Tony Diaz, and Brian Maclaskey
HI5H Gallery, 1111 Chicon, 750-5406
Through June 2
Something about brows here. Maybe about the differences, actual or perceived, between what's called highbrow and lowbrow culture. Maybe about how a gallery's visitor, regardless of such differences, comes to browse what's on display, to enjoy graphic beauty and the inferred efforts of rendering, to gain possible insight into the world (or anyway the artist's world) by witnessing the results of intentional creation.
The results of Mark Johnson's creation look sort of like Peter Greenaway and Will Shortz staged a series of explosions in a type foundry. No, that's a good thing, as evidenced by Johnson's exhibition "Row Home" at Co-Lab's new N Space in the elegant lobby and offices of Nelsen Partners' architecture firm Downtown. Opened in time for the inaugural West Austin Studio Tour, the show boasts several large type-embellished paintings: complex and colorful mixed media works in which painted letters are patterned in cypherlike sequences to form messages on the canvas, message-resonant objects are part of the lexicographical tableau, and actual letter forms often extend on thin rods from the vertical plane to right in your face almost a meter outward. Intriguing and challenging in their arcane communications, the works are also instantly and lingeringly stunning in presentation.
The way those letters branch out from Johnson's paintings is as effective as the way Sean Gaulager's longtime Eastside space Co-Lab is branching out into this new venue, lettering its language of artistic experiment and exploration into a more formal setting. We mean: It's highly effective. It's the sort of thing about which you could imagine the organizers sharing a high five.
You could share a high five yourself – in this case, a visit to the new HI5H artspace brought to you by Austin Museum of Art-Arthouse's graphic designer Bart Kibbe, Tony Diaz of Industry Print Shop, and Squid Ink Kollective's Brian Maclaskey. Here you'd go from the fine art and fancy-office vibe of N Space to a small bare cube of a room on the Eastside, next door to the coffee-pimping, wi-fi-enabled East Village Cafe. But that small cube of a room is now formerly bare; since the HI5H collective took it over last weekend, the space is the opposite of barren, its walls adorned with the results of many hours and hours of printing. (Hint: This show's called "Blood, Sweat, & Mostly Tears.")
Original posters, murals, broadsheets, even a gorgeously designed commemorative zine – whether silkscreened (simply and starkly, or in so many layered colors it makes a mind boggle) on paper or wood panels or otherwise – turn the HI5H gallery's interior into something Frank Kozik might recall from a troubled, beautiful dream. Diaz says the gallery will offer a new exhibition once a month or so with other events – live music, book releases, public floggings(?) – in between.
We suggest that it doesn't matter what level your brow habitually resides at, that a visit to either HI5H or N Space (or, better, both) will invigorate your sense of this city's vibrant and burgeoning visual arts scene. At least, citizen, at least.