Don’t Mess with Texas

At Nathan Larramendy Gallery in Ojai. Shows through November 30.

Libby Black's "Back in the Saddle Again."

Although mention of Texas conjures images of cowboys, cattle, and conservatism, the Lone Star State is also host to a noteworthy contemporary art scene, generally unconcerned with stereotypical Texan iconography. The seven Texas-affiliated women artists featured in Don’t Mess with Texas infuse their works with a playfully provocative and firmly female exploration of culture and identity.

“Back in the Saddle Again” gives more of a nod to consumer couture than cowboy culture. Libby Black mounts an Herms dressage saddle, Gucci reins, and a Prada saddle bag atop a Louis Vuitton valise, all painstakingly reproduced in paper. The resulting sculpture encourages viewers to question the true value of luxury goods and our obsession with high-end fashion.

Zo» Charlton’s provocative drawings depict voluptuous female figures who are the proud masters of their own sexuality. An erotically charged, highly discomfiting piece from her “Undercover” series portrays a black woman with rouged cheeks, blue eye shadow, and a Klan hood, suggestively lifting her sheet to reveal lime green panties, lace-cuffed anklets, and high heels.

In Laura Lark’s personal narrative, “Illuminations: Campers I,” three silhouetted kids surrounded by ’70s-inspired psychedelia stand with their backs turned, and Francesca Fuchs’s massive, mural-like “Kitchen” confronts the viewer with an imposing representation of the traditional woman’s domain.

Amy Blakemore’s lugubrious, painterly photographs are shot with an inexpensive, low-tech camera, which lends a grainy quality to images such as “Dad,” a faceless portrait of her father in his hospital room minutes after his death. Light seeps in the window, but none falls on his shrouded body or folded hands. Manipulating images of a single model in Photoshop to construct an evolving relationship story between two women, Kelli Connell creates photomontages that explore the notion of truth in photography, as well as the social constructs of sexuality, identity, and the duality of self.

Skewering consumerism and the impact of the conglomerate invasion on small business and the environment, Virginia Fleck incorporates flimsy plastic shopping bags into her kaleidoscopic “Liberty Mandala.” Intertwined with suffocation warnings and eerily prescient slogans such as “Things you thought had gone forever” are book jackets from Of Mice and Men and Gone with the Wind. Googly-eyed smiley faces cut from Wal-Mart bags leer from the center, surrounding a shopping bag-toting Statue of Liberty.


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