Image: Alexis Austin’s Welcome to the Traffic Jam in the Inasmuch Gallery at Oklahoma City Community College, photo by John Selvidge
Does an exhibition need to be consistent in order to be successful? I hope not, because the 31 paintings of Alexis Austin’s Welcome to the Traffic Jam stage an elegant riot against aesthetic unity, presenting a daring cacophony of styles, and materials. The incisiveness of each individual work is sharpened by resisting assimilation to any kind of summative statement.
Austin has written: “I feel uncomfortable calling myself an artist. So I don’t. I paint and I make.” This conviction refreshingly resists branding the artist in favor of directing us to the immediacy of her actual work—its dynamic mix of acrylics, dyes, gold leaf, pools of resin, and occasional corrosive wash of bleach applied to surfaces of linen, muslin, silk, and evanescent tulle.
Despite the joyful chaos, Austin remains a painter’s painter. Celebrating a vibrant color spectrum, her work often recalls Matisse in its figural precision, but just as often her figures bleed off and simmer with the cheery violence of de Kooning or Bourgeois, even Art Brut. Also jockeying for position in the Traffic Jam are confidently realized abstract works reminiscent of Helen Frankenthaler or Gerhard Richter.
Each painting is succinct unto itself, and so this show’s unabashed heteroglossia emerges as a strength, testifying honestly to contemporary experience as multiple, fractal, occasional, and always mediated. To consider just one painting, Austin’s deft layering and effacement in “Possible Self” achieves a simultaneous coming-into-being and erasure of its female figure that stands powerfully as an analogue for this artist at work.
Alexis Austin’s Welcome to the Traffic Jam was curated by Helen Opper and exhibited at Oklahoma City Community College’s Inasmuch Foundation Gallery from August 7 through October 31, 2018.
John Selvidge is a 2018-2019 Oklahoma Art Writing & Curatorial Fellow.