West Texas Road Trip, Spring 2017
It started when my friend mentioned that Julie Speed was having an open studio soon, in Marfa, Texas, and what seemed like a few minutes later, we were planning a spontaneous, 5 day trip! We had about two weeks before leaving to arrange a place to stay and settle our obligations in Houston. The excitement was hanging over me like a glowing, neon halo and my smile could not be contained.
The day we left, the winds were intense. My little car wanted to jump off the two-lane road numerous times. Still, the drive on 90 west past San Antonio is always breath-taking. The Texas wildflowers waved to us, dancing with the crazy winds, and our hearts drifted in and out through the miles of prickly pear cactus, gnarly mesquite trees, silken, desert grasses and our ever-engaging conversations. We laughed, did a picnic lunch, ate chocolate, stopped for gas and soon the hills turned into those familiar, magnificent mountains. Eleven hours from Houston, we were in Marfa, Texas.
Marfa is always a treat, as it naturally takes on its own, west Texas pace. For me, it never disappoints, if you are open to being a bit more flexible. The only real plan we had was to see Julie Speed, but it is the not knowing what else will come that always surprises, and often with great delight. We were sure we could not top Julie Speed. Her paintings, collages and prints are simply divine. She has a clear hold on any technique she applies, with her intricate, delicate details, and her meaningful stories to tell. She masters her craft, leaving a haunting, profoundly beautiful impression in my memory.
After our visit, we floated away in partial ecstasy, moving towards the Judd Foundation, which is just a small jump from the Speed studio. The wind had picked up to a good 40-plus miles an hour, making the heavy front door of the foundation spin like a child's toy. From Julie's studio, we could see Judd's minimalist blocks stretched out across a large field, nearly in Julie's backyard. We found a few other galleries in town, moving about with hilarity as our hair displayed what it really means to have a bad hair day… but we didn't care.
Another delight was finding the Israeli artist, Naomi Safran-Hon, at Marfa Contemporary. We were shown her technique in a back room, which was such a fulfilling experience to see how she created these mesmerizing pieces. We were told that she takes photographs of war-torn areas where Palestinians were displaced. She strategically cut holes in the large photos and then placed a lacy or porous fabric on the back, allowing the cement to extrude through to the other side. The effect left a hardened texture that played well with the existing image. I don't have a good close-up, and there
really is no doing justice to her work
with words, but simply to say, wow… just wow.
Then there was the New Star Grocery Art Museum on 301 West Dallas. I feel inept as I did not write down the names of the artists in this collection, and there is no website, but they were most impressive works. The man who has collected these artists over the years is equally interesting, Linneaus Lorrette. He was surrounded by his 8 or more dogs who happily followed him as he showed us around. At first, we weren't sure the place was open from the outside, but an Australian Cattle dog ran from across the street to pass us, and then swiftly entered the now open door of the museum. It was Linneaus, who invited us to come in, telling us the dogs won't bite and that he would be happy to turn on the lights for us.
Every wall and some shelving was filled with absolute treasures. Even his mother's paintings, which were mostly portraits of women. The most impressive were carved in wood and painted, then each placed together in a 3-D wall piece to tell a story. There were circuses, presidents, political statements, or combinations of maps, buildings, stairs, plants, animals and people… all colorful, well-crafted tributes. Then there were those amazing masks! They were reminiscent of ritual or ceremonial pieces, primitive yet modern, whimsical and often frightening, but most of all, very well done. Not one was like the other. I couldn't leave without mentioning the light artist… remarkable fixtures of metal and light, some looking like flying saucers, others more like a futuristic desk lamp. They brought a smile to my face.
Alpine & Marathon
We took a day trip, first to Alpine. We looked at art galleries, neighborhoods, land, had lunch and then drove to Marathon. Marathon has a population of about 400 people, and at first, I thought this was a negative, until I really looked around. It is now my favorite place to be. Those stunning views with large stretches of desert to mountains, spoke so dearly to my heart. We also looked at the sweet, little neighborhoods with the many old adobes, some with larger pieces of land and all with those incredible views. I guess you can tell I have a personal interest in this town, and am seriously considering it as a future place to live. We found a couple of closed art galleries, a beautiful bed and breakfast called Eve's Garden, and the small, French Grocery store, which is for sale. There, among all the variety of foods, we discovered James H. Evans photographs on some small cards being sold in the store. The photos were unusually beautiful, consisting mostly of landscapes and portraits. One such portrait showed the suspended feet of two people dancing, which is one of my favorites. I later spent a good hour or more looking at his website, and there I found a portrait of Linneaus Lorrette with his dogs! Also, there was a delightful one of Julie Speed, laughing.
We drove 5 miles down a road to the town park where a river with trees and swimming pool waited at the end, an oasis in the middle of this dry, high desert. We later ate diner at the Gage Hotel, which nearly turned us away as they had 150 reservations for that evening! We got one of the last, first come, first serve, bar tables. I must say, this was a pricey meal, which we would have been okay with, but honestly, the food was not that impressive. Guess we are spoiled dinners coming from so many great choices in the Houston area. We were open to a good time anyway, and being in Marathon definitely of made up for it.
It was a very full day, and I came away with some great photo cards, a pair of earrings, sage, and a small, handmade tea cup. The earrings and tea cup were from the artist collaborative in Alpine, the Catchlight Art Gallery on 117 W Holland Ave. There are quite a few very talented artists in this space from the west Texas area, and well worth the visit. It makes me feel good to buy from local artists, even if they were lower cost items.
Gratitude, Houston & Future Dreams
Five days does not a week make, and two days of this were driving to and from this part of Texas, but it still was enough to enjoy the spectacular views, the inspiring art, the friendly people, and their dogs. I am so grateful to have been able to make such a trip, thanks to my dear, artist friend, Trudy Askew, who made this possible. We both needed this break from the crazy, city life with all its constant traffic and noise. I love being in Houston at this time of my life, as there are so many benefits to living here. I have my loving family and friends, and who doesn't love being an artist in Houston? This is a great city! But I am often weary of the traffic, the crowds, the never-ending humidity and heat, the noise, the dirty air, and the inability to see the starry skies. There are no mountains here, only tall buildings. There is greenery, and for that I am grateful, but we share these areas with 4 plus million others. I am a nature girl at heart. I will be ready when the time comes, to be ingrained in it, enveloped by the slower pace, the one-stop light town, the simpler and beautiful wilderness of west Texas.