review
Austin

Anthony W. Garza

Allison Myers
October 19, 2012

Tiny Park’s recent show of Anthony Garza’s work got me thinking about a collection of jpegs on my computer that I’ve dubbed “Serious Animals.” They’re all things I’ve found via the internet, sometimes through serious photography blogs but mostly from random image tumblrs. Usually in the form of dramatic and theatrical portraits, “Serious Animal” pictures manage to be vaguely anthropomorphic yet also wildly nonhuman at the same time. This is what keeps me looking for them. It’s as if the animals appear on their own terms, though we still seem to have something in common. 

Anthony W. Garza, Southern Moon Ram, 2012; watercolor on paper; 30 in. x 41 in.; courtesy the artist and Tiny Park, Austin.

Garza’s watercolors of animal-object hybrids tap into a similar understanding, where members of the animal world live in a tentative and shifting relation to human experience and human society. While implicated within the human realm, the animals also exist definitively apart from it. Of the three watercolors in the show, the most effective was Southern Moon Ram. Steely-eyed and serious, a bighorn sheep stares out, birds flapping in his tree-branch horns, his mid-section an architectural mélange of a geodesic dome and other semi-lunar forms. The architectural construction is busy and mechanical and contrasts distinctly with the ram’s placid and removed gaze. Without this contrast the painting would have fallen flat and become yet another ironic appropriation of the animal kingdom. With it, however, comes a tension between the self-assurance and presence of the animal and its collision with human constructions.

It’s this tension that carries Garza’s watercolors. It’s also this tension that is absent from the other works on display: pencil drawings of branches, rock formations and horns as well as two paintings of starscapes. Quieter and more contemplative than the watercolors, they’re reminiscent of Vija Celmins’ process-oriented drawings. Like a Celmins, they allow you to revel in the representational force of a well-made image. It’s a pleasure to stand in front of them and trace the modeling of rocks, surfaces and space. Unlike a Celmins, and unlike the watercolors, however, the rock and branch drawings have neither a clear relationship to process nor the powerful dynamism between the human and natural worlds. Their quietness and skill make them successful drawings but the affect isn’t quite there.

Anthony W. Garza solo exhibition at Tiny Park, installation view, 2012; courtesy the artist and Tiny Park, Austin.
 
What does relate the watercolors to the other works in the show, however, is an underlying emphasis on the construction of images. While seemingly born full-formed out of some image-junkie’s dreamscape, Garza assembles the animal-hybrids from found photographs and then carefully transcribes them into watercolor. The seamless amalgam of the watercolor erases the visual breaks common to collage and establishes a form of visionary-reality that is underscored by Garza’s photo-realist style. His drawings of rocks and natural forms, also developed from photographs, likewise emphasize the slow evolution from mediated image to a hand-layered personal vision in graphite. While this movement between digital and analog is a well-used tool in contemporary artistic practice, Garza’s reliance on photographs in this instance pushes us to return to the tenuous relationship between the human and the animal. Where the photograph, with its connotations of objectivity, establishes a direct, documentary tie to the natural world, Garza’s practice of transcribing the photographs and collages mirrors the relationship between our inner experience of the world and the world as it exists outside of ourselves in nature and in other creatures. That is, it points to the simultaneous conjunction and disjunction between the human world and the animal world. Garza’s works, like my “Serious Animals,” function within this split. Bringing the human in contact with the animal and with the vast time-space of nature, his drawings and paintings offer a chance to think about the ways we constantly mediate our understanding of the natural world through our own human-centric framework.

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