A show at Presa House gallery titled Four Rooms is one of the more immersive and unconventional exhibitions the small Lavaca district house gallery has hosted to date.
This show, like many of the shows that Presa House owner and curator Rigoberto Luna has put together since opening the gallery in October 2016, pairs San Antonio artists with artists from outside the city. In this exhibition, San Antonio’s Audrey LeGalley and Lauri Garcia Jones share the space with Jennifer Arnold and Alexandria Canchola, both based in Corpus Christi.
Luna praised the art he sees coming out of South Texas, specifically highlighting the Rio Grande Valley as a burgeoning art hotbed but one that has trouble supporting and providing platforms for all the talent it holds.
Having spent time building relationships with artists and curators in Corpus Christi, Brownsville, McAllen, and elsewhere, Luna said he has noticed considerable parallels between the art being made in San Antonio and the art being made around South Texas.
He said he likes giving artists from these cities opportunities because he knows that “San Antonio artists have tons of places here to show their work,” but that artists from the Valley, for instance, may have fewer opportunities.
“There’s a lot of good artists in these other cities that are young and want to get out of their city a little bit and it’s exciting to be able to give them a platform for their work,” he said.
As alluded to in the exhibition’s title, Four Rooms, each of the four artists in the exhibition was given a room to transform. It was an idea that grew out of a 2018 conversation Luna had with Arnold, who had the idea of creating an entire room in one of the rooms of the gallery.
Arnold uses a method called “canvas peel,” a proprietary process that she devised to create two-dimensional, life-size photographic images.
Her room is a deeply personal meditation on loss as a visually experienced reality. Using flat photographic representations of common bedroom items – like clothing in a closet, wall fixtures, and furniture – Arnold said she hopes to let viewers in on “the pain and then resilience” of her personal journey through divorce, specifically the feelings associated with being suddenly abandoned.
The flat representations are intended to leave the room feeling drained of air and of life, as Arnold found her home the day in 2017 that she arrived at the dwelling to find her husband of 16 years had packed his things and gone.
Arnold hopes that viewers will appreciate the unique process she uses in her work and also grasp the “really sad story” she is telling in public for the first time.
In stark contrast to Arnold’s room is Canchola’s brightly colored and richly detailed recreation of a woman’s bedroom rendered in meticulously painted and precision crafted cardboard. The space is meant as a contemplation on the narrative ability of personal items and artifacts: from records and books to family portraits, from bedding and the particular arrangement of a desk to a favorite program on a television screen.
In this exhibition, “objects and places are more vital than the figure, they share equal weight in capturing the essence of a character,” Canchola said in an artist’s statement. Through the focus and attention paid to the objects in the room, “the work intends for the surface to become a ‘subject’ of its own and in doing so take on the fascination one typically reserves for the figure” or character.
LeGalley’s room, the gallery’s hallway, is adorned with vintage wallpaper and the artist’s porcelain reenvisionings of sentimental wall decor commonly found in family homes, particularly frames.
For LeGalley, whose work frequently focuses on “stripped down domestic installations,” it is a rare opportunity to show in an actual domestic space.
Her work here seeks to “remove the structural and supportive qualities of an object” and leave “an idea and a shell — creating narrative and communicating anxious histories.”
In a subtle way, LeGalley said, she hopes viewers are “reminded of home, of the way that time stands still … and are reminded of the things that are painful and beautiful – and the way that those can be so intertwined within families.”
Jones’ room, the most whimsical and otherworldly of the four, is overtaken with intricately strung-together canvas pieces painted with fantastical, surrealistic imagery.
Working without the aid of sketches, Jones said she paints freely, drawing on her subconscious, and that any narratives within the work are created by the influence of her own visual histories.
“Painting on such large surfaces is humbling,” Jones said. “It’s something that you have to put your whole body through – not just your mind. Because of this, I am able to better understand the relationship between myself and my work.”
Ultimately, Jones looks for viewers of her exhibit to “walk away with the idea that there is a place in art for things that allow us to forget about the real world issues around us, rather than highlighting them.”
Luna said he selected these artists because he wanted each room to employ different mediums and imply different moods. He also noted that this show represents one of the most drastic changes to the rooms of any exhibition that Presa House has hosted.
Four Rooms will be on view by appointment through Feb. 27.