Texas Red Article



Is Texas Red the Greatest Living American Artist?”

by Frank Addison Emory

In 1949 Life ran a Jackson Pollock cover with the question, “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” Immediately afterwards Pollock gave up the drip paintings that inspired the publicity, spiraled into depression and was dead drunk in a car accident seven years later. Pollock was arguably the greatest living painter in that August of 1949 for his large action works but he was unable to survive the accelerating media pressure. To be the greatest of anything in America requires the hide of a rhinoceros, the oblivious nerves of a three-toed sloth and the sophisticated marketing strategy of a Warhol.

65 years later in October of 2014 I raise the question again for an elusive spray painter that is virtually unknown? Could Texas Red be the greatest living painter in the United States? Can any artist be considered the greatest if he hasn’t shown in New York?  Much has happened in the United States since 1949 and the visionary modern artist has been forced into a large palette of adaptations to evade the hype and pump-and-dump campaigns run by art market flippers, brokers and publicists. There’s always room for kitsch of course, with Koons and Hirst luring Russian oligarchs eager to wash more than their rubles and there are always galleries keen to show underserved sectors, like  Banksy counts here. Banksy’s a fine example of the natural adaptation of the serious artist in a vain and return-driven environment.

Banksy’s invisible. He doesn’t give interviews, and appears indifferent to what happens to his work when the spray is dry. His spectacular October 2013 street show in New York was quickly attacked by local spray mobs or spirited away by moonlighting reps from German galleries. 7 million New Yorkers woke to check out Banksy’s latest stencil exploit during the night to see if the proletarian slap in the face was still there. He commands public attention and high auction prices because he’s been working a highly effective Robin Hood survival meme for more than twenty years. The ruse is that Banksy stays in hiding because he’s wanted as a vandal. His populist politics and sophomoric art history humor create a playful distance from the media and the dominant political apparatus that his fans relish and respect.

While Texas Red shares historical and technical elements with Banksy he diverges radically from the strategy of conscience. He’s a Moriarti, dictating the flow of history from his ranch, more the criminal genius than the popular vandal.  He may have started out on boxcars and subway trains watching his Rocking TR tag disappear into the fog, but he’s playing a deeper and more complex cultural game now. He wants permanence. His brand takes over territory. He ignores the correct politics, economics and emphemeral vagaries of the social feed.  His primary target is the soul.. His stencils and impeccably casual spray techniques translate the graffiti aesthetic into strong philosophical and psychological statements about the passing of individual genius.. His captures the apogees of Western Culture as it degenerates into  hive mentality and hysterical conformism. With a contemporary stroke he destroys the self-indulgent post-modernism aesthetic.  His branding is so intensely hierarchic and precise that it  leaves absolutely no room for “comments” or” likes”. With surreal certainty he brands the masters of Western culture and brings them into his shifting corral.   In a postmodern world of celebrity merchants and their fans Texas Red’s irony rejects the relativisms of banal pyschological interiors for the mystical rush of perennial metaphysics.  It’s not about how his paintings look, it’s about what they do. When  he mixes Olympian with Christian gods, scientists with painters, literary characters with musicians. Texas Red is simultaneously avant garde and traditional. His Rockin’ TR brand re-introduces the power of Medieval  icons into contemporary American consciousness and revalues the commodity valuations of contemporary American art.

His basic conceit is substituting the past for the future.  His highly personalized selection of masters, from the cave painters of Lascaux through Nietzsche, Picasso, Marilyn Monroe and Warhol reverses the empty consciousness of the post-modernists by bringing back the real bodies of the Black Madonna, Aphrodite, Blue Jesus and Dionysus in cool SymPop contemplation. Aristocratic, Apollonian distance is Texas Red’s essential style. He doesn’t entertain. He heals and then he kills from distance.  The persistence of his brand is the imposition of his will to determine the future contents of Western consciousness. In his notes to “Franz Kafka” Texas Red quotes the writer who claimed “I am Literature” when he says, “I am Art”. This confidence might seem misplaced to a public conditioned to perceive artists as starving victims of art market hustlers but it accurately reflects Texas Red’s intent. On the grundge train of Curt Kobain, Texas Red refuses to be an art entertainer like Koons or Hirst, or a mirror to postmodern anquish like Bacon or Freud..  His work is savage like a child is savage, eloquent and immediate like the small vocabulary of a infant crying or lovers making love. His Rockin’ TR brand on a canvas conveys more information and understanding  than the apple on your iphone. The phone maker only wants to remind you who enabled your experience, Texas Red wants to improve your experience of life. He accomplishes this trick by  ‘improving’ the masters of the past. In this sense he’s a court painter documenting the rarity and undying beauty of Western individualism.

One curious aspect of Texas Red’s process that  links him  with Banksy is his  use of recycled canvases that he finds in thrift stores. Two concurrent themes run through this dusty landscape.  Texas Red agrees with Heidegger’s concept of Being as Finding— that we often overlook the suddenness and strangeness of Being in favor of mistakenly appropriated ideologies and must find ourselves to be ourselves. His selection of masters to manifests this sense of philosophical finding.

When Texas Red finds a clumsy landscape or horrific portrait in a thrift store he honors its expression by improving it.

When a first version comes out clumsy or horrific he honors his mistake by spraying a new version over it.

For Texas Red there is no blank canvas. Everything comes from something and leads somewhere.

His choice of masters to brand gives strong clues to the personalities that have influenced his thought—Blue Jesus, Picasso, Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles, Plato, Shakespeare, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Rene Magritte, The Star Masters of Lascaux, Black Madonna, Arthur Schopenhauer, Dionysus, Charles Darwin, and Claude Monet are familiar driving forces of Western Culture. Aristippus, The Spray Masters of 5POINTZ, Dessy Cardoza, and a self-portrait  are more arcane selections that require some digging to “find”. For me a list of notables missing at the party would include  Karl Marx. Martin Luther, and Dali, and every Texas Red fan probably has a short list of personalities they would love to see branded..  Postmodernism and kitsch, in their calculated catering to the lowest common denominators of public taste have done much to degrade the function of art, turning it into a kind of derivative pornography that ignores both the past and future in favor of igniting instant gratifications of bizarre and violent desires in the present. One of Texas Red’s contributions to contemporary art is his restoration of time and distance.

Texas Red, in his restraint and classical optimism  is a fascinating solution to the modern maladies of self-fascination, depression and groupthink. His work exhalts the individual and sparks personality in the viewer.  To experience a Texas Red painting is to be taken back to the spiritual and intellectual calm of our core Western tradition. Without honoring the masters of Western culture you cannot honor your own presence in its flow.  All art is a quoting and a rephrasing of hardwon truths about the human condition. The Apollonian cool  Texas Red paintings project is a victory over powerful Dionysian emotions— they reveal alchemic secrets of the Western Soul. Texas Red’s humor is based on a deep understanding of life. Jeff Koons’ humor is based on a deep understanding of the marketplace. Which will prove more ephemeral?

So is Texas Red the greatest living artist?  My favorites are Ed Ruscha, Jasper Johns and Banksy but Texas Red is winning many more new admirers. His historically situated Sympop gives new energy and ideas to the future of American art—a literary approach that can dramatically change the view of the world from something that happens to something that’s improved through art.

A selection of Texas Red paintings can be seen online in the Western Way Gallery, westernwayin.com

Pieces from his “Branded Masters” series are featured  in “The Red Dream” a film by Lawrence Johns and Paul Flum available on YouTube.







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