Gallery Nord: “Four Emerging Artists”

Mark Cheikhet "Northern Wind"

"Northern Wind" by Mark Cheikhet

Russian-born Mark Cheikhet is a master violinist who also paints, seeking to fuse the arts into something that Wassily Kandinsky called “Gesamtkunstwerk,” or the total work of art. With a palette that conjures Marc Chagall, Cheikhet creates abstract paintings of shimmering colors and vibrating bands of white that he considers part of his struggle for perfection in expression.

“I’m trying out new forms,” Cheikhet says. “Merging classical and jazz music is a real departure for me. I have this idea of using my paintings as the basis of videos that I can project while I play. The trouble with music is that you can only feel it; you can’t see it or touch it.”

Cheikhet is making his San Antonio debut as a painter in “Four Emerging Artists” at Gallery Nord. He was born in Moscow in 1973 and both of his parents were professional violinists. His father played in the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra for 40 years, while his mother was a respected violin teacher. In 1991, he was offered a full scholarship at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

After much acclaim in Texas, he studied at the University of Southern California with Ellis Shoenfeld. While in Los Angeles, he founded the International String Quartet, which performed new works by modern composers. He returned to Russia to study at the Moscow Conservatory in 1995, where he became the concertmaster before graduating in 2000. Since then, he has toured the world, performing as a soloist and chamber musicians throughout Russia, Germany, France, Mexico and the US. Recently, he’s begun performing jazz concerts of his own compositions.

His sister, Anya Grokhovski, is a noted chamber music artist who studied at the Russian Academy of Music in Moscow and was a professor at the Gnessin State College there before moving to the United States in 1989. She settled in San Antonio in 1991, after being hired as a staff accompanist at UTSA, and she now directs Musical Bridges Around the World, which presents classical, folkloric and jazz concerts.

At Gallery Nord, Cheikhet is showing his large abstract paintings with titles such as “Gem Space 11,” “Southern Wind,” “The Howl” and “Ying & Yang.” Working with a palette knife and brush, he creates patterns and textures that evoke crashing chords and invisible waves of sound.

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Phillip King’s “Four Decades with Colour”

Phillip King "Genghis"

Phillip King’s “Four Decades with Colour” continuing through Feb. 12

Blue Star Contemporary Art Center

San Antonio, Texas

Beginning in the early 1960s, Phillip King helped revolutionize British sculpture with his dramatic use of color and non-traditional materials such as fiberglass and plastic in large-scale abstract forms. “Four Decades with Colour” is an intriguing survey of his much-lauded, more than 50-year career that he began as a student of Anthony Caro and assistant to Henry Moore. A longtime professor of sculpture at London’s Royal College of Art, King served as president of the Royal Academy and received the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

This survey ranges from early, geometric tabletop forms in brightly-colored fiberglass to more recent experiments with painted PVC foam, though he’s also worked with clay, wood, bronze, steel and aluminum. But despite his use of brilliant color and highly layered geometric forms that can tend toward the whimsical, King avoids becoming too cartoonish while maintaining conceptual rigor glossed with a fine sheen of intellectual humor.

A giant-size blue fiberglass cone topped with enormous batwings suggestive of a Mongol warrior’s helmet, “Genghis” is a seminal work that was featured at King’s 1968 Venice Biennale exhibit and is still often reproduced in contemporary sculpture textbooks. However, “Genghis” was recently part of an exhibit in China and during shipment to South Texas had some paint scraped off, though it remains a regal showstopper that dominates this exhibit.

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Donna Simon’s Seeing Art San Antonio tours

Donna Simon's Seeing Art San Antonio tours

Donna Simon (left), David Shelton (center) greet art tour

Providing a behind-the-scenes peek at the work of San Antonio artists, Donna Simon, a retired Brackenridge High School art teacher, conducts guided tours of the city’s studios, artist-run spaces, galleries and museums, which she organizes through her Web site at

On a cold day in early December, she led a small group of art lovers on a tour of Jayne Lawrence’s drawing show “Subject Properties” (which closes Saturday, Jan. 7) at the David Shelton Gallery and the Zollie Glass Studio, the working studio for Jake Zollie Harper and Reagan Johns.

“After I retired from teaching, I wanted to stay involved with the city’s art community so I started the tours in 2006,” Simon says. “Despite the amazing art scene we have in San Antonio, I felt there was a strong disconnect between the public and the city’s artists. Most people don’t have access to artists’ studios. And I feel like one of the best ways to learn about artists’ work is to talk to them and ask them questions about their motivations. In many ways, I still feel like I’m a teacher.”

Owner David Shelton greeted the tour group at his eponymous gallery located in a former convent on South Alamo Street in the King William neighborhood, next door to the Liberty Bar. Known for her elaborate drawings and sculptures that often merge organic and mechanical forms, Lawrence was on hand to talk about her work. She said her career as an artist may have begun with her father’s bedtime stories.

“He would ask me to pick three objects or characters and then he would tie them together into a single narrative,” Lawrence says. “So he would take a doll, a lady bug and a Tonka toy and put them into a story. I feel like that’s when I started putting disparate things together to make art.”

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“Chinese Jade” at SAMA

“5,000 Years of Chinese Jade” continuing through Feb. 19

San Antonio Museum of Art

Subtle and intricate, Chinese jade carving can seem coolly aloof and perplexing to Western sensibilities, but “5,000 Years of Chinese Jade” presents a tightly focused, high quality, chronological survey of 89 objects drawn from the National Museum of History in Taiwan, the Smithsonian Institution’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum in Springfield, Mass. Most mysterious are the solemn, minimalistic Neolithic pi discs, made and used by shamans to channel supernatural powers. A 2,500-year-old pendant decorated with undulating dragons is the most spectacular of five national treasures from Taiwan making their U.S. debut. However, realistic animal figures are probably the most endearing works to American tastes, including the Sackler’s famous Han dynasty bear.

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Jeff Williams at Artpace

“There is Not Anything Which Returns to Nothing” continuing through Jan. 8


If a Cro-Magnon somehow obtained an architectural degree, he might come up with the crude, clunky creations of Jeff Williams. Working with non-traditional materials and eschewing the sleek lines of modernism, Williams is presenting proposals for a new kind of ill-conceived architecture. Reminiscent of a pancaked highway overpass, “Tension and Compression (Evans Rd. Quarry/Alamo Cement Co.)” consists of four planklike slabs of concrete suspended horizontally over the gallery floor by threaded steel rod stilts. The bottom slab is cracked, and the concrete is expected to crumble under its own weight and collapse during the exhibit.

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Unit B: Michelle Monseau’s “Elephant in the Room”

Lucky has been anything but. A 46-year resident of the San Antonio Zoo, the sixtyish, female elephant became a cause célèbre for animal rights activists after her longtime companion Alport died in 2007, leaving Lucky alone. Since then, she’s gained a new friend, Boo, but Lucky remains, as she has been since she was captured at age 4 in her native Thailand, a prisoner of man. The zoo refused to send her to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee where she could have had much more room to roam free like she was born to do.

But it was reading “Water for Elephants” that led San Antonio artist Michelle Monseau to use Lucky as the model for her video installation, “Elephant in the Room,” through Nov. 7 at Unit B. Her video captures some of Lucky’s most disturbing behavior, repetitive swaying and head-bobbing, which indicate psychological distress. However, Monseau’s drawings and miniature vinyl elephant silhouettes have a playful quality reflecting the childhood wonder of seeing an elephant up close in a zoo for the first time.

And that’s the trouble with zoos, because it’s hard to abhor something that you enjoyed so much as a child. Besides the chance to see animals in a way no documentary can match, zoos also do important animal research and help to preserve species. Monseau says her exhibit is not intended to make a political statement, though she makes a poignant, humanistic one.

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Laura McPhee: River of No Return

“Laura McPhee: River of No Return” continuing through Nov. 20

Southwest School of Art

In her monumental photographs of Idaho’s remote Sawtooth Valley, Laura McPhee investigates the contemporary reality of the majestic landscapes in the West, reminiscent of landmark paintings by Albert Bierstadt or Thomas Moran. Her approach is decidedly 19th century. For three years, she lugged around a 55-year-old Deardorff 8-by-10 viewfinder camera and used the traditional darkroom wet process for printing each mammoth 6-by-8-foot color print. The scale and breath-taking clarity of the mural-size photographs in “River of No Return” is even better than HD, providing a life-size perspective that places the viewer in the midst of the landscape, though the natural beauty of the rugged mountains and birch forests is besmirched by evidence of humankind.

Calendar-perfect mountains along “Fourth of July Creek” — peaks lit by the setting sun with a picturesque, zigzagging wood fence in the foreground — provide the backdrop for an irritating parade of little red flags lined up to deter wolves from killing calves. A blue tarp covering irrigation pipes intrudes on the same landscape during a windswept Winslow Homer rainstorm. The sun streams through a birch tree grove like a Robert Frost poem, only the tree trunks have been crudely carved with the names of sheep herders.

In the grisliest image, the butchered remains of a Rocky Mountain elk have been strung from trees and stacked on the snow-covered ground. The blood-splattered snow is a graphic symbol of the close connection between man and nature. Though it’s easy for city dwellers to keep nature at a romantic remove, the 100 or so residents of the Sawtooth Valley engage daily in the messy struggle of trying to wrest a living from the land.

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David Shelton: Kelly O’Connor’s “Post-Utopia”

Kelly O'Connor

"Portrait of the Artist's Room as a Child"

Somewhere between childhood wonder and adult disillusionment, Kelly O’Connor is creating a psychic landscape from fragments of familiar movies, TV shows, vacationlands and fairy tales. While she’s been making the collages mined from her childhood pop culture for years, O’Connor’s “Post-Utopia” show at the David Shelton Gallery seems more intimate and introspective, inspired by a photograph of the artist as a young girl standing in front of the Mammoth Terrace Falls at Yellowstone National Park.

With rainbow-colored water, the falls provide the setting for O’Connor’s most complex, three-dimensional shadow box, “Portrait of the Artists’ Room as a Child.” Judy Garland as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” serves as her alter ego. The Scarecrow is surfing the falls, while Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka appears ready to leap using three open parachutes. On a cratered plain beyond the falls, the young girl in “The Poltergeist,” instead of a haunted TV, is kneeling before a silver vortex of six-sided polygons. Cosmetic bottles with clown tops, a lonesome coyote, Shirley Temple and a buffalo roam this psychedelic phantasmagoria of Americana.

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Fotoseptiembre USA 2011

Ramin Samandari's "Gaze Furtively on Waters Serene" at Gallery Nord

A tsunami of  photography exhibits sweeps across San Antonio each fall during Fotoseptiembre USA, a month-long festival that floods practically every museum, gallery and art space in the city with more than 60 two-dimensional shows featuring upwards of 200 photographers. Organized since 1995 by Michael Mehl, festival director, and partner Ann Kinser, festival coordinator, Fotoseptiembre is open to just about anything that can be called photography from the blue chip avant-garde to amateur snap shooters. Taiwan is a special focus this year, part of the Year of Taiwan celebrating San Antonio’s sister city relationship with Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

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Gallery Nord: 21 Centuries of Abuse; Earthly Bodies

Carla Veliz works to repair silk she abused

For 21 days representing all the societal and environmental abuse of 21 centuries, San Antonio artist Carla Veliz beat, scraped, tore, kicked, stomped on and generally tormented a soft, innocent piece of silk. Then she spent another 21 days trying to undo the damage to create “XXI: Who We Are and Who We Could Become.”

The tortured and then revived 16-by-6-foot piece of silk is the centerpiece of Veliz’s Fotoseptiembre exhibit at Gallery Nord, which is also featuring the romantic figure and landscape photographs of Ramin Samandari.

A native of Piedras Negras, Veliz wanted to illustrate the stark contrast between the poverty of Mexico and the prosperity of the United States by showing all the abuse that humans inflict on the planet as well as acknowledging the beauty and joys that life has to offer. “I came up with the idea to purchase a large, raw piece of white silk because of its natural beauty and softness,” she says. “I associate innocence and something being pure and simple with silk.”

She documented the process of abusing and healing the silk in a colorful, lyrical, 21-minute video. She begins by hanging the silk on a tree and then stuffing it with brush. She cuts it with knives. And then she washes it in a metal tub.

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