Spring has sprung with an assortment of artwork by Austin’s ever-popular Lance Letscher, on view at Stephen L. Clark Gallery. Many of Letscher’s newest collaged surfaces evoke the season, bursting with imagery from nature’s bounty. Flower blossoms, berries, birds, and trees fill creations large and small.
Fresh on the heels of “Homes & Gardens” a solo exhibition at San Antonio’s McNay Art Museum, and with upcoming shows at Koelsch Gallery (Houston), TAI Modern (Santa Fe) and Tayloe Piggott Gallery (Jackson, Wyoming), Letscher has been very busy.
Very busy cutting, that is.
The prolific artist is conscious of challenging himself to cut the most difficult shapes. The level of difficulty? Think of removing everything around each tiny branch of the thickest foliage on a detailed photograph of conifers, junipers, and cedar trees, some of his latest source materials. He says, “It’s not really a direction per se — but I found a wealth of information on them.”
Letscher spends hours in his studio using mostly a short X-Acto knife and the aid of a giant hands-free magnifying glass at his desk. With years of experience cutting he says, “It’s not really hard for me to cut. But working on something and staying focused for six hours is a bit more of a challenge.”
Of the 37 works in the exhibition, the show’s namesake, and impressively sized (32” x 52” unframed) “Sail to the Moon,” is the most striking example of the artist’s surgical-level excision skills. A pair of incredibly intricate fully rigged sailing ships culled from black light posters anchor the composition, forecasting a sort of 20th century-meets-17th century Baroque style. The curved lines of the boats’ multi-tiered masts are silhouetted against two full moons; flourishing roses and spilling greenery escalate Letscher’s sense of visual ornateness which shows no sign of abating.
Other clever works beckon viewers to interpret symbolic portent or narrative in the placement of iconography (however futilely). “The Map” brims with vintage cartoon illustration including farm animals, dark green foliage and Uncle Remus-reminiscent signposts reading “Yonder,” “This Way,” “Up,” and “Down.” Forcibly pulled around the brightly colored and crowded scene, the eye compellingly navigates it in circuitous fashion. Like a game board, “The Map” suggests the inherent play of the collage medium.
While the audience engages in careful looking, the artist accepts his subjects as non-referential. Visual elements like composition, color, line, and shape can be appreciated on their own terms. In “Purple Garden” Letscher is happy to exploit floral forms in a remarkable range of violet hues interspersed with black and white garden items like lattices, light fixtures, trellises, and tools. The blending of man-made and organic imagery is woven together making a layered tapestry of retro modernity.
In addition to the flat work, there is a substantial selection of the artist’s three-dimensional works in the form of books with collaged covers. These possess a different type of interest. More mysterious and open-ended, they call back to the collages’ origins — the containers from which printed pictures on pages are mined — as they simultaneously ask us to consider their materiality and audience interaction. How do we consume them?
Like Duchamp’s “readymades” the three-dimensional assemblages are manipulated and conceptual, making us question the art object, its definition and status, but also just enjoying just the bulkier form of display.
“Creative Ideas” is a particularly charming book cover collage featuring a swan afloat and single lighted candle intermixed strategically with text. The symbol of beauty and grace (swan) and life and passing of time (candle) allude to the artist’s practice — and perhaps to Letscher’s intuitive movement and placement of form.
“Lance Letscher: Sail to the Moon” is on view at the Stephen L. Clark Gallery, 508 Baylor St., through May 27. Gallery hours: 11 am- 4 pm Thursday-Saturday and by appointment.