Austin artist B. Shawn Cox’s latest take on Americana and nostalgia is on view now in “BOUFF! The Big Tease” at Davis Gallery. The exhibition includes paintings on canvas and printed fabric, as well as paper sculptures and other media.
Many of the pieces focus on hairstyles of the past as a window to another time.
“Primarily it’s more related to iconography tied to my mother instead of my father,” says Cox. “So instead of the Marlboro Man cowboy, which is closer to my dad’s iconography [that featured in previous works], Mom was more of a high school beauty queen.”
High hair is front and center in a group of pictures based on 17th century portraits of Marie Antoinette and her enormous powdered bouffant. They aren’t paintings, but lenticular images. These “kind of cinematic” pieces change when seen from different angles.
“Do you remember Cracker Jacks flicker stickers?” Cox asks. “Where the little bee or the butterfly’s wings would move as you tilt the image back and forth?”
His lenticulars use the same technology, but are much larger: 40×60 inches. “As you walk by, you get to see different images of the concept,” he explains.
Cox makes these by uploading three or four composite images to a company in New York that produces the final piece. There’s an element of chance in the process, he notes. “You don’t exactly know what you’re getting until you get it.”
Other works in the show feature bold, faceless, color block portraits on canvas that emphasize the subjects’ hairstyles. Cox says his parents were high school sweethearts, and these “anonymous portraits” are based on photos from his father’s high school yearbook.
“They include my mother and people [with] the hair that I thought had interesting shapes and made interesting forms, and I have anonymized it by deleting the faces off of them so they could be anyone,” Cox says. “[T]his crazy bouffant hair … was very much this means to standardize society, which I think is this fascinating concept.”
For another group of portraits, Cox stretched printed upholstery fabric over canvas for a background. It’s also an evocation of family.
“The fabric backgrounds add pattern and for me it’s context,” Cox says. “I had a grandmother that remodeled — I think as soon as the paint was dry, she started her next project. It was a constant change and a constant remodel. And for me, the floral patterns, that resonates with that vernacular as well. Some of them are vintage. Some of them are right off the shelf.”
Cox says he also used oil pastels and oil sticks on these pieces, “to get more of the mark-making and sketching idea,” noting “my undergrad [degree] was in architecture, so sketching and drawing is a big part of my creative process.”
Perhaps his architecture background also played into Cox’s three-dimensional paper sculptures.
“I wanted to do something or create something that transformed the media itself, because we use it less,” Cox says. “You know, I use a Kindle more than I use paper, although I really love the feel of paper.”
And the papers Cox uses for his sculptures are special.
“They do have a very — for me, it’s a quilty feel. … They’re very tactile, and especially the older papers are fascinating, atlases and dictionaries. It comes loaded with its own meaning and understanding for whoever it’s resonating with, and then I’m transforming it into something else.”
After practicing architecture for a few years, Cox went to law school. He is still a practicing attorney, he says, but is mostly focused on art these days.
“I never stopped arting, though it was always on the side. And then, in the last couple of years, it kind of just took over,” he says.
“It’s been both frightening and amazing.”
“BOUFF! The Big Tease” continues through Feb 25 at Davis Gallery, davisgalleryaustin.com/.