balancing acts

Sculptures by Steve Murphy and paintings by David Aylsworth are on display at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas through Feb. 26.

Murphy, Aylsworth exhibits challenge viewer perceptions at AMSET

With sweeping lines and curves, and a song or two, a pair of artists challenge perceptions of space and balance at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas through Feb. 26. Steve Murphy’s “It’s All Come Down to This,” and David Aylsworth’s “Either/And,” play off each other perfectly.

Murphy’s sculptures and Aylsworth’s paintings complement each other, not least in the sense of play evident in the works — and the fact that each man draws from song lyrics for the titles.

Sculptures by Steve Murphy at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas

Groves-native Murphy was originally a painter and studied at Lamar University — mainly to avoid the draft, he said. When he was given a high draft number he dropped out.

He later returned to Lamar to study art with Jerry Newman before attending the University of Houston where he was mentored by John Alexander and took a class with Richard Stout, graduating as an abstract painter featuring color field paintings with hash marks.

He worked for a company making scale models of ships and buildings. Using those skills, he began building models of visual puns — “People didn’t get it.”

Eventually, he moved to sculptures based on geometry, in which he tries to change the proportion and twist the normal view of the piece. Ironically, he originally planned to study engineering but switched to art to avoid the math. Now he said he uses math regularly in his creations. He draws a shape he likes on the computer in two dimensions, then translates it to a three-dimensional model.

The pieces are seemingly static, but they push the line of balance — like they are either about to move or have just finished moving, and look as if they are on the verge of falling over.

The cluster of three vertical wooden sculptures — “It’s Not Going to Stop,” “What You Expected?” and “As Real As The Dream” — rise from the ground like stalagmites, while the curves of oxidized steel pieces such as “Willful Suspension of Disbelief,” are inviting with their warm red hues.

Murphy said draws his inspiration from magazines, but not by simply browsing the images. He will look through them upside down saying that once gravity goes away, the shapes reveal themselves.

The titles relate to song lyrics which have multiple levels or meanings, which he draws from a file he keeps. There is a lyrical quality to the works with their seeping curves, yet there is also a slight tension in the balance. Murphy said he likes for people to bring their own ideas as to the meaning of the piece — and the more poetic the object, the more people bring to it. Ideally, he said, the objects are familiar and easy to look at, but are intriguing at the same time.

David Aylsworth’s “Either/And” features thickly textured paintings features lines and shapes that are suggestive both literally — in that they seem familiar — and figuratively — they are suggestive in their sensuality.

“Undulating Hips” is reminiscent of Robert Motherwell’s “Elegy for the Spanish Republic,” but the colors are softer than the stark blacks of Motherwell’s masterpiece.

Paintings by David Aylsworth at AMSET

While Aylsworth eschews links abstract expressionism, the similarities are evident in the signature piece of the exhibition, “Catholicism, Pasta, and Pornography.” The image is large with broad strokes and drips. Reflecting the sensuality of his work, it is reminiscent of a reclining figure. The title, as with much of his work, is taken from a song lyric, in this case from the musical “Nine.” Aylsworth said he is a big fan of Broadway musicals.

“Aflame With Gay Anticipation,” named for Andy Williams’ song “Sherry,” echoes late-career Franz Kline, with large brush strokes and swaths of color built in layers. Aylsworth’s work is carefully built layer upon layer to convey depth.

The curves of “Invisible Like Gravity” resemble a collage of cut up feminine figures reclining, while “Totally Invisible” is like a Mark Rothko with clean edges suggesting a desert horizon.

There is a sense of fun and whimsy in play in the exhibit. During the gallery talk, Aylsworth said that sex and body parts occupy his brain, but that he is drawn to landscapes. The works reflect the push and pull of those influences, with the figurative being both in and of the landscapes. Through the underpainting and scraping, the paintings reveal their history and it is important that the viewer see what is going on, Aylsworth said.

The works are a visual feast of color, richly textured with depth that entices the viewer into the image.

Like Murphy, Aylsworth pushes the forms to their limits, often seeming “off balance.” He said the paintings walk the line between being graphic but also off kilter. The work needs to be natural and spontaneous without appearing to be so. In many of Aylsworth’s works, the floating, shifting shapes defy gravity, which makes his paintings the perfect companion exhibition for Murphy’s sculptures.

The two shows are a perfect complementary pair. The artists echo each other in some of the shapes they use, but they also represent a slightly skewed view of the way we see things.

“Steve Murphy: It’s All Come Down to This” and “David Aylsworth: Either/And” are on display through Feb. 26.

AMSET is located at 500 Main in downtown Beaumont.

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Story and photos by Andy Coughlan, ISSUE editor