Our virtual Literary Tours take us to literary and artistic destinations of all kinds. This time, we meet young artist Rex Hausmann and his Max-a-mal Exhibit (October 2013-January 2014) at The Cody Center on the grounds of Laity Lodge retreat center near Leakey, Texas.
Wearing a black hoodie and black pants, Rex stood next to a giant canvas named “Fill (2013).”
To my untrained eye, “Fill (2013)” looked like nothing more than a rectangle of white paint outlined in black and red, with a small black dot towards the center. A foot-long vertical line of black paint cut through the bottom right quadrant. I looked forward to learning more about contemporary art directly from the artist.
Rex impressed me, wanting to make his art “cordial, approachable, friendly, [and] obliging,” while recognizing “[i]nevitably, there is the painter, and the intent…Then there is the viewer and their past. In that dance there is is a lot of space—and like the Cheshire cat says [to Alice], ‘If you only walk long enough,’ you will get to where you are going.”
Our group walked with Rex through the rustic wood door to view two years of expressive intent: works so diverse, one viewer asked whether the same artist had painted all these pieces.
Launching our Literary Tours
Our tour began with four small, unframed paintings on paper. The first: a roaring lion and its flowing mane. In the next paintings he gradually deconstructed the lion until the fourth canvas was almost blank except for three orange dots lined up on top of each other and a black curved line.
The next painting, “Donut Space Port” (formerly a Nieman Marcus window display), overshadowed me with its playful exuberance of vibrant colors on an 8’ high x 12’ wide canvas. In the center: a giant, bright-pink donut. I recognized the cartoonish tiger (which represents Rex’s brother) wearing a helmet in the bottom right corner. Before I could fully absorb that painting, we moved to another high-color impact canvas. The word “Dannon” stood out on the right.
One of the public’s favorite pieces: “Pink Donut,” is a sculpture made of a radial tire painted to look like a pink glazed sprinkle donut that leaned against two more stacked tires painted tan. For the white, blue, red, and yellow sprinkles, he used wood dowels from his father’s wood shop.
Rex asked what “Pink Donut” made us think of? One person said, “Fun.” I agreed. Another confessed his little girl had climbed onto the tires. Rex smiled.
Rex’s “JIMMY GREEN’S BAGEL BOX” (the title appears on the painting all in caps), depicts a flying bagel, revealing his love of New York. He says he writes a little story on the back of each painting, so he took the canvas off the wall to show us. He set the painting on the gleaming golden-honey wood floor, looked at it, and declared he would leave it there, its backside facing up.
In another section, three giant silhouette cutouts of international toys hung on large canvases—a first glimpse at his minimalist art. One toy, from China, is often mistaken by Americans as Garfield the cat. Rex observed that each viewer’s past influences what he or she sees in his art.
Minimalist Abstract as Poetry
For his final collection of paintings, named “Stupid, Humble, Ego Paintings,” he utilized negative space and white paint. He began with ten different shades of white paint then changed the white in various ways, such as mixing in water or clay, creating more than 50 different shades of white. Rex explained that for these “spiritual” paintings, he used “ridiculously expensive linen,” instead of canvas.
One man jokingly referred to painting “# 1” as a giant whiteboard; in response, Rex said to look close and see different textures on the “whiteboard” portion of the painting. I noted, too, the single horizontal orange line in the middle of the beige below the “whiteboard.”
Rex said his minimalist abstract paintings illustrated a quote from writer John Cage:
I have nothing to say
and I am saying it
and that is poetry
as I needed it.
Rex wants viewers to engage with his paintings and create their own dance. With that in mind, I studied “Momento-more.” Beige linen dominates most of the painting, which has white paint in the upper left corner and ends in a cut-out silhouette on the diagonal. “Momento-more” reminded me of a women’s side profile. When he created the painting, Rex thought of a skull.
These paintings differed from his earlier bright, whimsical, action-packed paintings in style, use of color and material. With the paintings he described as “spiritual,” I felt at rest.
He ended our tour by highlighting “Untitled (fill),” painted almost entirely in white and hung above the black grand piano that sits in the Cody Center. A close inspection revealed three charcoal-grey strokes toward the center of the piece. This level of minimalism is new to me, but I longed to stay seated and stare at those three charcoal-grey strokes, set in that expanse of white.
Images by Kyle Martin. Used with permission. Post by Dolly Lee.
Browse our virtual Literary Tours that take you to writer’s residences, libraries, museums, galleries, and historical locations.
Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In January, we’re exploring the theme Doors and Passageways.