The past month has been spent completing a series of three paintings that have been commissioned to hang at the University of Houston’s Victoria branch. I really love to celebrate the cultures and landscapes of Texas and these three works are meant to do this for the region around Victoria, a city with deep Tejano roots on South Texas’s coastal plain.
The Edna Theater opened in 1950 as the flagship of the Long Theater Corporation. Seating a thousand people, its capacity actually exceeded the population of the town it was situated in, about thirty minutes outside Victoria. Nevertheless it operated successfully for nearly four decades with its breathtaking blend of Art Deco neon signage and mid-Century Modern building. This was made possible by the unprecedented prosperity of the post-war years, felt even in rural south Texas.
This theater needed to be seen at night and offered an opportunity to play with deep darks as well as brilliant bright colors in a typically impressionist approach to vibrant light.
The Lavaca County Courthouse, Halletsville.
I found this courthouse fascinating from the moment I first saw it several years ago. Built in 1897, it contains a lot of features I celebrated in a 2015 painting of Sam Houston State University’s late Old Main building, lost to fire in 1982. I really suspect the 1892 building by Alfred Mueller, then Texas second most successful architect, had a significant influence on this design. Grand courthouses like this exploded across the landscape of this region and all of Texas in the 1880s and ‘90s.The surface texture of the rough-cut limestone was so powerful a part of the image that it seemed wrong not to make the surface of the painting reflect it almost literally. It was fun, then, to contrast that with a feathery and loose presentation of the sky.
Depot on the Macaroni Rail Line
The three of these works are intended to hang as a roughly square unit, and I had wanted to have a painting that would emphasize the wide-open sky typical of so much of the coastal plain. Since this piece needed to be about seventy-six inches wide to fit the format it worked out wonderfully. Another characteristic of the economy of the region is its reliance on grain agriculture. This means the landscape is periodically dotted with what, at a distance, looks like skyscrapers in city centers. In fact, most such facilities are grain elevators and dryers, almost all of which lie alongside rail lines.
This, too, was a painting that begged attention to the textures of the world it depicted, from rail ballast, to grasses to trees. But I also got the opportunity to toss in a little stylistic homage to Edward Muegge (Buck) Schiwetz 1898-1984, whose career has been an important inspiration to much of my approach to the chronicling of Texas landscape and culture. His skies frequently bore a glaring sun. I couldn’t resist the chance to play a chord in his honor.