It's a shining moment for Texas artists — quite literally: The recently released tome on this state's contemporary talents, Texas Artists Today, is bound between a gleaming silver cover punctuated with an Agent Orange suede cutout title.
Catching the eye of connoisseurs and casual collectors alike, the 260-page art anthology is the brainchild of PaperCity fine arts editor Catherine Anspon. Anspon spawned the idea more than a decade ago during her early days at the publication but it fell to the wayside after she got caught up covering the fervid Houston arts and society beats. Five years later, Anspon connected with power art couple Craig and Tatiana Massey on an airplane flight to Art Basel Miami Beach and the book was set back on course.
Published by Seattle's Marquand Books, Texas Artists Today was a labor of love for the tenacious Anspon. A limited 3,000 books have been printed, each hand-numbered.
"I just started crying, it was so beautiful," she said of her reaction to opening the first box of books.
This was far from a vanity project, however — the proceeds after publication expenses benefit four nonprofits with an arts or medical mission: Lawndale Art Center, Dallas Contemporary, Menninger Clinic Foundation and Beyond Batten Disease Foundation.
"What I find so inspiring about Lawndale is that they've remained so true to their mission of showcasing local artists. That's not only unique among Houston exhibition spaces — it's unique among American cities," she said.
Anspon scoured the state with international photographer Sueraya Shaheen, Dallas photographer Adam Graves and PaperCity photo editor Jenny Antill for inside views of the artists' studios and their work. Tatiana Massey created collages from the artists' portraits and workplace sneak peaks that buttress Anspon's smart, precise essays on each of the 62 represented artists.
The oversize volume spotlights the state's most significant mid-career artists, plus a few rising art stars, none of whom have been previously represented by a major monographic book. Because of Houston's place as the "nexus of all things art in Texas," artists from the Bayou City figure largely, from Glassell Core Fellows Aaron Parazette and Sharon Engelstein to conceptual creatives like Weihong and Molly Gochman. San Antonio-based and Whitney Biennial-exhibited Dario Robleto and Franco Mondini-Ruiz also get their fair share of attention.
The artists have been separated into 17 chapters, including Project Row Houses discovery Angelbert Metoyer in "The Drawing Room," Laura Lark's investigations of femininity in "Gender, Religion, & Politics" and Joe Mancuso's naturalistic abstractions in "Organic Minimalists."
Anspon's passion for all things Pop shines through in the meatiest chapter, "Pops & Post-Pops: The Banalists," which spotlights such mannered masters as Al Souza, Paul Kittelson and Francesca Fuchs.
Just what is it that draws the Pittsburgh native and Rice U. graduate to Lone Star State artists?
"There's an energy happening here. We have such an openness to what's next," Anspon told CultureMap. "There's also something so special to me about being able to visit an artist in his or her studio and speak with them personally about their inspiration. I would take a visit to a local artist to hear her talk about her work over owning a Picasso any day. Because the art I can see beside a contemporary artist — it's so alive."
With over 12 years writing about art in Houston, Anspon has bridged the gap from outsider scribe to compassionate comrade with a slew of local artists — she's happy to rave about her enduring friendship with McKay Otto, for example. Anspon can be spotted at her book signings mingling with these artist friends, and if the supreme smile that she sports is any indication, she's never been more in her element.
She called upon art world comrades Lester Marks for the book's forward and James Surls for its preface. Marks, a noted local collector, has made his mark exhibiting artworks in his home by combining Texas artists seamlessly with those of international acclaim. The intrepid collector isn't afraid to juxtapose Lisa Ludwig with Anselm Kiefer, Paul Fleming and Donald Judd nor Sharon Engelstein with Damien Hirst. It's that appreciation of Texas artists as sophisticated and accessible that's in line with Anspon's vision for Texas Artists Today.
Explains Marks, "They tend to be a rebellious lot ... Nothing is ever too cutting edge for these artists."
What's next for Anspon & Co.? Come December, the team is trekking to Art Basel Miami Beach to fête Texas Artists Today amid the international art world fanfare. If all goes well, they'll drum up some interest in a sequel to the first silver nugget. In a potential next volume, expect more underground artists, spanning from San Antonio, Marfa and El Paso, documented by the lens of photographer Everett Tassevigen.
The current book's eager reception not only points to Anspon's strong voice, but also a coming of age of the Texas art scene. Writes James Surls in his forward, "The artists represented in this publication have taken the vast and complicated framework of what makes Texas 'Texas' and have indeed made it their own. This speaks well of our history — and speaks even better of our future."
Texas Artists Today ($95) is available at Brazos Bookstore.