PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston April 2023

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maiden name — something that was uncommon in those days. For decades, the couple was at the heart of a dynamic, almost familial circle of fellow artists. McConnell and Gadbois, along with many of their contemporaries, were intensely involved in CAA, participating in the museum's then-novel Art Rental Collection program, as well as curating and contributing catalog essays. A signpost for McConnell's renown in the Texas art world is the influential essay "Texas — From Blue Bonnet to Blue Streak,'' published in the national magazine Art in America in 1961. The writer was CAMH's first museum director, Jermayne MacAgy. In the article, not only was McConnell's breakthrough color-field work mentioned as emblematic of a fresh direction in Texas painting, but one canvas inspired the title of the essay: The Time Between, 1959 (now in The Menil Collection). This work features a horizontal "streak" that became a signature of McConnell's work, including her ongoing series of color washes. The period of the 1950s and 1960s was the most vital for McConnell. She was recognized in the annual series of Houston artist exhibitions at the MFAH (now discontinued), and showed in the gallery of its era, DuBose, where the River Oaks set shopped and acquired art. She was also included in the 1959- 1960, 1961-1962, and 1964-1965 editions of the prestigious statewide show "Annual Texas Painting and Sculpture Exhibition," which touched down in major cities and museums including the Dallas Museum of Art and the Witte Museum, San Antonio. In 1976, McConnell began creating in collage — a medium she still practices; these intuitive works on paper also inform and impact her canvases. The 1970s also signaled a reduction in exhibitions and attention for McConnell and Gadbois, even though her painting and burgeoning work in collage had not slowed down. Instead, a new generation was knocking on the doors with the opening of the University of Houston art school exhibition space Lawndale Art Center in 1979, alongside the increasing prominence of her contemporaries — artists such as Dick Wray, Dorothy Hood, and Richard Stout, who rose to define what would be called The Houston School. McConnell and her crowd were sidelined until her rediscovery in the 2000s with the rise of CASETA. The interest in earlier strains of Texas art resulted in McConnell's inclusion in a fresh crop of shows mounted at venues both in Houston and statewide, most significantly, at William Reaves Fine Art, the forerunner of Foltz Fine Art, which placed McConnell back on the Texas art market. Texas Transcendentalist During recent years, McConnell was seen and often pigeonholed alongside the Color Field work of Dorothy Hood. I made that mistake once when I visited McConnell and her late husband at their home, when PaperCity profiled the faux-food sculpture of Henri Gadbois (November 2011). I remarked upon a striking canvas in the living room, admiring it as a work by Dorothy Hood. I was politely but firmly corrected that the painting was by McConnell herself. That's when I became curious about the artist and her talent. Today, signaled by this retrospective exhibition at Foltz, there's a new understanding of her oeuvre, which exists outside of but parallel to the realm of Abstract Expressionism, where a number of reconsidered artists — especially women — are staking a claim. One would argue, however, that McConnell's career, vision, and place in the Texas and American canon of art history is aligned more closely with Agnes Pelton, whose 2019 exhibition "Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist" organized by the Phoenix Art Museum created a sensation when it traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2020. Pelton's dramatic rediscovery and ascent led scholars to scramble among the back rooms of the 20th century to reexamine artists such as McConnell, whose work in "Somewhere Beyond" looks very good indeed and begs the title, Texas Transcendentalist. Yet, as the artist told us about her decades of painting, "I feel like I don't belong anywhere. I don't set out to paint like a certain kind of artist … I would approach the canvas and just work … I don't know where I am going." Leila McConnell, "Somewhere Beyond," through Saturday, April 29, at Foltz Fine Art, The wine room is lined with works by artist friends. On table, a faux food installation by McConnell's late husband, Henri Gadbois. Above, Blue Moon Face (detail), 2014. Leila McConnell 90

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