Review: Helen Altman’s “clear view” — Talley Dunn Gallery

[Originally published in The Dallas Morning News]


Helen Altman’s work, “clear view,” now at Talley Dunn Gallery, is akin to a feel-good romp in nature. Or to put a finer point on it, it’s a romp in images of images. Interestingly, the artist works from vintage books and nature guides.  She readily admits to living in a house brimming with “older picture books” that she finds “nostalgic” — and they serve as points of departure for a genre of art that smacks of field glasses, cargo shorts and gathered specimens. The whole enterprise works as a much-needed reminder that our minds, when carefully tended, morph into magical places. Ms. Altman offers a fine example of what happens when we carefully curate our imaginations. Put another way: the obverse of “garbage in; garbage out” is “beauty in; beauty out.” What more important lesson is there?

Said she: “I knew the name of the show before I did the work.” For instance, “Fortune Tellor” is a “clear view” of a box covered by glass that you peer through to see pinned [and remarkably realistic] fish paired with flattened red dopplegangers. The latter are toys sold in Asian stores and ostensibly predict one’s future according to how they curl. In fact, when the artist purchased a batch, “(Fortune) Teller” had been mistranslated as “Tellor” and the name stuck. The work adroitly combines childhood innocence, a genuine fondness for nature and a quirky sensibility.

Other pieces include “Royal Palm,” a perfectly rendered acrylic painting of a vintage palm tree that smacks of National Geographic expeditions and exotic flora. It’s what would be at your grandmother’s house if she were both highly intelligent and well traveled. Meanwhile, her torch drawings — including “Bighorn Sheep (looking right)” — are tribal-ish works fashioned from wet paper and a hand-held flame. Ms. Altman notes, “Well, the fire does so much of the work.” I suspect that’s true, but only in gifted hands guided by a mind honed by books, pictures and a genuine fondness for lovely world — made even lovelier by the “clear view” show.


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