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SAN ANTONIO LIGHT
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 26,1984/C5

Casas brings Southwest to life

By KATHY VARGAS
Arts writer

MEL CASAS EXHIBIT
WHEN: Through Dec. 2
WHERE: Koehler House

Comment overheard at the recent opening of Mel Casa's South West Icons show on display at the Koehler House through Dec. 2: "Looking at Casa's paintings is just like having a conversation with him."
This has proven true.
The work has the same zip, the same quick sarcastic wit and bright flashes of color as a conversation with the artist. Even the cool, removed appraisal of the world is there.
Casas is a consummate painter. For him the world of cool colors and warm, repetition and variety, line and shape, form and content are in perfect balance.
An active painting style dominates the work currently on display - Jackson Pollock contained. Drips and line work alternate with flat color areas. And for balance there are areas in which the paint is thickly built up and resembles modeling somewhat in the subtle shadows created by the layering of the paint.
For the most part the energetically painted subject of each canvas is centrally located on a flat turquoise field of color. A verbal equivalent for the visual statement is stencil-lettered on the bottom of each painting. And flat areas of black painted around the edges of the work serve as rest stops for and points of detachment from each piece. These black areas also refer to the artist's previous "Humanscapes" series, in which the black edge referred to the TV screen - an aloof distance from which to view the world.
Throughout the work an air of interested/disinterested observation pervades: interested enough to comment, disinterested enough to comment coolly. Some of the paintings can be comprehended immediately, too quickly; others tend to be more enigmatic, and take more time.
Among the quickest images to digest are "S.W. Image" in which a giant jalapeno fills the turquoise background; "Pinto," in which a giant pinto bean takes centerstage, and "Texano," in which a giant black cowboy hat dominates the turquoise and white backdrop, a brightly colored hatband, thickly painted, adding extra interest. While these pieces are quick-witted and bring a chuckle or a grimace, they are the most readily left behind.
Almost as quickly seen are those pieces done mostly for the sake of form rather than content. "Texas Popcorn" shows us giant kernels of puffed-up and buttered popcorn that seem so large they almost spill off the painting. Along the lower part of the canvas, smaller kernels of popcorn, "normal size" are presented. Obviously these smaller kernels never made it to Texas.
The idea of giant, Texas-sized popcorn is quickly comprehended. However, the differences in the handling of the paint with its built-up surfaces opposed to flat surfaces, as well as the juxtaposition of tiny, well spaced kernels on a turquoise ground to gigantic kernels that totally cover any background there might have been, lead the viewer to linger before the painting longer than the time needed to understand the content. Here form wins and saves the day as it does in "Pico de Gallo," a multicolored tribute to that spicy salad. The colors and the treatment of surface in this painting are such a formal delight that the title subject serves only as a wonderful excuse for the joy of paint.
Much of the work in the show falls into a comfortable middle range in which form and content work together to provide a sarcastic sideways glance at the Southwest.
"Texas is Colorful" provides the viewer with a close-up look at an absolutely demented, multicolored longhorn complete with colorful cow chips. "S.W. Stamp" presents a repetitive yet slightly varied stamp pattern almost a la Andy Warhol, but with more of a "hand-painted" character.
Overall the formal application of paint to surface in Casas's work is excellent. However, weaknesses occur when the anger is hinted at in sarcastic asides and is diluted by a too-quick comprehension of the content or a too-cool assessment of the situation that first provided the inspiration. That work in the exhibition which requires a longer time for absorption is more gratifying than the quick hit.

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