Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Symbolism and Turducken

Heyd Fontenot artist talk at Conduit Gallery, Saturday, July 11, 2009

After a brief introduction by Nancy Whitenack, owner of Conduit Gallery, Heyd Fontenot (pronounced hide font-in-o) began taking questions from the audience. The artist’s easy-going attitude kept the conversation light, even when discussing serious subjects. His muttonchops and blue southwestern shirt with white embroidery was an appropriate compliment to his casual delivery. Many aspects of the artist’s life and art were revealed in the dialogue, beginning with his childhood on a farm in Louisiana.

Heyd Fonenot talked about his early rural lifestyle, part of which meant taking care of livestock. Early on Fontenot developed an affinity for the farm animals, especially goats. His bond with goats remains intact today, though in Austin he is far from the rural setting of his youth. The artist pointed to the tarnished reputation of the goat that he had once bonded with, citing the transformation of the god Pan in the pagan world into a demon in the Christian world as an example of how perceptions shift in time. Fontenot discussed the shift as symbolized in his exhibition with a shoulder mounted silver leafed gazelle, transformed with a beard made from a flokoti (Greek rug) into a goat.

Gluttony was pointed to as another aspect of rural Louisiana life, particularly when it came to food. The marvels of the Turducken were discussed at length. For the uninitiated, a Turducken is a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken. I have been told that it originates from royal renaissance cuisine. Today it has a more down-home quality. As Fontenot remarked, “If anything is against nature, it has to be stuffing animals one inside another until you can’t fit anymore.”

Ribbons and plaques mounted on the walls with stars, feather plumes, and mounted animal heads point to a commemoration of rituals past. The artist discussed his devotion to the Roman Catholic Church growing up. Eventually he broke from the church at the age of 22 because of the conflict he felt between Catholicism and his sexual persuasion. The importance of symbolism in the religious relics of his formative years resurfaces in his current work. Portraits on wood panels are assembled as though they are altarpieces and point to the artist’s religious conflict through use of pagan symbols.

There is a lot of figurative work in the show, both painted and drawn. The figures are contra-mannerist with child-like proportions; yet, they maintain the feel of an adult body. Working with friends as models, Fontenot takes photos that he uses later for the finished work. The artist said that the abstracted figures were born of an opposition to portraits of a more academic appearance.

Fontenot began outlining the high points of his artistic career by talking about an early installation at Lawndale Art Center in Houston, Texas, that was important. That show helped him find gallery representation in Houston. A move to Austin, Texas, in the 1980s was also an important step in the artist’s development. Today, Fontenot exhibits across the country, including Art Palace in his adopted home of Austin and Conduit Gallery in Dallas, Texas. Heyd Fontenot’s current installation at Conduit, titled “Get Your Wood On,” consists of work completed within the last 14 months. “Get Your Wood On” closes Saturday, July 18, 2009.

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