“Carlos Donjuan & Marilyn Jolly: Akin” at grayDUCK Gallery

In this two-person exhibition, some of these things are not like any others

Wayne Alan Brenner

Austin Chronicle

March 4, 2016

This “Akin” is a two-person exhibition of work by Marilyn Jolly and Carlos Donjuan. There’s a connection between the artists, and there’s a connection between their art. The artists: Donjuan is a former student of Jolly’s at the University of Texas at Arlington, and now both are part of UTA’s visual-art faculty. The art: Well, yes, let’s consider this.

Jolly has a variety of things displayed on the walls and on a pedestal or two and even set to roll across the planks of grayDUCK Gallery’s beautiful wooden floor. You’ll recognize them instantly as art. They’re not imbued with the precision, the built-to-please slickness of graphic design; nor are they recontextualized readymades whose success relies on displacement and a collusion of cleverness between artist and audience.

Jolly’s creations don’t exist to facilitate anything but their creator’s impulse to express herself via their making, and they strike your reviewer that way – as representations of nothing so much as themselves: objects composed of various surfaces marked with paint, with fabric, with swatches or blots of various media. Abstrac­tions with subjects implied but unlikely to be accurately inferred. “This probably meanssomething,” a viewer might think. “Damned if I know what, right off the bat, but it sure inspires conjecture due to its oblique yet compelling symbology.” The work also inspires appreciation on a purely visual level, with jarring arrangements and textures and hues to engage the eyes, as note Jolly’s pocket-enhanced Soft Steel Trap.

Donjuan, on the other hand, he’s working more obvious illustration-based tactics, with his bright watercolors and acrylics serving up phantasmagorical portraits of people othered by surreal additions to (and outright transfigurations of) their physiognomy. This is in reference to the artist being “a product of illegal immigration,” the show notes explain, leading him to “reflect on his upbringing and the consequences associated with illegal immigration.” It’s damned effective in conveying a sense of what it’s like to be regarded as alien and other than legitimate in a given environment. And I’ll suggest that this is where Donjuan’s work is most “Akin” to, and most resonant with, Jolly’s.

Because, you know how certain sectors of our society regard immigrants – especially illegal immigrants, but also just any immigrants? How swiftly the descendants of earlier immigrants can turn their distrust and disdain on the newest wave of people to reach this country? As if the original immigrants hadn’t murdered their way into eventual possession of the land in the first place?

I’m suggesting that that’s a version – certainly a much harsher, more virulent version – of the way certain sectors of our society also regard artists. Or, at least, artists whose works aren’t easily parsed by a majority of the populace. Artists whose works might challenge the eye and provoke thoughts that are unsettling because they can’t be easily defined. Artists whose success lies in creating the sort of personal, enigmatic pieces that Marilyn Jolly does.

Artists, it’s been noted elsewhere, are immigrants from another country – a country of the mind. And if that country doesn’t have enough in common with whatever mental territory is inhabited by a region’s hoi polloi, whoa, better watch the fuck out, artists: Your odd customs and ways of expression will have little if any currency there. You’ll be branded as “special,” but in a way that carries a whiff of indulgence, maybe even of embarrassment, with it. If you’re lucky, the worst you’ll be is commercially undervalued.

Austin’s grayDUCK Gallery is, so often, a whole ‘nother country: a country of unique visions and diverse methods of communicating those visions. That’s one of the reasons its shows – including this “Akin” one – are so worthy of your valuable time