By Codie Barry
While Irving can seem like an uninspiring place in such close proximity to the bustling metropolis of Dallas, it does its best. The Irving Arts Center on Macarthur Boulevard demonstrates the community’s attempt to bring art and culture to the inhabitants of the city. The center offers galleries for art exhibits and theaters for plays and musical performances. It also hosts a myriad of activities in the various offices and recital halls. The center itself is a somewhat corporate-looking building, with stucco pillars and a plexiglas barrel vault. It is difficult to navigate through the labyrinth of offices to find the galleries. When you do, the presentation is set up in a disappointing and unprofessional way, with too much lighting and the pictures merely placed on walls along a staircase. However, the content and themes of the shows are impressive. Currently, two of the galleries are showing artwork. The shows are completely different, but both are rewarding. The first is a collection of original and digital prints chronicling the legacy of the Golden Books, the second a collection of photography from Big Bend National Park, taken by Irving native Terry Cockerham.
“Golden Legacy: Original Art from 65 Years of Golden Books” features a number of gouache and digital prints from 65 years of some of the most important illustrators ever. The prints hanging in the gallery are, of course, adorable, and the whole show is frightfully nostalgic. Most of us can remember reading books like “Stuart Little,” “The Poky Little Puppy” and the “The Fuzzy Duckling,” but cannot call to mind the names of the artists, who, quite frequently, had prestigious careers.
Leonard Weisgard (1916-2000) drew for The New Yorker, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar before illustrating “The Golden Egg.” Garth Williams (1912-1996) illustrated classics like “Stuart Little,” “Charlotte’s Web” and the “Little House on the Prairie” series, securing his place as one of the most beloved illustrators of all time. Gustaf Tenggren (1986-1970), the illustrator of “The Tawny, Scrawny Lion” and “The Poky Little Puppy” was a leading Swedish artist, and his contemporary Feodor Rojankovsky (1891-1970) fought in the Russian army in World War I, and was a prisoner of war in Poland. The storyboards for the movies “Cinderella,” “Peter Pan” and “Alice in Wonderland” were by Mary Blair (1911-1978). She would later design the characters for the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland. The show also includes contemporary illustrators like Dan Yaccarino, best known for his animation of “Oswald.”
The striking feature of this show is its distinctiveness from other art forms, art made for the sake of creation. These prints characterize the difference between high and low art; they are made for children, but no matter what they are indicative of, they have supplied the stuff of imagination since the 1940s. The sweet morals, whimsical settings and gentle characters have brightened the bedtimes of millions, and the style of these prints has become synonymous with innocence.
“Big Bend: Photographs” by Terry Cockerham is a completely photographic show. The pictures are stunning black and white landscapes from Big Bend National Park, which is just a few hours away on the border of Texas and Mexico. The scenes are raw, even disturbing, which is what the artist intended. In his artist’s statement on the wall of the exhibition, he explains:
“Edgar Allen Poe once said, ‘The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where one ends, and where the other begins?’ I weave the two elements, death and beauty, into the images, injecting an ominous aspect into a traditional landscape.”
The desert landscape is at once gorgeous, yet full of the potential for danger. It is an unforgiving territory. The lack of color in the photographs creates a tension within the work, producing almost alien effects. One of the most powerful images is a close-up of a dead agave plant, its fronds pulled back, revealing a dry, gaping hole. The fronds are withered and leathery. The picture could pass as a portrait of some weird creature. It is in this way that Cockerham takes the ordinary, natural world and reveals its potential for unearthliness.
“Golden Legacy: Original Art from 65 Years of Golden Books” is on view until April 26, and “Big Bend” is up until May 31. Both shows are free. More information about the Center, including upcoming shows, can be found at the Irving Arts Center website.