"In the Name of the Father"

by Mike Daniel
Dallas Morning News, December 24, 1999

Kathy Lovas’ art is more introspective than most. She seems to disassemble items in her closet of feelings and memories, sort the detritus and create from the resulting inventory.

In the past, the Wisconsin native has tackled womanhood, culture and politics in her mixed-media works. Since 1997, she has been exploring her family’s roots, with the latest manifestations at Handley-Hicks Gallery in East Fort Worth.  

“Notices of Allen Gray” grew out of a 1998 installation with Karen Simpson titled “Photographs and Papers”, in which the artists examined recollections and perceptions of family. That show dealt primarily with images of the artists’ mothers, and the current exhibit pays homage to Ms. Lovas’ father, Allen Gray Johnson.

Most of the artworks are from the “collection of the artist”, who is an adjunct professor of art at the University of North Texas in Denton. Only five works are for sale.

Those pieces are large-scale inkjet prints of family snapshots, which are cut into equal-size rectangles, framed and reassembled in a mosaic. The images are of “bad” pictures, ones in which the heads have been left off or the bodies are not centered.

Yet, the photos were kept by Ms. Lovas’ parents. Even she cannot identify all the subjects, but her father, grandfather and other relatives are in them, recognizable by posture and gesture. For instance, Mr. Johnson as a boy hangs his arms and positions his feet in “Visitor” in the same way as he does as a teenager in “Surplice”. The works are reminders of the advantages photographs and memories have over each other.

The exhibit’s centerpiece, “In nominee Patris”, consists of 10 white cotton cloths hanging clothesline-style from rope. Each sports a black crayon tombstone rubbing made from stones in her family’s graveyards in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Ms. Lovas has made about 50 of these, each with a different surname; she includes as many as gallery space allows.

Other works of interest include “cloakroom”, a solemn gray space, lighted by a bare 25-watt bulb. The space contains a black bench, three coat hangers and a copy of a spelling list from Mr. Johnson’s school notes. The tiny space’s design comes from Ms. Lovas’ memory of a room she was banished to for bad behavior in grade school.

Among the show’s five assemblages, the simplicity of “mother” is as poetic as any. In it, a picture of Ms. Johnson sits on top of a steel file cabinet with its drawers taped shut. There’s apparently plenty more to discover in Ms. Lovas’ closets.

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