Who is Sylvia? What is she, that all our swains commend her?
She’s Thom Hall, brassy, buxom and in heels, and the gentlemen of Verona ain’t seen nothing like her.
Hall, the Little Rock artist and long-time Arkansas Arts Center registrar, says Sylvia Moskowitz is “a bit of my mother, and a bit of my grandmothers, a bit of the bejeweled Jew dog turban dames of Miami circa 1958, a snappy dash of Joan [Crawford] and Bette [Davis] and Marilyn [Monroe] and Jayne [Mansfield] and Judy [Garland] and Lady Day [Billie Holiday] and Miss Ross,” he says.
He illuminates further on that with “A Life Crowded With Incident: Who Is Sylvia Moskowitz?” a quasi-autobiographical exhibit of works on paper opening Jan. 9 in Gallery I of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
The drawings, first exhibited last March at Tatistcheff Gallery in New York, depict Sylvia, Hall and friends in a number of incarnations past and present. Hall works in layers, sometimes wearing the paper to a frazzle, overdrawing in gouache, gesso and other media. He’s going for a dynamic effect, the lines to be read as gesture rather than literal interpretation.
Hall, who has appeared as Sylvia many times over the years at various events, had to abandon his famously high heels after knee surgery some years back. He still found good use for the shoes, however: His “Papsy Climb — The Night Crawler,” a stuffed caterpillar whose legs and mouthparts were made of “15 perfectly good shoes,” was chosen for the independently juried Arts Center’s annual Toys Designed by Artists exhibit in 1998.
Early in his career, Hall worked in cloisonne enamels, and these small images of Moskowitz and others are gems. The media was perfect for Hall’s talents, but not his health. His new work will travel to Naples, Fla., in March for “Evocative Portraits” at the Von Liebig Art Center.
“A Life Crowded With Incident” runs through March 15. A reception is set for 6-8 p.m. Jan. 21. Hall will give a gallery talk at 1 p.m. Feb. 6.
Also opening at UALR on Jan. 9 is an exhibit of drawings by Helen Burkhart Mayfield, a Texas artist who painted and did street dance in New York City in the 1950s and who created an interpretive dance troupe in Austin and opened a gallery in folk art in the 1960s before slipping into madness. Her own work — which included masks made from magazine paper collages that she wore during her street performances — is haunting outsider art. The exhibit is comprised of works from private collections and the Webb Gallery south of Dallas.
n A major exhibit looms at the Arkansas Arts Center: “African Masterpieces from the New Orleans Museum of Art,” some 100 works of art, including masks, figures, musical instruments, ceramics, and fabric and beadwork costumes made by people of sub-Saharan Africa.
The show runs Jan. 20 through April 16.
In a review of the exhibit, which opened in April at New York’s Museum for African Art, New York Times writer Holland Cotter described the show as an exciting fusion of culture, aesthetics and philosophy. “Piece after piece, no matter how familiar the form, made me slow my pace. Every encounter was a contact high. I wasn’t seeing just objects. I was seeing a network of ideas.”
Among the artwork: iron staffs, an elaborately carved door, a king’s tunic, figures in wood and ivory and masks.