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In a West Dallas gallery, artist Tamara Johnson harnesses the power of goo

Tamara Johnson’s solo exhibition, ‘How to fold a fitted sheet,’ is on view at the Ex Ovo gallery through Nov. 1.

Every family has its goo.

Recipes for sauces, gravies and sticky sweet desserts. Stories, secrets and half-truths.

Tamara Johnson thinks a lot about goo, literally and metaphorically. It’s no surprise that it’s the central topic of her solo exhibition, “How to fold a fitted sheet,” now on view at Ex Ovo gallery.

“Goo is always on my brain,” she says. “So many of my sculptural processes are gooey and fleshy and globby, and I try to harness this quality because I think it speaks to a primal desire/disgust we all share.”

Taking its title from a chore few people can handily accomplish, “How to fold a fitted sheet” features six trompe l’oeil-style sculptures, two pencil drawings and a video.

A Waco native, Johnson attended school at the University of Texas at Austin and the Rhode Island School of Design before spending six years in New York City working for sculptor Robert Gober. During that time, her work primarily focused on elements of suburban Texas life — in-ground pools, picket fences and water hoses — novelties in a dense urban environment that took on greater significance for the displaced Southerner.

But these objects rang flat once Johnson moved to Dallas in 2018, their appeal diluted by their presence in countless garages and back yards. In response, the artist decided to look further inward, mining her family’s history, relationship to aging and the feeling of returning home.

Installation detail that includes three pieces: 'Rock City mug,' 2020, bronze, oil-based paint; 'Gate with cherries,' 2020, PVC pipe, rope, resin, woven aluminum wire, pigmented resin, epoxy puttying and 'Cilantro bouquet,' 2020, Tyvek, wire, epoxy putty, acrylic paint at the exhibition "How to fold a fitted sheet" at Ex Ovo gallery through Nov. 1, 2020.
Installation detail that includes three pieces: 'Rock City mug,' 2020, bronze, oil-based paint; 'Gate with cherries,' 2020, PVC pipe, rope, resin, woven aluminum wire, pigmented resin, epoxy puttying and 'Cilantro bouquet,' 2020, Tyvek, wire, epoxy putty, acrylic paint at the exhibition "How to fold a fitted sheet" at Ex Ovo gallery through Nov. 1, 2020.(Nan Coulter)

At her Ex Ovo show, a dump cake is splattered against the back wall, its contents oozing onto the floor. A cherry gummy candy dangles from a metal gate, next to which sits a chipped mug emblazoned with the artist’s name holding stalks of cilantro. Nearby, a column of deviled eggs and okra stretches floor to ceiling. A can of Ro-Tel tomatoes has rolled through the gallery’s open garage door, shedding its gluey label like a snakeskin.

These pieces are delicate re-creations of objects that Johnson equates with growing up in Texas. And they’re expertly crafted through a mold-making process that involves buckets of goo.

Two pencil drawings hang near the front of the show. These depict surrealist collages of everyday items — a belt from Johnson’s childhood, an open tin of sardines, a tube of Vagisil from the artist’s medicine cabinet — that seem newly symbolic during this time of quarantine and distancing.

'Portrait Study #2 (Margarita),' 2020, graphite on paper at Ex Ovo gallery through Nov. 1, 2020.
'Portrait Study #2 (Margarita),' 2020, graphite on paper at Ex Ovo gallery through Nov. 1, 2020.(Nan Coulter)

While the sculptures and drawings come from Johnson’s primary skill set, the 13-minute video, The Philosophy of Goo, feels raw and revelatory. Made in conjunction with the artist’s husband, Trey Burns, and narrated by Ex Ovo director Allison Klion, the video strings together goo-related clips from movies, television and nature documentaries that are interspersed with footage of Johnson bleaching her roots, doing an at-home facial with her sister and making queso with her Aunt Scherry.

The narrator reflects on the various uses and appearances of goo in history and runs through a laundry list of gooey references. The video also delves into some personal tales, such as Johnson’s childhood recollection of watching her mother wax her arms and a pap smear gone cringingly wrong. It’s an honest assessment of the various absurdities of life, commenting on the sticky trails we leave in our wake, whether as physical remnants or as memories caught in time.

Details

Tamara Johnson’s show, “How to fold a fitted sheet,” is on display at the Ex Ovo gallery through Nov. 1. By appointment only. 414 Fabrication St., Dallas. 214-695-3753, https://exovoprojectscom.wpcomstaging.com/.

Danielle Avram, Special Contributor. Danielle Avram is a Dallas-based arts writer and curator.

artslife@dallasnews.com
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