A Midcentury Montage: Art Works by Three Houston Founders

  • HOUSTON, Texas
  • /
  • August 01, 2015

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David Adickes, Three Men On A Beach, 1953, casein board, 48x48 inches.

To inaugurate its 10th Year Anniversary Season, William Reaves Fine Art presents an alluring montage of local midcentury masters.  In Midcentury Montage the gallery features an exquisite collection of period paintings by David Adickes, accompanied by finely sculpted foodstuffs by Henri Gadbois, and recent paintings and collages by Leila McConnell.  The show offers a tribute to these three Houston greats, who all have been mainstays of the Bayou City arts scene since the fifties, and are still actively engaged in creative production well into their eighth decade.  Like the artists, selections in Midcentury Montage are fun, inventive and timeless.  With three such esteemed local masters, the show accentuates the signature attributes of grand Houston art.  As the gallery’s “season opener”, Midcentury Montage offers viewers a delightful segue into yet another highly-anticipated season of high art from the Lone Star state, continuing the hearty track record of prime Texas material that locals have come to expect from Reaves and company!

By now, we suspect that most Houstonians with even a scintilla of interest in the arts are familiar with David Adickes!  Always-colorful and entertaining, Adickes represents perhaps the quintessential Texas “modernist”!  While known by today’s generation as a sculptor of presidential heads and huge concrete statues, Adickes was actually one of the city’s most recognized and accomplished midcentury painters.  Originally, from Huntsville, he bounded onto the Houston scene in 1950, after completion of a wartime stint in the U.S. Army Air Corp, a degree in physics at Sam Houston State Teachers College, and subsequent art training in Paris at the storied atelier of Cubist pioneer, Fernand Leger.  Talented and engaging, Adickes, along with his friend Herb Mears, introduced a newly imported “School of Paris” style to Houston’s emergent art scene.  The result was an immediate embrace and instant acclaim from an ever-admiring constituency, including many of the city’s leading art patrons (such as John DeMenil and Nina Cullinan).  As a “new-comer”, Adickes notched a “sell-out” at his very first local show in 1950 at the fabled Shamrock Hotel.  Ruth Uhler awarded him a small, yet highly noted, one-man exhibition at the MFAH the following year that further propelled his meteoric rise on the local scene.  He joined Ben DuBose at Bute Gallery, and from there his sales and popularity continued their rapid ascent; his paintings quickly becoming coveted appointments in the homes and offices of city elites.  While maintaining Houston and Dubose gallery as his “home base”, Adickes launched a series of international forays in the latter 1950s, returning to Europe (France, Spain, Italy) and then on to Japan, where he was befriended, written about and collected by Pulitzer Prize writer, James A. Michener.  He joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin for a while, leaving there after two years to travel to Tahiti to commune on the island with Gaugin’s son.  Meanwhile, he expanded gallery affiliations on both coasts, attracting high-end collectors among the rich and famous of New York, Palm Beach and Los Angeles, the likes of which included Elvis Presley and other notables!  An inexhaustible painter, Adickes perfected his cubist-inspired style and subject matter over a long and notable career.  His oeuvre most often reflects the wiry figures for which he has especially become known (“Adickes-men”), as well as blocky still-lives replete with his classic elongated bottle forms.  Many of the artist’s earliest and best examples of these subjects may be seen in this exhibition.  Always a sculptor, Adickes began to “work large” in his later career, concentrating primarily on large-scale public installations over the last several decades.  In this line, the artist has successfully created concrete monuments that have now become iconic Texas landmarks, such as “Big Sam” near his native Huntsville and the majestic Stephen F. Austin statue in the Brazosport area.  Today, at eighty-eight, Adickes is at work on his tallest project yet, a memorial to NASA’s astronaut program, destined for a Clear Lake installation. 

In Midcentury Montage, we return to Adickes’ original work, displaying a definitive selection of the early paintings that brought him his first notoriety.  These early works represent the artist’s original views and formative renditions of his most favored subjects and themes. With their distinctive style and superb workmanship, Adickes’ paintings were incredibly fresh and novel when he first introduced them to Houston in the early 1950s.  Even today, they retain classic “modernist” qualities in their subject matter, style and composition.  Looking at these works today, there is little wonder why Houston’s earliest midcentury collectors clamored for Adickes’ works back then, and given those auspicious beginnings, there should be little surprise as well that over the half-century since, David Adickes has become a household name in the Houston community.

Likewise, Henri Gadbois and Leila McConnell are also founders and longtime mainstays of the Houston art community.  Like Adickes, this talented duo has contributed significantly to the quality and vibrancy of the Bayou City art scene since the 1950s.  Gadbois, a native Houstonian and the son of a local painter and commercial artist, is a graduate of the University of Houston art department.  McConnell is a product of the Rice University architectural program and the San Francisco School of Fine Art.  The couple met and married in Houston in 1956, and have shared remarkable careers as artists and instructors ever since.  Both held tenures at The Museum School at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and Gadbois served over 30 years as a public school art teacher in the Houston Independent School District.  They have been popular and prolific artists over a six-decade span, having their paintings avidly collected and shown by some of the city’s most prominent galleries over the years, including Cushman, DuBose, Marsters and Muth, (and now, of course, William Reaves Fine Art).  Both artists remain vital and active well into their eighties, and in Midcentury Montage we show examples of their most recent output, in Gadbois’ case, focusing on his unique ceramic still-lives (faux foods) and for McConnell, concentrating on recent collages and paintings. 

While Gadbois worked in ceramics early in his career, it has only been in recent years that the artist perfected his imaginative line of “faux foods”—a sculpted selection of fresh foods and vegetables cast in ceramic.  His ceramic food-forms are now proudly displayed as combination art works and exhibition artifacts on the tables of the nation’s most prominent residential museums, including Houston’s own Bayou Bend.  We are proud to present these unique still-lives for the first time within a gallery context, as endearing additions to Texas art collections.  

Leila McConnell is renowned as an important member of Houston’s abstract-expressionist school, her ethereal series of “sky paintings” and intimate collages rivaling those of Dorothy Hood, and ranking her among the city’s earliest women abstractionists.  In this exhibition, we examine a selection of the artist’s most recent works in both realms.

Certainly, there has been a resurgence of interest and scholarship in Midcentury Modernism in Texas.  We now know that Houston artists such as Adickes, Gadbois and McConnell, as well as their colleagues within the city, were at the very forefront of the modern art revolution that transformed the city and state during that period.  The artists of Midcentury Montage are truly among the Founders of our city’s dynamic art scene of today, and as a gallery devoted to Texas art, we are indebted to each of them for their creative efforts and accomplishments over the years.  More importantly, however, and as can be seen in the selections included here, Houston art-goers are equally fortunate to be the continued beneficiaries of their creative energies and output, each still clearly producing strong and engaging work.  


We are proud to celebrate our Tenth Anniversary season with this distinguished trio!  

Sarah Foltz
William Reaves Fine Art

William Reaves Fine Art
2313 Brun Street
Houston, Texas
About William Reaves Fine Art

HOUSTON'S TEXAS-CENTERED GALLERY William Reaves Fine Art, established 2006 in Houston, Texas, is dedicated to the promotion of premier Texas artists of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, focusing particularly on historically significant artists active in the state during the period of 1900-1975. Now beginning its eighth year, the gallery showcases many of the region’s most accomplished and recognized talents, all of whom have significant connection to the state of Texas and have evidenced the highest standards of quality in their work, training, and professionalism in the field. The gallery exhibits artists working in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, works on paper, and photography. In addition to its general focus on Early Texas Art, the gallery places special emphasis on the rediscovery and presentation of early and mid-century works by Houston and South Texas artists. William Reaves Fine Art is the foremost provider of Texas Modern Art, which includes mid-century masters and pioneering expressionists working in the state. In order to promote interest and broaden knowledge of earlier Texas art, the gallery supports related gallery talks, community events, scholarly research, and publication related to its subject, artist, and period. William Reaves Fine Art also represents a dynamic group of contemporary artists, known as the Contemporary Texas Regionalists, actively showing their works in annual gallery exhibitions as well as traveling exhibitions throughout the state. Additionally, William Reaves Fine Art is a comprehensive gallery offering fine art appraisals, consultation, collections management, brokerage, and sales services. Gallery hours are Friday-Saturday, 10am-5pm, and Tuesday-Thursday by appointment.

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