Arthur Peña at RE gallery + studio

One of our contributors, Arthur Peña, is having an exhibition at RE Gallery + Studio in Dallas, Texas. The gallery will be hosting an opening reception for the artist Friday, February 8th from 6-10 pm, with an additional viewing/talk Sunday, February 17th from 6-7 pm, and a closing reception Friday, March 1st, from 6-10 pm. If you're in the area stop by! Otherwise, learn a little more about Peña and his exhibition after the jump!

Arthur Peña | attempt 36 / everything you ever wanted, 2012, scorched pine, polyurethane, screws, hydrocal, VHS reel 12" x 12"

Defiantly Painting, an essay by Charissa N. Terranova

It is interesting that young Arthur Peña is defiantly painting. It is perhaps more interesting that he is defiant and painting.

To be defiant is to claim resistance to power, to go against the machine, to be a man decadently à rebours: it is, in short, to be a negative dialectic producing possibility. Take for example Peña’s sense of self as it is represented in the artist’s biography.  Peña has two. The first is defiant only insomuch as to be an artist is fundamentally a political statement – an opting out of the cubicle-life of the corporate drudge. It otherwise tells with politesse and simplicity of his illustrious training at the University of North Texas, School of the Art Institute in Chicago, and Rhode Island School of Design. The second is angry and forthright, a prise de parole, the capturing of language in the name of place. “Peña was born in Oak Cliff,” it tells us, “before it meant a strip of stylish restaurants, shops and a trend for artists […] when it meant the highest murder rate in the city and rampant gang violence.” There is at work between and within these two biographical statements a politics of class, political economy, and defiance. If the first is Peña’s bourgeois self, carefully cultivated in his years at the world’s finest art schools, the other relates to his childhood personage.

Arthur Peña | attempt 36 / everything you ever wanted, 2012, scorched pine, polyurethane, screws, hydrocal, VHS reel 12" x 12"

His is a spirit that is, while not new to us, fresh in its recalcitrant push. Though within Peña’s practice there is a multiverse and age-old force of avant-gardism, I would like here to focus on one resonance in particular: his suggestion of a politics of radical space. Between the bourgeois and working-class biographies we hear the yearnings for an uncompromising manifesto: the echoes of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ iconic Communist Manifesto, their call for collective action in the cri de coeur “Working men of all countries, unite!” To be collective is to do so materially, in three-dimensional space. That is to say, the incarnation of being together – of collectivity – unfolds in urban space, in neighborhoods like Oak Cliff, where Peña grew up amid bullets flying, and the Cedars, the old south-side enclave where sits RE Gallery + Studio, the host to Peña’s current exhibition Paintings Are Objects… and Possibly Peoplemnxodfdrs1qhxtxodshs

Arthur Peña | attempt 40, 2012, cmyk copy machine residue, saw blade, hydrocal, 12" x 12"

Peña’s practice of painting is thus bound up with what French sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre called le droit à la ville, the right to the city.  In this phrase, Lefebvre gave body to a right to the just production of space: an access and stewardship to an ecological and fair materiality arriving by way of the public – public transportation, public hospitals, public schools, public universities. Marxist Geographer David Harvey recently explains this right in terms of an egalitarianism of knowledge and matter, linking the economy to intellectual and physical bondage and agency:

for the most part [current] concepts circulating do not fundamentally challenge hegemonic liberal and neoliberal market logics, or the dominant modes of legality and state action. We live, after all, in a world in which the rights of private property and the profit rate trump all other notions of rights…The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city.*

Peña paints defiantly in Dallas, a city that loves big-tag architecture and art and a world where the classical gestures of painting and making by hand are evermore marginalized by the fetishizing of the digital. Defiance for Peña is a matter of hands on work, the making of painting in a place amid local and global class politics.

Just as defiance creates openings – as though a righteously indignant maw screaming out at the world or, more philosophically, an elastic expansion of the mind that releases multiplicity – so too is painting but an originator of beginnings and prospects. In Peña’s practice, painting can be many things. They are what he calls “attempts,” so many feints at the hoary practice loaded with baggage. He metaphorically tears it asunder in order to rebuild it up, to find something within it that is infinitely other.  Attempt 48 is a small square that references the body roving in space. It bears an almost scruffy flatness with uneven edges. On top one sees repeated vertical patterns of reversed imprints of industrial staples. These imprints reference the anatomical universe of his mother who recently had a large heeling post-operative wound around her knee. Similarly small and shaped like a square, Attempt 45 is layered and biomorphic, with a honeycomb form and small child’s anatomy kit ensconced at its center. Here, in the crafting of his things, these paintings that could be other, we find another embodiment of his defiance. To put your hand to work crafting in the cyborg-now is to go against the grain of so-called Internet progress.  Homo faber = homo ludens = homo poetica.  Man the maker is man in pleasure is man who makes meaning.

As he defiantly paints against the world, Peña unleashes the otherness of the medium, showing it to be so many Robert Ryman-esque squares repeated ad infinitum as reinvented by a Millennial with the spirit of the revolutionary ages. He cops an attitude, captures language, and declares his right to the city.


Arthur Peña | attempt 39, 2012, scorched pine, nails, cmyk copy machine residue, hydrocal, level, screw

Below is an interview with Peña by Joshua von Ammon of "Conversations in the Void."

RE gallery + studio is located at 1717 Gould Street, Dallas, TX 75215.  The gallery is open on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 11-5 and by appointment. For information contact Wanda Dye at or at 972-974-3004.

Arthur Peña (born 1982, Dallas, TX) has had both group and solo shows in Chicago, Providence, New York, Massachusetts, Detroit, Philadelphia and Dallas. He is currently a contributing writer to Brooklyn based contemporary art site as well as New American Paintings where his recent interview with artist B.Wurtz will be published in February. Peña received his BFA at the University of North Texas and his Post-Baccalaureate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He received his MFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2012. Peña has taught at UNT and is currently teaching at Mountain View College where he will mount a solo show in October, 2013. Peña is represented by Oliver Francis Gallery and currently lives and works in Dallas, TX.

Charissa N. Terranova is Assistant Professor of Aesthetic Studies at The University of Texas at Dallas. She lectures and teaches seminars on art and architectural history, theory, and criticism and media and new media theory. She is a scholarly writer and freelance curator and critic working both nationally and internationally. In January 2010, she stepped down from the position of Founding Director and Chief Curator of Centraltrak: The UT Dallas Artists Residency in order to complete her scholarly manuscript.

*Harvey, David, “The Right to the City,” New Left Review, no. 53 (Sept-Oct 2008) Accessed 02/01/2013.

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