It hangs over the gallery’s front desk like a four-sided cloud, weightless yet weighty.
Bryan Schutmaat’s "Pond C," a large-format photographic print, is anchored by the silvery, calm surface of a flagstone-shaped stock pond that opens like a fissure in the dark surrounding meadows.
Because it is Texas — Schutmaat’s family owns land in Leon County — we know it to be shallow. Yet the pool somehow also suggests limitless depths, a bright puncture in the flat surface of the Earth.
Above the solid fields, a fringe of low, fog-mantled trees unravels across the horizon. The sun appears, partially occluded. It could be dawn or dusk, but I’m betting dawn. From the evidence of the other images in the show, "Bryan Schutmaat: County Road" at Lora Reynolds Gallery, he likes to get out into these rural settings while life is still emerging, not beaten down by the Texas heat.
Two-thirds of the hypnotic, horizontal "Pond C," however, are taken up by dove-gray sky, with gauzy clouds drifting in layers across the scene. There’s a lot going on in this sky. One could get lost in it.
Adhering to the highest standards, Lora Reynolds Gallery has brought national and international contemporary art scenes closer to Austin for at least 15 years. It’s not every day, then, for this downtown stalwart to show two Austin artists at the same time; the paintings and collages of "Claire Oswalt: Cygnet" hang in the gallery’s smaller room.
A feeling of familiarity first drew me to Schutmaat’s current black-and-white work, which hangs unframed and sans wall texts. Turns out I know some of the back roads of Leon County, which is north of Huntsville. Not these specific scenes, but many like them.
At first, I misunderstood their location to be near the Leon River, which is northwest of Austin, not Leon County, which is northeast and very different terrain. Yet the vastly different regions of rural Texas, which emptied out during the 20th century, retain similarities: crumbling, abandoned and boarded-up buildings; rusting machinery and littered streams; an absence of people caught outdoors. Some of this territory was covered in Jim Alvis’ "Texas Passing: A Fading Rural Heritage," an art edition of a proposed university press volume.
Nothing currently at the Austin gallery matches the sharp melancholy of Schutmaat’s previous pictures of scarred and depleted Western mining towns, which were turned into a gallery show and a book titled "Grays the Mountain Sends." Yet they share a certain reticence, a distance that is neither warm nor cold, a factual accounting that does not reject moments of lyrical awe, such as light sifting through a diaphanous curtain in an abandoned room, or a wildflower singled out for its demure beauty.
"Bryan Schutmaat: County Road" and "Claire Oswalt: Cygnet" run through Nov. 7 at Lora Reynolds Gallery, 360 Nueces St., 512-215-4965, lorareynolds.com.