San Angelo artist and gallery owner Lisa Curry has struck upon a particularly Texan angle for turning trash into treasure.
Last year, while visiting the West Texas family ranch of her partner, John Allison, Curry began idly plucking fragments of century-old fencing strewn about the property. Like when people see various figures in puffy cloud formations, Curry saw shapes in the wire’s rusty, sharp knots—cowboys, hearts, and flowers.
Curry accumulated more than 200 pieces of wire on Allison Ranch Pecos County, contemplating how to bring out their beauty for others to appreciate. An impressionistic abstract oil painter, Curry is accustomed to working with a blank canvas and golf leaf, a shiny metal with the consistency of tissue paper.
Rusty objects weren’t in Curry’s wheelhouse, but she knew she didn’t want to change the shape of the discarded barbed wire pieces. So, she carefully cleaned the wire, then painstakingly hammered golf leaf into its crevices for hours, until the joints in her hands were stiff and sore.
When placed in gold frames against stark white mats, the rusty debris were transformed into elegant works of art. The wire depicts shapes like cowboys, a bicycle, horses, or a haphazard cross.
“Not every one is an exact figure,” Curry said. “Some I like because the shapes are so pretty. I want to be known for gold leaf. I finally get to do my love and relate [that art] to the people of West Texas. It’s ranch rustic gone elegant.”
Curry is showcasing the pieces at Raw 1899, the gallery she co-owns with Nathana Cox. The exhibition, titled Elements Unexpected, runs through Jan. 1 and also includes her sister-in-law Cari Curry’s handmade jewelry, draped on sanded cedar branches from the ranch that rise up like elk horns; along with an entire wall of photos Allison took at his family ranch. Like Curry’s art, Allison’s photos require close inspection to decode: With a careful look, a brightly colored rust and azure structure emerges as a pair of windmill blades halfway embedded into the ground.
When Curry and Cox opened Raw 1899 in 2017, they hoped to bring their love of abstract art to San Angelo. “I always said I can’t wait for that first cowboy to come up to me and say, ‘I hate this,’ and for me to say, ‘Here’s a beer; let me tell you about the process,’” Curry said.
Perhaps relating just such a conversation, she gestured in a wide circle over a framed piece of barbed-wire artwork titled “Cowboy Clown.” “This is over 100 years old and was not made by me but by the elements,” she said. “There’s no telling how many times this has been run over.”
She paused, as if re-evaluating the art for herself. “Love is everywhere; you just have to look for it,” she said. “When you’re in a place in your life when you’re happy, it just comes to you. You can just see it.”