2022 Year in Art Adventures

My day job takes me out on the road, and many times those roads lead to really good art. And, when I’m not traveling, local roads lead me to great art, as well.

I chronicled my favorite general local finds of the year over on my company’s blog, but felt that some of the art I saw deserved its own post here.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, my favorite artworks in 2022! Some are totally new to me, and some are new works by artists I was already familiar with. All are very special! The list focuses on exhibitions as a whole unless a specific work is indicated.

Best Art Shows of 2022 (According to me!)

Natalie Wadlington, “Places that Grow,” Dallas Contemporary

Wadlington uses my favorite color palette (hot neons against cool and dark colors) and a subject matter that I can relate to. I could almost hear the crickets chirping and bug zapper going when I looked at these paintings. That’s how much they transported me back to a summer night in the country! I also loved how she incorporated animal companions into almost every painting.

Jeffrey Gibson, “The Body Electric,” Site Santa Fe

I’ve seen Jeffrey Gibson’s work three times in three different states: at the 2019 Whitney Biennial in NYC, at the Blanton in Austin and now at Site Santa Fe. If there’s an exhibit of Gibson’s work that I can reasonably get to, I try my best. I love how his work spans such diverse media and genre to tell the many stories of his life and culture, and specifically how his bead and textile work adds such depth and tactile presentation, bringing his work to life even further.

Jason Cytacki, “Hi, Yo Silver,” Individual Artwork, Old Jail Art Center

This single-subject portrait’s spare background enhances the shirt detail and the expression on the cowboy’s face. In its gallery, it is a large piece that anchors a room of smaller artwork, tying the viewing experience together without overpowering it.

Ray-Mel Cornelius, Winnsboro Center for the Arts

This exhibition showed a dreamy take on often mundane scenes that are familiar on the surface, but with an uncanny presentation that is just a little out of the ordinary.

R.Gregory Christie, “Work and Whimsy: The Art of R. Gregory Christie,”
National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature

We saw this exhibition on our first trip to Abilene, the “Storybook Capital of America.” And Christie’s work was a prime example of what the best storybooks do — not just for children, but for all ages. He is an author as well, but his illustrations can easily stand alone in conveying the many triumphs, challenges, stories and legacies across our common humanity and histories. While his illustrations are “for” children, he finds a way to convey the beauty of a story or scene without losing the gravitas of the subject.

Jasmine Zelaya, “Sad Girls,” Art League Houston

I’ve been following Jasmine Zelaya’s work for a while, and was thrilled when my neighborhood shopping center, NorthPark, installed a mural with her art. But I was really excited to learn that she had a solo show at Art League Houston when we were going to be there. Seeing her paintings in person was really special, and I also enjoyed how she displayed the small ceramics that she had created.

Buffalo Bayou Cistern, Houston

Houston, known for its vibrant and innovative art scene, has dug even deeper (pun intended!) and turned an underground cistern into a beautiful public art piece. The space is striking on its own. Its many columns, water reflections and echoing walls give it the feel of a meditation room. Artists are invited to use the unique space to showcase their work to the public in Art in the Cistern installations that greatly enhance an already interesting landmark. There are many places we encounter that are special, but very few that are one-in-a-million. The Cistern in Houston is one-in-a-million. (And if you’re a bit of a claustrophobe like I am, I can say that it doesn’t feel confining at all. It is also ADA compliant and comfortable for most, with six-foot pathways, small group entry and sturdy guardrails.)

Okuda San Miguel, “Rainbow Embassy,” Public Art, Fort Smith, Ark.

Fort Smith, Arkansas is a public art town, with murals on almost every side surface — and some silos — all throughout its downtown. “Rainbow Embassy,” by Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel is a multidimensional piece, its vibrant stripes and colors splashing not just one wall, but many walls, the roof and the porch, and extending to an equally colorful accessory building. “Rainbow Embassy” is installed in the middle of a residential neighborhood just outside of downtown. Set among the homes, cars and yard ephemera of the surrounding blocks, it both enhances the neighborhood and serves as a bright, unassuming statement piece that all can enjoy.

John Cerney, “Giant,” Public Art, Marfa

We saw this roadside piece while driving out of Marfa, headed toward Alpine. Marfa is known for its “Giant” reputation — the movie was filmed in and around the town. This piece gives homage to the legacy. If you drive past, be sure to pull over and step out or roll down your window to experience the audio component.

Billy Hassell, “Continuum,” Irving Arts Center

If you’ve read this far, you can probably see commonalities in the art that stands out to me. Work by artist Billy Hassell is no exception. I first learned about him from a museum in Beaumont that I follow, and was disappointed that I couldn’t get there in time to see his exhibition. So, I was extremely happy to see that he was exhibiting work in Irving soon after. In this particular piece, I liked the colors and the delicate butterflies against the strong bison. The way that the animals are grouped seem peaceful, and goodness knows we can all use as much of that as we can get.

Nancy Friedland, “Highway of Diamonds,” Smoke the Moon, Santa Fe

I happened upon Smoke the Moon on Canyon Road on a cold, rainy afternoon in late August. As a Texan, cold and rainy in late August was a new concept for me, and I have to say I didn’t hate it. The Canyon Road experience itself was really special, and Nancy Friedland’s paintings were my favorite of the day. I love how she communicates so much using mainly shadows and light as the focal point. And the way these pieces glow! As an artist myself, it always amazes me how (more experienced artists) can evoke such realistic-looking light using only paint.

“Speaking With Light: Contemporary Indigenous Photography,” Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth

This group show at the Amon Carter in Fort Worth just blew me away. There were so many interesting pieces and interesting interpretations not only of the artist’s perspective and experiences, but also on the medium of photography. There were so many standouts, but these pieces by Sarah Sense and Wendy Red Star have been very memorable to me. I love how Sense weaves paper to make her finished pieces, and Red Star’s collages are so vibrant.

I saw a lot of art in 2022! This list is just the standouts in a year of standouts. Any time we travel for work or fun, I factor in some time checking out the local art scene. Art communities say so much about a place, especially in the case of smaller and regional museums, independent galleries and community arts centers. Through the artists they serve and elevate, viewers can learn local history, values and other details that make a place special, as communicated through artists’ perspectives.

As the opportunity for art adventures has stabilized, I would like to revive my art tour programs in some capacity in 2023. Not sure yet what that looks like or when! But please drop me a line if this is something you’d be interest in learning more about. (kcocustserv (at) gmail).

Scenes from a Year in Travel

As I have mentioned, I have a business that publishes travel books and produces custom travel programs and content. This means I travel a LOT. What constitutes a lot? 91 towns in 2022! Our books focus on small towns, so while we see plenty of cities, we are especially fond of what you can find if you leave the interstate. Here are my favorite photos from a year on the road!

Kilgore, Texas
January 2022

Shreveport, Louisiana
January 2022

Cranfills Gap, Texas

Downtown Baird, Texas
April 2022

Albany, Texas
April 2022

Overton, Texas
May 2022

Hamilton, Louisiana
June 2022

Colorado City, Texas
August 2022

Tucumcari, New Mexico
August 2022

OctOBER 2022

December 2022

If you like what you see, you might like our books! If you’re a business and would like to learn more about our corporate services, get in touch. Otherwise, just enjoy and be inspired.

You’ll notice these photos are much better than the ones you usually see on here. That’s because my husband took them! No particular order to these beyond the date. Just quirky destinations that that stood out to me.

We plan a few big trips a year in pursuit of our books. In 2023, we will be doing a trip up the Texas coast, from Port Isabel to Port Arthur as well as spending time photographing around the Texas Frontier regions – North Central Texas and the Panhandle. I’m sure there will be other trips along the way — the best ones are often instances where we just get in the car and go!

Joyful and triumphant

“Joyful and Triumphant,” acrylic on canvas by Stephanie Khattak.

Every year, from the time I was about eight until eleven or 12, our church would produce a live nativity scene. Community members of all ages were instructed to stand like statues for a few freezing cold hours over a weekend while cars from as far away as Lufkin and Nacogdoches slowly drove through the parking lot. No chewing gum or tobacco; no chit-chat; no silly dances, waving or hollering at cars we recognized, nothing. Just stand there.

The first year was contained to the walkway between the church sanctuary and fellowship hall; subsequent productions had shepherd fields out among the trees. The set was constructed from wood scraps covered with moss and other scavenged greenery.

The costumes were old sheets and ripped up cotton fabric; there were sneaker logos shining under robes; at least one king sported a repurposed Burger King crown. Fountain drink cups were barely hidden, as was the inevitable appearance of neighborhood dog. We never stood like statues when there was gum to chew, chit-chat to share and silly dances to perform. The best part of the evening was going inside for a hard-earned hot cocoa when it all got to be too much.

But “joyful and triumphant” are guiding words for the season, and that has never been lost on us.

*I talk a little more about the annual Christmas nativity and other traditions in my 2021 holiday podcast. Yes, I realize it’s now 2022 and almost 2023. The podcast has been down, but not out. Can’t say for sure when I will have a new episode, but it’s still cooking. Just on a back burner for now.

2022 Year in Books

This year, according to insights on my Kindle app, I read 27 books, compared to 29 in 2021 and just 13 in 2020. This includes purchased books and digital loans from the Dallas Public Library, and doesn’t include physical books or the small selection loaned to me for review through NetGalley. I mostly read library books because well, I love to read but my budget and bookshelves can only accommodate so many physical books.

There are a few weeks left in 2022, and quite a bit of downtime for me as business slows and I don’t travel for Christmas. So, I expect to add one or two more titles.

I gravitated heavily toward nonfiction this year. It was a very busy year, so I would have thought the opposite to be true — that I would want to escape into fiction. But my favorites mostly were in the true crime and history genre.

Something new that I have done for years, but only now started tracking, is recommending titles to my 88 year old Grandfather in East Texas. He reads anything and everything, regardless of genre, politics or author. He really likes books that give new insight to history and current events. I send him books to entertain him and try to keep him inside and out of trouble. But like me, he is a quick reader, so there is usually time between book deliveries for him to get into his garden to lift heavy things or mow with one of his ancient, pieced together “Frankentractors” or give unsolicited advice to construction crews across the street, much to the consternation of his grown children and other grandchildren. I have indicated the books I’ve sent to him and when applicable, his unfiltered feedback. (Well, slightly filtered — he shares his reads of the day with my mom at dinner, and she passes it on to me. But she includes strong opinions, cuss words and his…colorful turns of phrase.) If you, too have an elderly person to calm and entertain, maybe these recommendations will help.

These are just a few memorable books from 2022 out of many that I read, and in no particular order. I didn’t review as I went along, and won’t overburden the list with reviews here, just some hot takes. I’m becoming more active on Goodreads if you’d like to follow me there.

The 2022 Notable Book List:

Notes on an Execution, Danya Kukafka (Bookshop.org)
Zabar’s: A Family Story, with Recipes, Lori Zabar (Bookshop.org)
Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me, Ada Calhoun (Bookshop.org)
Slenderman: Online Obsession, Mental Illness, and the Violent Crime of Two Midwestern Girls, Kathleen Hale
*Hell’s Half-Acre: The Untold Story of the Benders, a Serial Killer Family on the American Frontier, Susan Jonusas (Bookshop.org)
I Came All This Way to Meet You: Writing Myself Home, Jami Attenberg (Bookshop.org)
*Big, Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas, Stephen Harrigan (Bookshop.org)
*Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Timothy Snyder (Bookshop.org)
*The Accommodation: The Politics of Race in an American City, Jim Schutze (Bookshop.org)
*Ruby Ridge: The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family, Jess Walter (Bookshop.org)
A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews (Bookshop.org)
A Woman’s Story, Annie Ernaux translated by Tanya Leslie (Bookshop.org)
Gichigami Hearts: Stories and Histories from Misaabekong, Linda LeGarde Grover (Bookshop.org)
Anna: The Biography, Amy Odell (Bookshop.org)
I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy, Erin Carlson (Bookshop.org)
*The Good War: An Oral History of World War II, Studs Terkel (Bookshop.org)

*An asterisk marks the books that I had sent to my grandfather.

The Hot Takes:

Slenderman: Online Obsession, Mental Illness, and the Violent Crime of Two Midwestern Girls, Kathleen Hale
This is an intimate look at mental illness in youth, online culture, the ferociousness of young girls and the worst case scenario when the worst of those elements combine. Throw in a detailed look at the juvenile incarceration system and barriers to appropriate mental health care access for incarcerated youth, and you’ll look at “weird kids” with more compassion.

*Hell’s Half-Acre: The Untold Story of the Benders, a Serial Killer Family on the American Frontier, Susan Jonusas
I really liked this one, and my grandfather loved it. He read it slowly so that the experience would last through the last hot weeks of summer. It had all the elements he liked, true crime, history and mystery partially set in Texas.

*Big, Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas, Stephen Harrigan
I borrowed this one from the library and sent my grandfather a hard copy. If I wasn’t so sure I’d inherit it back in the next, oh, 50 years or so (if not longer, we can hope), I’d buy my own copy. He especially liked the archival photographs that went with the major points of the book.

*Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Timothy Snyder
This was a grim read, but a good one. I’d think “uh-oh” when coming to an especially graphic bit, because I knew what my parents’ dinner table conversation would be once my grandfather got there himself. “I can’t believe people would do that,” he would say, before going into detail on just what they did and the results of their actions. But even grim stories are important and my grandfather agrees.

*Ruby Ridge: The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family, Jess Walter
I really liked this one, an unvarnished account of failures on the part of the government and the fringe beliefs and eccentricities of the Weaver family. “Damn crazy bunch, but the FBI was wrong to do what they did,” my grandfather said. (I’d like to note here that his favorite grandchild —not me!— is, in fact an FBI agent, but he calls things as he sees them.)

A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews
This is set in a Mennonite community, but I found so much familiarity with my (secular) home community. I appreciated that Toews made the characters so multi-faceted. It is more common and I suppose, easier to write these insular communities as oppressed, simple or folksy but that does a great disservice to the very real lives they contain.

A Woman’s Story, Annie Ernaux translated by Tanya Leslie
French writer Annie Ernaux and winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize for Literature was not a writer I was familiar with until her win was announced. While I regret that I have only just now begun to read her work, I’m also grateful that by now there is a lot of that work to read! Her stories are short and concise, and her literary voice is evocative and inspires emotion without being overly emotional. I have many more of her books on my library loan list, and can’t wait to read them.

Gichigami Hearts: Stories and Histories from Misaabekong, Linda LeGarde Grover
I read this and then interviewed Dr. Grover for the New Books Network, my last interview before our neighborhood went haywire with spur of the moment yard work noises and podcasting became impossible. This was a great book that incorporated Dr. Grover’s own story with her family history and folklore, and I am so glad I got to speak with her to learn more. (You can listen to the podcast here. I hope to podcast more in 2023, but that depends on the leaf blower brigade which is sadly, not up to me.)

*The Good War: An Oral History of World War II, Studs Terkel
I love everything that Studs Terkel has ever produced, and this is no exception. Like my grandfather with his history books, I am pacing myself because sadly, there are no more Studs Terkel books forthcoming and I have read almost all of them. I purchased this for my grandfather’s Christmas present. He had a beloved uncle who died in WWII during Operation Husky, in Italy. In my family research I always look for new details to fill in the part of his story that happened so far away from home. This book does a great job of filling in color and the impact on individual lives from a variety of people who lived and served during the war.

Onward to 2023!

Recent Paintings

I’ve continued my Pine Curtain Project pieces with the folk/narrative art pivot, and as I do so, starting with a blank canvas rather than a photo or historical context, I am seeing more of a personal artistic style emerge.

I gravitate toward juxtaposition of bright and cool colors, which give the paintings kind of a whimsical, otherworldly glow effect. I also create some figures in more detail than others, which places my “characters” within a greater community. I also make sure there’s a little dog with a curly tail somewhere in there, representing my childhood dog Tater (1980-1997) who was always in the mix and lived long enough to bear witness to many life and community milestones.

With everything else going on and general life happenings, I usually do about one of these a month. So far, they have coincided with seasons or events, but that is more by inspiration than by design.

“Fall Festival” by Stephanie Khattak, 2022. Acrylic on Canvas.
“Too Much Sugar!” by Stephanie Khattak, 2022. Acrylic on canvas.

Exhibition: Dallas Public Library

Installed art at the J. Erik Johnsson Central Library, Lillian Bradshaw Gallery.

Last Friday, I made a trip to Downtown Dallas to install my first solo show at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library. This show was supposed to happen last spring, but schedules could not quite align. Happily, now is a better time, and I have the space for the next month or so.

Although I have been creating some new work since the show was proposed and accepted, monotype prints still comprise the majority of my work, so that’s what’s on view.

I’m still in the “bring your own hammer and hangers” phase of my art career, but unlike my last big show, James was able to help me out, which made it a bit easier.

All-in-all, I have 16 pieces up, framed in various sizes. Since it had been a little while since I worked on these prints, it was fun to go back through them to pick and choose which art to display. The majority are from family photos, but one wall’s art highlights the greater Lufkin and East Texas community.

Here are a few that I chose, which link to their accompanying blog posts!

To see the rest, make a trip to the library! (While you’re there, get a library card! If you already have a card, pick out a new book! And if you already have your card and plenty to read, check out the library’s awesome new historical exhibition of archival materials around Big D Reads and “The Accommodation” book! I have to say, it’s an honor to be part of the good work of the Dallas Public Library.

If you see a piece that you are interested in here, at the show, or elsewhere please get in touch. After a break to focus on other things for the summer (did you know I published a travel book?!) I am open again for sales and a limited number of commissions. I am always interested in opportunities to showcase or share about my art, process and research project. Please get in touch if you’d like to learn more.

Happy Summer!

“Night Swimming,” Acrylic on Canvas by Stephanie Khattak.

Hello, why yes — it HAS been a while since I last updated my blog and my web site. What can I say, the first half of 2022 has gone by really quickly. And while in some ways it’s been really nice, it hasn’t left a lot of time for more creative pursuits, much less documenting those pursuits.

I secured a new freelance/contract client in January that takes up most of my weekday hours, and I published a travel book! The operative word there (after “published” I suppose) is travel. I haven’t been home many weekends in the past year or so. I am planning more travel books which entails more travel. So, it’s been a bit of a balance to learn, but I am getting better at it.

But I still paint as often as I can, and I still have the Pine Curtain Project going in the background. The above painting doesn’t look quite like the other pieces in the Pine Curtain Project. That’s another reason this blog has been quiet for a bit. I have felt compelled to bring the project into a more modern era, and am always tiptoeing around that a little bit. Some stories are not my stories to tell, but intersect with mine. So, what to do? My solution is to just focus on the scenes and feelings that I want the paintings to evoke while making everything else unidentifiable. This specific swimming pool didn’t exist, and neither did the specific girls in it. But what did exist, for me and I imagine many others, is night swimming with friends on a summer night. One of my besties had a pool, and my church rented one each summer from the time I was in middle school on out. There was a special kind of relaxed that we felt after swimming, and many pool nights melted easily into slumber parties. It was hot, and the June Bugs were loud, and we somehow felt sunburned even though we were swimming at dusk. And it was wonderful.