The Rio Grande Valley is not one of the easier places in America to build a career as a contemporary artist. The strip of predominantly blue-collar border towns and cities from the Gulf Coast and Brownsville up the river to Edinburg, McAllen, and beyond boasts few top-notch art institutions or deep-pocketed collectors. The scene can leave something to be desired too. On the porch outside Presa House Gallery in San Antonio, painter Donald Jerry Lyles Jr. tells me about a short-lived “art walk” series in McAllen.
Lyles’s neighborhood landscape paintings can come across as humbler and more surface-level, but he’s up to something subtly incisive. His bone to pick, he explains, is with land-use policies and zoning as the RGV has developed in recent decades from an agricultural plain (as seen in Palacios’s work) to more of a homogenized concrete-and-pavement Anytown, USA. Born and raised in Edinburg, Lyles feels a kinship with the native plants and trees of the region, and he tends to paint them where he finds them, these days often encroached upon by aesthetically aggravating new arrivals like cookie-cutter tract homes, chain stores, and parking lots.