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The Small and the Dreadful

Two exhibits delve into the size and terror of the human condition

Part of the allure of the small sculptures on display at the Inman Gallery is their resistance to any easy classification, and their ability to elicit unsettling associations to such diverse phenomena as cannibalism, mass graves, lust and the expulsion from Paradise.

DiverseWorks' over-the-top "Phantoms, Freaks and the Fantastic" also plays on surreal juxtapositions of body parts and props that delve into taboo realms of fetish and fixation. With the walls painted jet black, the space is transformed into subterranean darkness, a grotto from which emerges a repertoire of highly stressed and stylized creatures. Much of the work takes on a sort of nightmare Disney adventure, attempting to comment on an ambiguously bounded world. The tonic and the toxic, the lyric and the lurid, the refined and the vulgar here conspire and reflect each other.

Greeting viewers are Marcus Adams' hydra-headed creatures, with tongues that roll onto the floor. They protrude from a wall painted with grotesque body parts -- cartoony hands and feet poke at chicken-like torsos entangled in some weird metamorphosis.

In Celia Eberle's quirky paintings as parables, the handling of paint is direct and cartoony, as though the artist were recording her dreams in their raw immediacy. Slavery of Impulse features a male figure wearing a red hood and stretched out spread eagle on a mint green background. Tiny rabbits swarm like insects around strategic body parts -- the genitals, navel and wrist. Robert Shuttlesworth's grotesque visions re-form the human body as a vulgar and ugly prison, strengthening the fears of decay and disease that are so carefully suppressed. In the darkly humorous painting, Requiem for Baby Fae, the bodies and spirits of animals gather around the deathbed of the baby girl whose received a heart transplant and the cap of a joker. To the right of the attending nurses is a man dressed in dark suit and hat, with fiery red eyes and a leering grin.

In Millennial Children, Lynn Randolph depicts a culture on the verge of collapse. The painting focuses on two young girls grabbing hold of one another and locking their gazes with those of viewer. They kneel before an apocalyptic vision of Houston Ñ uncontrollable fires, polluted bayous and impending nuclear disaster. The girls shield one another from a pack of voracious dogs, as well as the devil himself, whose stomach reveals a humorous portrait of George Bush as vampire. Randolph seems to locate us at the center of a terrain where different groups of "others" disastrously compete for the promotion of their private interests -- whether they be fantastic four-legged predators or real world political leaders.

Gary Wellman's life-size wood figures are tormented, broken and degraded receptacles, merging personality with pocked and gouged bodies. Their faces peer at viewers like sunken-eyed death masks, as if to announce some Kafkaesque metamorphosis that will transform us into a snarl of nerve endings. In Paintings by Hilda Leal, James Cobb, Glen Gips and Dr. Jeff Brailas all present libidinous unleashings of sex-charged energy.

Each of the DiverseWorks artists respond, as to a degree do the sculptors at Inman Gallery, to the subversion of normal life and their fear of the dissolution of the familiar world. They feel the frustration of helplessness and futility before ominous powers they're powerless to turn aside. Their art absorbs their fears, anxiety and anger, becoming monstrous. The subject matter and media may vary, but ridicule, absurdity, futility, horror, distortion and repulsion are the elements from which their art is made. Gentle humor about life's ironies becomes a thrust to the vitals. As such, the works address questions of identity -- Who am I? What am I? -- posed by images that are receptacles of emotional identification. In doing so, they up the ante of grotesquery, exposing nostalgic, erotic, glandular, even scatological visions in ferociously festive, in-your-face vignettes. The result is a raw, nervy exhibition remarkable for its unchecked id, inclement soul and unabashed will-to-create.

"Small Objects" will show through November 27 at Inman Gallery, 1114 Barkdull, 529-9676.

"Phantoms, Freaks and the Fantastic" will show through November 23 at DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 223-8346.

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