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User-Friendly Abstraction

Three Houston artists bring a genre new life. Real life.

By the same token, the densely painted surfaces of Kim O'Grady's intimate paintings, also at West End, reveal a history of revisions that suggests a substratum. Like Packlick, O'Grady deliberately seeks an uneasy tension between intellectual content and sensuous impact, between difficult propositions about abstract painting and light-hearted accessibility.

Balancing gut appeal and practiced smartness, her paintings draw you so close to their surfaces that your nose almost touches them. Their gravitational pull begins the moment you see them. Densely painted skins sometimes wrap around the sides or swell into thick, lumpy crusts. A few surfaces appear out of focus, slightly abuzz with an internal flickering energy.

Whatever memories or associations they trigger, the paintings pique one's interest with fields of indistinct color. A greenish gray-tinted mist fills Jeri Liked This One, but the surface still shimmers with light, as though color were reflected through layers of vaporous fog. Tiny circular pools with minuscule orange dots float upward out of the picture plane. The waxy knit skin of surface, form and color also conveys a sense of the hand in motion, searching.

Lawn Furniture is composed of a delicate orange-and-blue weave that appears to dissolve slowly into a faintly pulsating and deeply affective space. Miracle Whip, on the other hand, is raw and gritty; the vertical white grid looks fatty, venous, blemished and scored with channels of viscous wax. Sugarfree is composed of hundreds of tiny colored dots or fizzies floating on a white ground evocative of saccharin-laced soda. In Freshmaker, O'Grady excavates the lumpy, sickly sweet pink surface, gouging out corpuscular areas, then dropping in replacement dabs or cockleburs of orange paint to activate the gauzy green and blue rectangular planes.

All in all, O'Grady's new work exudes a youthful irreverence toward painterly traditions that both acknowledges its precedents and breaks free of them. Unlike those formalist painters whose purifying activities provide backdrop to her raucous compositions, O'Grady mines the potential of the awkward, messy details of everyday life.

Works by Al Souza will be on view through Nov. 21 at Moody Gallery, 2815 Colquitt, 526-9911.

Works by Kathleen Packlick and Kim O'Grady will be on view through Nov. 14 at West End Gallery, 5425 Blossom, 861-9544.

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