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Scary Ordinary

Todd Hido's images of the everyday are ominous and forlorn

Todd Hido has lurked in banal suburban neighborhoods photographing ranch-style houses at night. He has recorded the interiors of featureless motels. He has wandered the rooms of foreclosed homes, photographing the vestiges of previous occupants. Hido's images never contain anything out of the ordinary, which is precisely why they're so unsettling. He shows us an everyday so ominous and forlorn, it's a wonder we ever crawl out from under the bedcovers to face it.

In "Roaming," on view at Inman Gallery, Hido turns his lens to rural roadside landscapes, coming up with images that look like they were taken by a drifter or a fugitive. If the killers Truman Capote profiled in In Cold Blood stopped to take pictures on their way to Holcomb, Kansas, to murder the Clutter family, these are the kinds of images they might have captured.

Photographs are shot through rain-spattered windows. Wet roads curve through wide prairies, and telephone poles lean at bizarre angles. The landscape is desolate and unpopulated, and the images are so disturbingly bleak they feel black-and-white, even though they're shot in color.

Clack III, by Paul Fleming, has a cool, minimal 
elegance.
Clack III, by Paul Fleming, has a cool, minimal elegance.
Fleming's Vinka gathers tiny crosses into 
an impressive whole.
Fleming's Vinka gathers tiny crosses into an impressive whole.

Details

Both shows through July 2
"Todd Hido: Roaming": Inman Gallery, 3901 Main, 713-526-7800.

"Paul Fleming: Escape Pod": Barbara Davis Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200.

A slightly less rural image depicts an overgrown asphalt path at night. Flanked by a metal railing, it runs down a hill under the faint foggy light of streetlamps. You imagine it leading to the scene of a tragedy. In another nocturnal image, a streetlight shines down on a wet car cover bunched around what appears to be a '70s muscle car. The car looks like it has been body-bagged.

Hido's photographs don't show any people, just evidence of their presence, which contributes to the general aura of creepiness. It's like those horror movies where a doomed character naively says, "Hey, where did everybody go?" But there is one portrait in the mix. It shows the back of the head of a woman with a straw-blond mane on a sunny day, the fall foliage behind her blending with the color of her hair, which seems to swing slightly, as if she were about to turn to face you. There shouldn't be anything disturbing about this image, but somehow you imagine her turning around, her eyes wide with horror.

Fleming's Forms

In "Escape Pod," Paul Fleming's show in Barbara Davis Gallery's new Montrose location, you half expect to find astronauts hiding out from HAL. Fleming's sculptures have a '60s futuristic feeling that calls to mind 2001: A Space Odyssey. He's been using Hydrocal (a stronger, less porous version of plaster) and colored resin in his sculptures for several years now. To make the sculptures, Fleming casts forms from found objects -- food containers and packing materials -- and then pours resin on top of or into the white cast form, creating glossy pools of color. The chalky white Hydrocal and shiny, translucent resin create a lush contrast.

The abstract shapes and unusual material combinations of these wall-based sculptures elicit "Wow, that looks cool" responses. But the work has too often stopped short, its initial appeal petering out. The simple, small-scale forms shown by themselves or in small groupings don't gather much momentum. Many of the individual objects aren't inherently interesting after the initial impact.

But Fleming is really starting to hit his stride. He's grouping his works in sizable numbers and reaching a critical mass. Individual components that previously weren't compelling enough to hold your interest start to have a spectacular effect when they're grouped together.

An example of this is Clack III (2005), a grid of 21 forms shaped like giant gold bars, probably cast in something like a wallpaper tray. The white Hydrocal is surfaced with a thick translucent layer of resin in alternating colors of pale frosty green and smoky taupe. The piece has a cool, minimal elegance.

I have no idea what Fleming used to cast Rack (2005), but the result looks like a narrow, 14-foot-high set of futuristic miniblinds. In clear candy colors, its angled horizontal ridges -- each segment about one and a half feet high-- reach up to the ceiling. Casting anything large-scale is a nightmare, and Fleming gets around it by combining smaller segments to create a dramatic, large-scale impact.

But things don't have to be bigger to be better. Wrap (2005) is a ten- by 14-inch rectangular, paintinglike work. Here Fleming has cast a "canvas" with dozens of tiny circular depressions -- it's the reverse of a sheet of bubble wrap. Resin in a chic pale green and a barely tinted, clear color fill the depressions. The luminous speckling of dots looks like a color-blindness test. In other works, Fleming painstakingly gathers a host of tiny elements into an impressive whole. Vinka (2005) is an assemblage of tiny crosses marked with lines of resin in aquatic blues and greens fitted side by side to create a jagged band of forms.

There are still things to be sorted out in the show. Tapi (2005), a vertical line of white circles filled with mossy green resin, just doesn't have enough going on. The same goes for Range (2005), a grid of orange-and-green-tipped cones that are even pointier than Madonna's Jean Paul Gaultier bra. The starkness of the individual elements and the rigidity of the grid they're displayed in create a work that feels cold and clinical.

If you're making sleek, space-age, minimalist work like this, there's always a danger of it becoming too sterile or too design-focused. But Fleming has some good stuff going on overall and has managed to avoid these pitfalls in most of the show. There's a great energy to his constant experimentation with forms, and his increased focus on how to present them is making his work stronger.

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