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Weasels and Deer

Inman Gallery rocks the holidays with two great shows.

"Weasel" is wonderful.
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Yuko Murata makes intimate, notebook-size paintings filled with childishly simple imagery. In "Yuko Murata: Coconut tree and deer" at Inman Gallery, a deer stares out at the viewer in one painting; in another, a yellow-eyed sheep does the same. In other work, a lone tree pokes out of the ground with a grade-school horizon line painted across the bottom of the canvas. These are the kinds of paintings that in different hands could look like the work of a fifth-grader. But in Murata's, they are beautiful, charming and engaging. Murata is one of those artists who make it seem effortless, as if just anyone could stick a tree in the middle of a page and manage to turn it into a good painting.

The artist works in low-key, coolly earthy colors in oil on canvas and oil on paper, but the canvases are the most appealing. In them, layers of shiny (glazed?) oil paint seem to slide around. The brushstrokes are visible, revealing the hand of the artist, as well as the patterns created by the hairs of the brush, as she renders her simplified, slightly abstracted images. (This is one of those shows where you definitely have to see the work in person.) Murata doesn't do any messy wallowing in paint — she applies it in thin, workmanlike layers, sometimes painting her largely monochromatic backgrounds last. They surround the animal, tree or rocks in the foreground, slightly submerging the image.

Not for sale: This work by Eva and Franco Mattes — or is it Maurizio Cattelan?
Not for sale: This work by Eva and Franco Mattes — or is it Maurizio Cattelan?

Details

"Weasel"

Through January 15.

"Yuko Murata: Coconut tree and deer"

Through January 8.

"Weasel"

Inman Annex, 3917 Main, 713-526-7800.

"Yuko Murata: Coconut tree and deer"

Inman Gallery, 3901 Main, 713-526-7800.

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Murata combines a delicate and endearing awkwardness with a sophisticated sense of color and composition. The Japanese artist brings to her work the same deliberative simplicity that informs Japanese rock gardens — and, in fact, several of her paintings depict strategically placed rocks. But it is the combination of this elegance with a kind of melancholic goofiness that really sets Murata's work apart — few can combine those seemingly contradictory qualities into something wonderful the way Murata does. Strangely, her paintings somehow remind me of British artist David Shrigley's — if he stopped using text and suddenly became interested in aesthetics and craft.

"Coconut tree and deer" shouldn't be missed.

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