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"Oil Sketches by Kim Dingle" There used to be a lot of "house galleries" in Houston, Montrose bungalows turned into exhibition spaces. But the real estate boom and townhome craze of the late '90s and early 2000s took care of most of them. Hopefully, artist Sharon Engelstein is leading a revival. Engelstein and her husband, painter Aaron Parazette, have turned the front parlor of their 1920 bungalow into a great gallery space. The Front Gallery's inaugural show features L.A. artist Kim Dingle's oil sketches — brushy, gestural images of chubby-legged little girls in puffy-sleeved white dresses, white socks and black Mary Janes. Neither saccharine vintage children's illustrations nor creepy Henry Darger characters, Dingle's girls are decidedly self-possessed. Pouting, clowning or angry, they wear frilly clothes symbolic of the stereotypical "girlishness" they choose to ignore. Through November 26. Front Gallery, 1412 Bonnie Brae, 713-298-4750. — KK

"Raimund Girke 1930-2002" Raimund Girke made deceptively simple paintings — the kind of art that people think their kids could do. With determined gesture and controlled expression, the late German artist dragged long, brushy strokes across his canvases. It's pretty masterful work; the marks are forceful and unwavering, the paintings dominated by strokes of white over dark grounds. Paintings like this can succeed or fail in ways that are incredibly difficult to categorize, as illustrated by the show itself, which features a couple near-misses shown with some standout works. Die Kraft der Vertikalen (1997) has an amazing presence and is the centerpiece of the show. It's a great rush of frosty white strokes over and intermingled with dark blue-black ones. Don't try this at home. Through October 29. Gallery Sonja Roesch, 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424. — KK

"Seth Mittag: We're Still Here..." Seth Mittag got his MFA from the University of Houston in 2003. He just returned to Houston after three years in New York doing Claymation for the likes of Michael Eisner, Moveon.org, and Nickelodeon. Now Mittag is channeling those skills into his art. His installation behind the glass wall of the EMERGEncy Room Gallery in Rice University's art building looks camera-ready. It's a not-unfamiliar scene of rural tragedy, a single-wide trailer after a tornado. All of the doll-size details are perfect, with the wracked trailer frame lodged in the branches of a tree, its walls erupting with pink insulation and spewing plywood and two-by-fours. A window-unit air conditioner lies on the ground beneath it, and the tree branches are festooned with a pair of Jockey shorts and a short sleeve western-style work shirt. Peering inside the house, you can see a deer head torn from the wall and lying on a collapsing counter. Then you notice the pair of shoes, er, feet in the living room. They belong to a man in a T-shirt and jeans obstinately occupying an easy chair, his feet propped up on a cinder block. Squinting into the window of the bedroom, you can barely make out a small, blond-haired boy in overalls, lying on a mattress. He stares up at the ceiling in shock or in a daydream. You can't tell which, but the scene is bursting with possible narratives. I hope it finds its way into a Mittag film as well. Through October 27. The EMERGEncy Room Gallery, Rice University Campus, 6100 Main, Sewall Hall, 4th Floor. Closing reception: 7 to 10 p.m. October 27. – KK

"Working in the Abstract: Rethinking the Literal" This show acts as a kind of teaching tool, so it's appropriate that it's on display at the Glassell School of Art. It's a primer on different styles of abstract painting, and it features some local heavy hitters of abstraction. The styles range from the liquid and organic compositions of Michael Kennaugh and Terrell James to the structured and geometrically inspired works of Pat Colville and Susie Rosmarin. The show's good for cleansing your mood palate; it's a way to exorcise those analytical demons and distill your surroundings down to color, shape and pattern. Rosmarin's meditative grids are consistently sweet eye candy, illuminated and flickering in an op-art-ish way. And Brooke Masterson Stroud's mysterious black paintings mix hard lines with hazy, unknowable open space. The exhibit succeeds in displaying the potential for emotion in abstraction. Through November 28. The Glassell School of Art, 5101 Montrose, 713-639-7300. — TS

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