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"Love Man" Justin Brown Durand's new drawings at Front Gallery are inspired by Valentine's Day, but don't expect any hearts, flowers or anything remotely resembling your typical saccharine romance. But there is tons of pink. For "Love Man," gallery owner Sharon Engelstein reached out to Durand to specifically make a show to run during the Hallmark holiday. The artist says he then put himself in a "love trance," looking to romance, lust and passion for inspiration. The result of that trance shows the three at play in raw works that are alternately creepy, strange and oddly alluring, done in crayons, pastels, markers, pencil and pen. The subjects of Durand's paintings are exposed, both literally and emotionally — naked, with outlines of bones and arteries dressing up their limbs. The hearts here are outside the body, bleeding and still beating. The drawings are like R. Crumb meets Picasso — black and white ink sketches of bodies with their proportions, well, out of proportion. The subjects themselves display a wide range of romantic states — one couple is in rapture, embracing tenderly. Another is lying straight as boards, dead-looking, displaying no sense of intimacy despite their mutual nakedness. "Moccasins" is one of the most memorable, if also alarming, pieces — it shows an anonymous couple, their faces masked by long, flowing hair, in a heated moment. Both are naked save for their moccasins, and one is being dismembered, the torso cut in half and guts being pulled out. That gruesome scene is immediately followed by the touching "Virgins" — the image of a couple embracing, gazing into each others' eyes, with the words "I never thought tonight would ever be this close to me" coming from the man's mouth. Through March 17. 1412 Bonnie Brae St., 713-298-4750. — MD

"New Paintings: Geoff Hippenstiel" It seems trite to say an artist's work is exciting — how often have you heard that before? But that's the exact reaction I had when viewing Geoff Hippenstiel's new, large paintings at Devin Borden Gallery. In his first solo show here since his well-received MFA show at the University of Houston in spring 2010, the abstract oil paintings are almost too big for the gallery to contain. They take up its main exhibition space, its storeroom, even its office, making for some nice, colorful scenery at two desks. Every single one of these works is untitled — even the show is simply called "New Paintings" — but they're not without their own backstories. In short, the Houston artist starts off with one central image — Monet's lilies, Cézanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire, even, randomly, a Goya-bust award statue — and paints. He paints until the original inspiration is barely recognizable, though traces of it remain beneath the surface. As a result, the paintings feel familiar, and yet completely new. Whether it's the starting image or the artist's obsessive painting over it, the same material is always used — oil paint — but in an almost meta moment, Hippenstiel's viscous patches of metallic paint start to take over the work. The paint itself — its color and its thickness — becomes the subject, squeezing out the lilies or covering the pale gold of the Goya head in a bright green. In another painting, the original image is indiscernible, covered almost entirely in a thick blanket of shiny silver, erasing whatever came first. Experiencing the effacing quality of paint in this context is simple, but still exciting and completely alluring. The paint wins. Through March 13. Devin Borden Gallery, 3917 Main, 713-529-2700. — MD

"Perspectives 177: McArthur Binion" McArthur Binion's show at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston features a repetition of geometric shapes — triangles, squares and circles — varying only by color. To make them, he presses wax crayon onto wood and aluminum panels in a very laborious process that results in what the Chicago artist likes to call "Rural Modernism," both a nod to the pieces' heavy texture and his Mississippi upbringing. The result of all this repetition, however, is that once you see one piece, you've seen them all. Whether it's a red triangle, green triangle or purple triangle, there's not much to propel you forward. To be fair, each piece is subtly different, though that's largely indiscernible to the naked eye. That's because barely visible under each layer of crayon are autobiographical elements — pictures of Binion, his birth house, and parents, as well as lynched men and even racist and stereotypical imagery taken from fruit wrappings. The artist cleverly calls this the "under-consciousness" of the work, though like anything that's under the surface, you have to be told it's there, or otherwise miss it completely. One piece that did stand out in the artist's museum debut was Stellucca I: (Rural Geometry) — a parallelogram, the only one of its kind in the show, whose title is a combination of Binion's children's names, Stella and Lucca. With just a few simple lines, Binion manages to create a great tension that really grabs you. Through April 1. 5216 Montrose Blvd., 713-284-8250. — MD

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