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"Rita Bernstein: Out of Place" Painterly photographs never seem to lose their appeal — there's a reason there are multiple apps that specialize in turning your boring old photographs into neatly framed, beautiful works of art. Rita Bernstein achieves a similar effect in her work, but rather than pushing a button, the Philadelphia photographer spends hours in and out of the darkroom, brushing silver emulsion onto Japanese gampi, or applying beeswax and oil paint to handmade paper. The nearly two-dozen works in "Out of Place," her solo show at John Cleary Gallery, are mostly black-and-white, with unclean edges and square shapes, like some sort of self-made Instagram filter. The size of the images — the biggest are still only a foot square — also adds to their intimacy. Like any stranger's Instagram collection, these images are also highly personal, framed snapshots of the artist's life. They're unstaged, organic images of her friends and family, taken almost slyly — as in the teenage girl lying down on a bed, face turned away from the viewer, her mess of curly hair tumbling down, in Joanna, Age 16. There's also a rawness to Bernstein's photographs in their framing that is enhanced by the materials and process. The paper's edges are uneven, the image unfinished or broken where the silver emulsion wasn't brushed on all the way. The paper itself is uneven, with the image riding slight ridges. This fragility adds to the vulnerability of the subjects. The works with beeswax and oil paint, that vintage tradition of encaustic painting, take on a more haunting quality, their subjects seeming more like apparitions. They're black shadows at the end of a staircase, a silhouetted couple walking in a landscape, and a woman standing in front of a mirror, looking off somewhere we can't see. Filters may be all about making works beautiful, but they often leave you quickly moving on to the next one. These images stay with you long after you've viewed them. Through July 31. 2635 Colquitt St., 713-524-5070. — MD

"Shifting Transforming: Ideas, Shapes & Materials" This aptly named group show at Peel is a colorful, fun and engaging way to send in the summer. It features sculptural works by some previous Peel exhibitors — Tom Lauerman, Fabio Fernandez and Gabriel Dawe among them — and some newcomers, including Jennifer Maestre. Maestre has gained international attention for her pencil sculptures (she's even been featured on The Martha Stewart Show). Here, it's easy to see why: They're compelling pieces that are so simple — literally pieces of colored pencil sewn together — but are so masterful and alluring, they steal the show. The artist has said she was initially inspired by sea urchins, and that definitely comes through in her series of small round works, aptly titled Urchins. Her larger works also give hints at their origins — one, titled Fat Boy, resembles the form of a rotund human body. Another, Tiamat, the name a reference to a draconic goddess in the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, indeed looks like some sort of spiky, four-legged monster. Simply alternating between the sharp point of the pencil and its flat end, Maestre is able to create complex contours and shapes that are out of this world and yet still familiar. Through July 28. 4411 Montrose, 713-520-8122. — MD

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