Capsule Art Reviews: "A chain of non-events," "Jonathan Leach: Time Does Not Exist Here," "Maxim Wakultschik: FaceTime," "New Work: Drawings, Collages, and Tiles," "Plain Sight," "Territorial Pissings"
"A chain of non-events" At Lawndale Art Center's "Big Show" last summer, Katie Wynne's piece stood out from the nearly 70 others in the exhibition. The installation consisted of just a motorized tie rack and blue satin, but the rack was turned on so that it was constantly revolving and catching the cloth in its hangers. It was utterly mesmerizing in its simplicity. Lawndale's latest round of shows features a different Wynne, one who is much, much messier. In the artist statement for "A chain of non-events," found upstairs in the third-floor Project Space, the Houston artist even says, "In a reality of too much orderliness, I am keeping room for the untamed." This is a show that revels in its disorder. This ambitious exhibition feels like one giant installation, though it is really broken up into five works. There are no tie racks employed, but there are oscillating fans, cassette players and a foot massager, which, mounted on the wall, looks like a big cassette or mini air-conditioner. Scattered among these electronics are colorful blouse sleeves, wrapping paper, sequins, cardboard, felt, fabric and more. These fragments are propped up by wooden beams or tables, which are connected by white string that creates a loose trail and propels you from one piece to the next. There's a sense in which the machines are following some innate logic or instruction. The fans in last judgment repeatedly go back and forth, moving the blouse sleeves attached to them with it, to no end. A paint brush in pangea maria is attached to an oscillating fan and twists like a brush stroke, though the brush is dry. It feels like a rote action, one that can't be help taking place, long after the paint has dried, like a muscle memory. These little situations and setups are not as simple as a tie rack and satin, or as mesmerizing, for that matter. They're more complicated, more layered and harder to access. Which isn't a bad thing. Through April 20. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — MD
"Jonathan Leach: Time Does Not Exist Here" The year 2012 was a pretty good one for Jonathan Leach. The artist's work was in nearly a dozen shows from Portland to San Antonio. But mostly he was all over Houston, including a fine art fair, a major survey of the contemporary Houston painting scene and a show displaying the collection of major Houston donors. Now, 2013 is looking pretty good, too, as Leach kicks it off with his second solo exhibit at Gallery Sonja Roesch. By one indicator, the show was so popular, the gallery ran out of wine. Why is Leach, as evidenced his omnipresence and fans' imbibing, so popular? For one thing, there's his urban aesthetic inspired by Houston, among other cities. His geometric paintings evoke streetscapes and office buildings while still being abstract. He also employs bold neon colors that are light-years away from Mondrian's primary hues. There is a balance to his lines and colors, too. No matter how vivid or potentially dizzying they get, they still ground you. One of the most striking things about Leach's paintings is the fact that they are, indeed, paintings. They are so clean and straight that they seem manufactured. They are perfect — the outcome of meticulous taping, painting and many a night spent puzzling over their composition and color. Leach's paintings take up the bulk of your attention, but they are also joined by some works on paper. These look like blueprints for his canvases, the faint ink drawings depicting 3-D forms that transform the pages. The Houston artist also has a few of his signature Plexiglas sculptures on hand. These bring his 3-D effect to a whole new level as his bold lines overlap, intersect and bend across the clear planes of the Plexiglas. Most intriguing of all these is C.I.T.E. Object, a rectangular piece that features bright blue, pink and clear zigzagging lines against black spray paint that nearly engulfs the Plexiglas, but Leach leaves enough negative space to make it interesting. Fittingly, the sculpture is placed near the painting Dark Device, another work that's primarily black. Given the strong city connotation in his work, it feels as if nighttime has descended over this part of the gallery, and a whole new dimension of Leach's universe is brought masterfully to life. Through April 27. 2309 Caroline, 713-659. — MD
"Maxim Wakultschik: FaceTime" Maxim Wakultschik has a one-track mind — he likes faces. They cover every piece of artwork in his fourth solo show, up at Anya Tish Gallery, and have been mostly dominant in the shows preceding it. To the German-based artist, "nothing is as interesting as faces." And whether you agree or not, Wakultschik also does some pretty interesting things with them. On one side of the gallery, you have 3-D wooden objects titled Multipersonality that feature two alternating faces painted onto the grooves. As you go from one side of the piece to the next, the faces change, like a hologram. Except this is all done with oil and wood, so the effect is even more unexpected, if a little cheap-looking. On the other side, you have more wooden works, each one made up of more than 60 small angled blocks arranged into a black, gold or silver square. Each block bears the outline of a face drawn in graphite that you have to get close up to see. It's a small payoff in the end but is structurally interesting to look at, especially with all three pieces lined up in a row. The most compelling works in the show, which is appropriately titled "FaceTime," are a series of painted portraits boxed behind Plexiglas that look like floating heads. They are jaw-dropping, the types of pieces that elicit a "wow" from gallery-goers. Starting with a photograph, Wakultschik paints and draws on his portrait before curving it behind a sheet of Plexiglas, resulting in a luminous 3-D effect. They look like they're glowing from within, but no lighting is involved. There are nearly a dozen of these portraits in the show, the most impressive of which is the massive Anastasia. The piece takes up the back wall, and the red lips — the only source of color that's not black or white — immediately draw you in. Though the closer you get to it, the blurrier it gets, so it is best viewed from a distance. Wakultschik doesn't offer any clues to how he achieves his floating-head effect; the sides of the box are blocked off, obscuring the magic at play. Smaller 3-D portraits are arranged in a colorful grid. Each person has his or her own pop of color, like a monochrome Andy Warhol. Unlike the generic model used in Anastasia, these portraits are of people you'll likely recognize — renowned 20th- and 21st-century artists such as Chuck Close, Frida Kahlo, Robert Rauschenberg and Jean-Michel Basquiat. There's a little cheat sheet on the gallery price list to help clue you in to who's who, but they are pretty distinct and full of expression to help identify each one. Homages are tricky — by directly referencing the work (or, as in this case, likeness) of a great, influential artist, you set yourself up for an unfair comparison. But lucky for Wakultschik, these works are visually striking, different and fresh while conveying an intriguing range of influences, too. The only person missing is Warhol himself, but maybe that would have been a bit too on the nose. Through April 20. 4411 Montrose, 713-524-2299. — MD
"New Work: Drawings, Collages, and Tiles" While exploring the imagery of power lines throughout his 30-year career, Randy Twaddle's work with the surprisingly elegant black lines has appeared in paintings and on wool rugs, textiles, even tote bags. A new show at Moody Gallery featuring the Houston artist and designer's work demonstrates that he's not done yet with the electric muse and there's still a lot more experimentation to be done. In fewer than 20 pieces, Twaddle works in plywood, charcoal on paper, tiles and collage, all mediums that convey the simple, transfixing beauty of the silhouettes. I would have liked to see more of his work with plywood beyond just the introductory Tether, with the lines striking the wood in gesso, though that's so 2011. As of late, Twaddle has made a return to his medium of choice — charcoal and paper — in the works Lord's Acre and Forager's Compass. The massive abstract drawings are perfectly symmetrical, resembling some urban Rorschach test. Twaddle goes beyond these flat surfaces and into more 3-D territory with Mirabeau Tile, a wall sculpture based on a 2-D transformer-based pattern that consists of four identical bas-relief tiles cast in hydro-stone. There's no black silhouette here, just monochrome white, which makes the raised bumps of the transformer seem creepily like veins. Beyond these explorations in tile and charcoal, the majority of the new works on display are small collages. There are 14 arranged in two neat rows that are made up of photographs of power and utility lines. These documents are cut up and put back together, like patchworks of varying blue skies, the occasional cloud and, in a nod to a recent practice of Twaddle's, coffee-stained paper. They feel like stamps showing the evolution of this impressive, ceaselessly inspiring interest in power lines — a look at where it's been and where it's possibly going. Through April 20. 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911. — MD
"Plain Sight" East Sunset Heights film institution 14 Pews usually directs your attention up front to its screen, but this month, it's encouraging you to look at its walls as well. In collaboration with Houston arts organization Intuitive Eye, 14 Pews is displaying the work of three acclaimed outsider artists in the show "Plain Sight." "Acclaimed outsider artists" is a bit of an oxymoron. By definition, outsider artists operate outside of mainstream art institutions and art historical context. But in their lifetime, the three here were able to gain recognition for their craft, showing in galleries, winding up in collections and drawing the eyes of admirers. Of the three men, two were from Houston, the third from Baltimore. Two were also homeless, while the third preferred to work "in the fresh air" along the road. Two are also dead, the third only presumed to be alive. To view their work, you must go in and out of the pews; it's a slow, contemplative process. The dramatic lighting of the former church does well to highlight the art, and Paul Darmafall's glass mosaics are particularly beautiful under the spotlights. Known as "The Baltimore Glassman," Darmafall (1925-2003) claimed a busy stretch of Baltimore roadway as his white wall, making mosaics and collages from found shards of glass. His varied subjects ranged from the religious (Jesus, an angel) to the patriotic (George Washington, Yankee Doodle, the Liberty Bell). Richard Gordon Kendall's drawings bring us to closer to home. The Houston homeless man (born about 1930; current whereabouts unknown) turned to art when he reached "retirement age." His subject was the streets themselves — a homeless shelter, a yellow building, even recognizable places like Two Houston Center. This being Houston, these downtown spots are also devoid of people. Kendall salvaged paper from the trash and, amazingly, saved up for ballpoint pens, markers and crayons when he could. The fact that a man chose to buy these tools, likely small luxuries, speaks volumes about the value of art, craft and self-expression. The third artist is "Remmy," a Houston homeless man who died in 2008 after a hit-and-run. Curator Jay Wehnert had admired Remmy's work — installations in the Heights made from found paper, ribbon and cardboard boxes — from afar for several years. His wife photographed one such installation in the railroad trestle underpass on Yale Street, seen in this show, preserving it for good before it was mistaken for garbage and removed by trash collectors. Such found-art installations demonstrate what can be a fine line — as the saying goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure. Through April 26. 800 Aurora, 281-888-9677. — MD
"Territorial Pissings" Geoff Hippenstiel has a most risky process: When he has a perfectly good painting, he intentionally messes it up to create a problem he then has to solve. It's a method that could potentially ruin a work, but lucky for us, it results in paintings that are richly detailed and engaging. Engaging hardly seems a strong enough word to describe what it's like to process a Hippenstiel. The longer you look at any of the five untitled works currently on display in "Territorial Pissings" at Devin Borden Gallery, the more you see. You're left with a completely different painting than when you first approached. That's because the abstract works are layered with unexpected colors and markings that are waiting to be discovered, even after you've lived with them. They are thick with impasto, like the end result of some volcanic eruption that's spilled lime green, purple, red, gold and blue across the canvases in spurts. The canvases are massive, too; in a gallery equipped with 14-foot-high ceilings, the eight-foot-tall paintings don't seem all that big, but they are towering works. As you move clockwise from the left in the gallery, the paintings intentionally become more abstract. The first one you encounter — a smattering of markings in the shape of a skull — is a rare work for Hippenstiel, who's known for his impressive, large-scale abstract works and doesn't get this representational. He's making a statement, showing us he has some surprises up his sleeve and making his mark in something other than abstraction (hence the show's title, "Territorial Pissings," which is pulled from a Nirvana song title). While the skull is a clear subject, Hippenstiel conceals his inspiration in his other paintings, burying it under layers of oil and even spray paint. A Goya-shaped award statue is the starting point for at least one painting, the faint outline of a gold-hued face just there under the surface. Other seemingly monochromatic paintings bury colors that slowly reveal themselves to you. A giant gold piece seems pretty straightforward at first glance, but the longer you stay with it, the more tints of green and orange appear and it suddenly becomes a whole new painting. Magic? Nope, just a hell of a good painter. Through April 27. 3917 Main, 713-529-2700. — MD
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