Capsule Art Reviews: "A Coarse Portal," "Damaged Romanticism," "Incident at Osbourne Grove," "Juan Andres Videla: The Unsaid Word," "Liz Ward: Crazy Weather," "Machines, Buildings and Books," "Remixed & Reloaded: Black Women Artists "
"A Coarse Portal" "A Coarse Portal" is Philip Durbin's largest showing to date, and it's a fine rogue's gallery of the characters that inhabit Durbin's dreamy kingdom. The artist is obviously influenced by pop art and Warhol in particular — as seen in silk screens like Pop Skulls and OJ — but Durbin's best when he transfers his fondness for application onto the elaborate creatures displayed here in limited-edition prints, which, at $65 a pop, are highly affordable (and a steal). Durbin's subjects become canvases themselves, whether it's the wallpaper-like patterns applied to his Cobra, Wounded Seal and Itchy Man, or the colorful tattoo designs decorating Owl Horse, Sailor Man and, of course, the wonderful Octopus with Tats. The prints themselves will make tattoo lovers drool. You'll leave wishing you had a sleeve of Philip Durbin originals. Through November 22. ArtStorm, 4828 Caroline, 713-568-8174. — TS
"Damaged Romanticism" "Damaged Romanticism" features the work of 15 internationally recognized artists. There's some compelling work on display. Italian artist Angelo Filomeno's silk embroidered panels are incredibly intricate. The ornate images, stitched into gold silk lamé, depict nature, but with a subversively comic tone. In Arcanum: Rolling Shit, a green beetle probes a coiled-up turd. Berlinde De Bruyckere, from Belgium, exhibits her two mixed-media pieces, which feature abstract, stuffed forms that could resemble excrement as well. A series of large chromogenic prints by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky document a ship-breaking yard in Chittagong, Bangladesh. The photos are immediately epic and baroque, apocalyptic and, yes, romantic in subject matter — ships at sea. It's worth spending the 30 minutes it takes to watch Jesper Just's two films screening in an upstairs gallery. The Danish filmmaker creates sumptuous short films, usually based around a male protagonist who is followed by a male chorus. This show is well worth seeing. Through November 15. Blaffer Gallery, 4800 Calhoun, 713-743-9530. — TS
"Incident at Osbourne Grove" It's been written that Gary Komarin was mentored by the abstract-turned-neo-expressionist Philip Guston, and in this show, that influence is felt both very strongly and not at all, the best work being of the not-at-all variety. Works like Komarin's "Stacked Cake" series echo late-career Guston in their thick, sometimes interrupted lines, but it's Komarin's large, abstract canvases that dominate this show and contribute a wholly different, emotionally resonant yet ambiguous vibe. Komarin likes to crown his paintings with a jagged bar of color that seems to suggest a downward focus by implying a high horizon line. A Suite of Blue Sea, Sip, Sip, for instance, could be interpreted both as a view from the beach or as a view from just slightly above the surface of the water. The mostly sandy-colored canvas is occupied by what could be food-and-drink vessels or housing structures. Titles like Who is Hercules and Why are you Calling Him? add weight and intrigue to Komarin's works. He is probably a very process-obsessed artist, because looking at this work is a process, too — a pleasurable one. Through November 22. Gremillion Gallery, 2501 Sunset, 713-522-2701. — TS
"Juan Andres Videla: The Unsaid Word" Argentine artist Juan Andres Videla presents old-school oil paintings on canvas in "The Unsaid Word" at New Gallery. The artist's soft focus, moody urban scenes and barren institutional interiors are unpeopled. Night dominates the work, with a dog, his eyes glowing in the dark, as one of the few signs of life. The paintings have a film-noir quality, but they somehow feel more warm than ominous. Two small drawings on Formica are especially nice. The images of wet, bleak streets are quietly melancholy. It's a large but slightly uneven show; there are almost 30 works on view, and some weaker pieces could have been edited out for a tighter exhibition. This isn't the kind of show that turns the art world on its head, but the work is satisfying. It's refreshing to see a traditional approach to painting that doesn't feel traditional. Through November 29. 2627 Colquitt, 713-520-7053. — KK
"Liz Ward: Crazy Weather" Liz Ward makes lovely, delicate watercolors informed by the unlovely subject of environmental degradation. In her artist's statement, Ward cites the Pacific Gyre, the giant floating island of plastic crap created by a vortex of ocean currents, as one of her influences. The most successful works in the show are based on the irregular shapes and radiating rings of aquatic dead zones. With its fragile lines and translucent colors, a quiet thoughtfulness pervades the work. It's as if Ward is sitting at the planet's bedside, contemplating it as it slowly fades away. Through November 22. Moody Gallery, 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911. — KK
"Machines, Buildings and Books" Austin-based artist Lance Letscher utilizes bookbindings, old ledgers and journals, and miscellaneous paper ephemera to create both abstract collages and representational imagery, much of it exuding an innocent, childlike perspective. How to Lay an Egg, for example, employs two large, thick books (spines back to back) over which Letscher has arranged both circular and rectangular strips from covers of children's Little Golden Books. The colorful designs resemble Tinkertoy contraptions. Shards of light cardboard from album covers seem to decorate more adult-like works (also created with enormous books) like Two-Part Biography and Intermediate Design. The former is decorated in a vertical rectangular pattern, while the latter incorporates intricate, circular pie shapes. Little Twombly-esque doodles inhabit works like Giant Robot, while scraps of coloring books occupy realistic renderings, as in Blue Staircase. Railroad tracks are a recurring motif, as in Roundhouse, which also includes smokestacks spewing abstract conglomerations of blue and brown smoke. The seemingly antique quality of the materials, coupled with fleeting allusions to Germany, gives some works a feeling of childlike obliviousness to evil. Through November 29. McMurtrey Gallery, 3508 Lake, 713-523-8238. — TS
"Remixed & Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image Since 1970" With almost 50 video works on view, this show is definitely worth the trip, even if you can only hit the highlights. Co-organized by CAMH curator Valerie Cassel Oliver and Dr. Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta, the exhibition spans generations. In Cornered, Adrian Piper's iconic 1988 video installation about race, Piper, a woman with dark hair and an olive complexion, speaks to you on a video monitor, saying "I'm black." Like the philosophy professor that she is, Piper patiently dissects the meaning of that statement in a brilliant and illuminating exercise in logic that demonstrates the inescapability of race in America. Big Gurl (2006) is a Barbie-filled stop-motion animation tour de force work by the young Houston artist Lauren Kelley. Kelley uses goofy stop-motion animation and a host of modified Barbiesque dolls to tell stories about women's lives that blend humor with poignancy. Lip, Tracy Moffat's 1999 video, features clips scavenged from film history of black women portraying maids in film. History of a People Who Were Not Heroes (1994), María Magdalena Campos-Pons's video, plays a haunting Cuban lullaby while a sheet-draped rocking chair moves back and forth. Cut, a video by Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry, shows the artists, a couple, cutting each other's hair with a straight razor. McCallum is white and Tarry is black, and the seemingly straightforward mutual act evokes power, submission, loss and sensuality. Video is a powerful medium, yet it's a medium that requires a level of commitment from the viewer. But expand your attention span, and your patience will be rewarded. Through January 4, 2009. The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose Blvd., 713-284-8250. — KK
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