Capsule Art Reviews: "A Coarse Portal," "Damaged Romanticism," "The Dead Weight of a Quarrel Hangs" "Incident at Osbourne Grove," "Juan Andres Videla: The Unsaid Word," "Liz Ward: Crazy Weather," "Machines, Buildings and Books"
"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
"The Dead Weight of a Quarrel Hangs: Selections from The Atlas Group Archive" Lebanese-born artist Walid Raad is founder of The Atlas Group and creator of this show. The Atlas Group, according to the exhibition, was founded in 1999 "to research and document the contemporary history of Lebanon," in particular the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). Truth be told, The Atlas Group is, according to the MFAH and numerous other sources, not a real foundation but a decade-long endeavor of Raad, created to make us question how we understand and interpret events. Lebanon's recent history is especially important to Raad, as he grew up in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. The exhibition features three strangely beautiful videos, each with its own fictional back story. There's also My neck is thinner than a hair: Engines (2000-2003), 100 photographs (front and back) of car bombings taken by real photojournalists, as well as a group of photos taken by Raad in 1982, called We decided to let them say "We are convinced" twice. It was much more convincing this way (2005). Framed in near stereopticon pairs, they depict civilians in East Beirut watching as West Beirut is bombed, planes dropping bombs overhead, and smiling Israeli soldiers relaxing in the shade of their trucks and tanks. Sometimes an artist says he's created his work in order to make you view things differently, and generally that is a load of crap. But Walid's work achieves his exact intentions. It not only makes you question the "archive" of The Atlas Group, but makes you question the news you read and listen to every day. Through November 23. The Glassell School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Houston, 5100 Montrose, 713-639-7500. — BS
"Incident at Osbourne Grove" It's been written that Gary Komarin was mentored by the abstract-turned-neo-expressionist Philip Gustin, 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 Gustin 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 North 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
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