Capsule Art Reviews: April 8, 2014

"Charlotte Smith: Paint Rhetoric" These paintings use similar materials, but color variations are vast; each painting sings a different siren sing. They seem to be invitations, telling the viewer what kind of experience to expect. Dominant in the Anya Tish Gallery is Late Conversation (Night Dance). With a black background and dots of many colors, often blue, it has an oriental flavor. Charlotte Smith uses her paint generously, applying it to small pieces of paper or canvas, shaped a bit like sperm or a comma. These are glued to the canvas, and only close inspection reveals the layered effect. The emotional content is powerful. Grandiloquence is golden but subdued, suggesting an invitation from old friends to reminisce a bit, relaxing, serene. Magniloquence, with red dots and thin green stems, creates the impression of a field of poppies and of a celebration. Braggadocio, with white dots on a green background, seemed less involving, in tune with its title. Smith varies her approach in a series of paintings that suggest a spiral binder, though far more complex. Each is composed of two separate paintings, side by side, with the interior side of each having tiny projections of paint that are shaped like bowling pins; these look like spiral bindings from a distance. Each side of the painting is close to the mirror image of the other side, and the dots cluster near the "spiral," as though magnetized. In Small Confabulation I, there are brightly colored dots against a gray background, and the projections are colored in rings, like a croquet mallet. These paintings are about composition and texture. Smith is a painstaking artist; the amount and quality of her detailing is impressive indeed. Through May 24. 4411 Montrose, 713-524-2299, — JJT

"Cutting Edges | Finding Lines" presents Rix Jennings, Marie Leterme and Delaney Smith. Jennings shows two large drawings, David and Lisa, close to monochromatic. In David, a forearm and hand emerge from what may be a thicket of primeval foliage, and in Lisa, two forearms and hands dominate — the hands clasp themselves, either in serenity or quiet expectation, unusual but powerful. Jennings also has four small charming oil paintings that convey multilayered stories. In The World Between, two very different men mow grass behind a tall fence, while between the walls a running stream cascades over rocks, the rawness of nature untamed despite fences. Marie Leterme is a Belgium-born artist who grew up near the battlefields of World War I, and is fascinated by that "war to end all wars." In Row on Row, the Poppies Blow, she pays homage to the graves of dead soldiers. She shows three sculptures as well, using crutches wrapped in bandages, each topped by additional materials that signify meaning. I liked most In Flanders Field, 1914, in which the white twigs on top were less overpowered by the base. Delaney Smith is intrigued by books, and illustrates this directly with Mark the Loss, a set of three books on a table, one open, creating a tableau of linen-colored beauty. Smith also has two wall sculptures: The horizontal Signature #5 is large and powerfully engrossing, many sheafs of paper piled together tightly, bleached in color, some with almost invisible printing. To me it signified the incredible importance of books and the magical power of the imagination. Through May 10. Hunter Gather Gallery, 5320 Gulfton, Suite 15, 713-664-3302, — JJT

"Georges Braque: A Retrospective" French artist Georges Braque (1882-1963) often gets second billing to his more famous colleagues Matisse and Picasso. He was as accomplished as either of them (or almost so), but not nearly as many go giddy at news of another Braque exhibition as do for the other two. With the exhibition "Georges Braque: A Retrospective" coming to Houston from Paris, where it was mounted on the 50th anniversary of Braque's death, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston takes him out of the shadows of Matisse and Picasso and lets him stand gloriously on his own. Included are 70-plus works from all periods of his career, starting with a spine-tingling group of his fauve ("wild beast") paintings from 1906-1907, exploding with purple trees, green skies, blue mountains and red waves. These may be the greatest, and most satisfying, surprise of all. But there are also entire galleries of his delicate, art history-changing cubist paintings, as well as plenty examples of his own unique contribution to art, papier collé (collage), so fragile and so difficult to borrow that you may never be able to see so many together again. Installed in the Upper Brown Pavilion of the MFAH Caroline Wiess Law Building, a vast space that was recently reconfigured, the show shines brilliantly. One moment you can be completely surrounded by works of a single style or period, and then with a step or two you can see through to other galleries of earlier or later works and make visual connections across Braque's long career. It's a show not to be missed. Through May 11. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — RT

"Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher: Trailer" The installation at McClain Gallery is by two collaborative Texan artists, Jeff Shore (Houston) and Jon Fisher (Dripping Springs). They have worked together since 2002, and this is their second solo show in Houston. This offering is kinetic, with much of the movement on film. A visitor pushes a small red button and a film appears, close to sepia in tone, suggesting days past, a simpler life; nostalgia seeps in. A series of images flickers onto a large screen on one wall. Large wooden semaphores unfold on film, as though a flower. An exercise bike turns, resembling an ancient spinning wheel, or the wheel to a prairie wagon. Human beings are absent — this is a tour of a museum of the mind, with no interpreter except you. A trailer, nestled in the woods, appears — old-style, small, silvery, devoid of luxury. Inside, four stools with no backs, as in an ice cream parlor, now empty, but one senses they once were filled with teenagers chattering away, eager to gossip and flirt, ordering vanilla Cokes. Drumsticks on automatic players beat tattoos on drums, retreat, re-emerge later. A paper lantern expands and contracts repeatedly, like an accordion, another repetitive image. The camera moves, but we, observing, are motionless. Echoes of circuses invade the mind. There is a big finish, as suddenly other walls come alive with pulsing images, and we are inundated, a tide of impressions sweeping us along with them. The images fade, the music dies, the flower closes and it is over. It lasts just 12 minutes, but it could be a lifetime. See it for yourself, and create your own narrative. Through May 31. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — JJT

"Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938" John and Dominique de Menil were friends with many of the prominent art figures of their day, including the modern painter René Magritte. As a result of their patronage, The Menil Collection holds the most elaborate repository of Magritte's paintings outside of his native Belgium. In many ways, the images of Magritte are just as much a part of pop culture as they are art history. Even if you've never set foot inside a museum, chances are you've seen the raining men of Golconde (1953) or the word/image play of The Empty Mask (1952). In an effort to bring audiences into a more intimate knowledge of Magritte's fascinating Surrealist landscapes and critiques of tangible reality, the Menil has joined the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art to create "Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938," an exploration that examines the early work of his career and identifies the Surrealist experiments that would mark the masterpieces of his later career. I don't normally associate Magritte's paintings with warmth of any kind, but the 80 items in the catalog have been arranged so that they hint at the human impulses behind the iconic, if austere, genius. The years before World War II marked Magritte's development as an artist, and it's on these walls that the Menil's patrons can see the first of his important forays into Surrealism, such as 1927's Entr'acte, in which an assortment of limbs climb out of a darkened landscape, or Discovery, in which the skin of a female nude appears to be made of wood. The exhibition's careful arrangement gives plenty of opportunity to examine less familiar works, especially those making a visit from outside the country. I was previously unaware of Attempting the Impossible, but found myself fascinated by Magritte's representation of the creation process. In the painting, Magritte configures a self-portrait of sorts, which sees his stand-in rendering a naked woman. It's a comical bit, a suggestion that art is not a reflection of reality, but perhaps the artist is the ultimate prime mover of what is real and what isn't. Much of the appeal of this exhibition is in its sheer ambition. One of the highlights has to be the gathering on one wall of The Eternally Obvious, The Depths of the Earth and Celestial Perfections. These are three paintings, but not simply three canvases. Each work is a cluster of canvases that reveal a fragmented image. One is a female nude, another is a landscape and the third is a sky full of clouds. Each canvas is a shard of a larger image, but in turn each canvas is a window into its own world. The Menil exhibition is the first time the three works have been displayed together since their creation in 1930. Together they are a powerful assessment of the modern world and a human condition that is no longer a solid whole but a splintered existence. Through June 1. 1533 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — AC

"Ricardo Osmondo Francis: Turn of the Century." The works of Houston-born but NYC-based artist Ricardo Osmondo Francis are presented by East End Studio Gallery in a solo exhibition that opened April 25. Using mixed media and some collages and incorporating text, Francis combines artistic talent with an educational approach. The result can be heavy-handed, though Francis eludes this problem in many of his more successful works. Duty Free Government combines lush fruits with small text inserts: ".com," ".edu" and ".org," plus a small glitter dollar sign. The contrast between the earth-anchored fruit and the abstractions of the Internet is a powerful one. The Cocoa Tree presents two African Americans, facing each other, with three words inserted: "free — at — last." The man on the left is a slave, on the right, a free man. Francis is deft in capturing human expressions, very effective here in both men. Most charming is a self-portrait, with Francis smiling broadly, dapper, red carnation in lapel, obviously successful and on top of the world. The Man as Lifetime seemed placid, lacking the usual volatile energy of this artist, with a well-dressed African American man, an ape crouched by his side and tropical fruit below the ape. Various dates are scattered throughout the painting: "1865," "1963," et al., each evoking a memorable moment in the civil rights movement, but the painting seems overly cerebral. The exhibition in the spacious, attractive gallery is large, with extensive examples of Francis's talent. Some small portraits by Francis, such as Truth and Soy, stand out, as they radiate power, without the garnishing of glitter or the enhancement of text. Francis has a remarkable ability to capture the inner life of an individual, and where this strength is incorporated into his work, viewing is enriched. Through May 8. 708-C Telephone, viewing by appointment, 832-488-9594 or — JJT


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