Capsule Art Reviews: "Ben Tecumseh DeSoto: ZENtrospective," "Dieter Balzer: Objects," "Dog Park," "Flyaway: New Work by Aaron Parazette," "Glass Graphica," "Texas Eclectic"
"Ben Tecumseh DeSoto: ZENtrospective" Redbud Gallery is a hopelessly small venue for a retrospective on Ben Tecumseh DeSoto, the longtime Houston photographer whose work has appeared on the pages of the Houston Chronicle and the walls of the Menil and Contemporary Art Museum Houston. And yet "ZENtrospective" manages to bring together an astonishing range of subject matter and style by the prolific photographer. It begins with a beautifully composed shot of birds from his Dreams of Flight series, moves to scenes of homelessness and drug abuse, leaps to extreme close-ups of cicadas in the act of molting, and returns to birds — photograms of ducks and baby birds — over the course of 36 photographs. Barry Lives At Monroe And I-45 (2008) is a portrait of a homeless man with the most striking blue eyes. He takes up half the frame, hunched over like his own mountain, clutching the day's Chronicle while the lights of the street are blurred behind him. A trio of shots from DeSoto's "Painfully Real" series was taken 20 years before DeSoto found Barry. They're groupings of images from newspaper assignments that were never published, the photographer notes, due to their "provocative nature." The names of two of these four-part reels of film tell you why — "Smoking Crack" and "Shooting Drugs." Exploitative? Maybe a little. But the images were taken in the intimacy of someone's home, with some of the users demonstrating close up for the camera. These were subjects who wanted to have their pictures taken and have their lives documented, and DeSoto was willing to do that. Among all this, you'll also find beautiful images of brave little birds (Birds Endure Winter Rain) and "edgy portraits" of a Ms. Yet, focusing on her extravagant back tattoos, the pearls around her neck and the rings piercing her nipples. It's a strange little show for sure, full of images that are at times shocking, other times stunning. But it's always honest. Through September 30. 303 East 11th St., 713-862-2532. — MD
"Dieter Balzer: Objects" While looking at Dieter Balzer's meticulous overlapping stripes and bold checkers, I couldn't help but think of the on-trend fashion equivalent — the mix-matched patterns and loud color blocking that have been everywhere this past summer. And now, so it seems, they've found their way to the walls of Gallery Sonja Roesch, whose current exhibition features the Berlin artist's newest works. From either vantage point, both the fashion and the art are appealing for many of the same reasons — the use of bright, vibrant colors, of blue against green against purple against orange, is cheery and attention-grabbing. Meanwhile, the different patterns are unexpected but have an innate logic and surprising order, even when the bars and squares that make up these sculptures overlap. Balzer, of course, isn't copying some in-vogue style; the Gallery Sonja Roesch favorite has been making reductive art like this for years, filling up the walls and floors here and in Europe with his colorful, linear sculptures. He has an exact system, too, creating his curiously named works (Mesa, Flic Flac, Xeos, Manga) based on a modular system of architecture and color. In this sense, every piece of adhesive foil-covered MDF has a place and a color and relates to other elements of the sculpture in a very specific way, making for works that are balanced despite their seeming disorder. Within all that spontaneity of color and pattern, there is a sense that Dieter is pulling the strings. While fashions may come and go, there is a timelessness to the artist's objects, which elegantly cut through the white space. His clean, bright sculptures can hold up. Through October 27. 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424. — MD
"Dog Park" G Gallery put out the open call earlier this summer for artists who use dogs as subject matter in their work. And the resulting show is indeed a winner. It has a range of mediums, from paintings to photography to sculpture, with submissions by some of the Houston art scene's heavy hitters. A real standout is Suzy Gonzalez's How Much Is That in the Window?, an oil painting depicting a normal family scene — mom, dad and little boy, who's pointing off excitedly at something out of view — except for the fact that they have dog heads instead of human. It's like a surreal Norman Rockwell painting. James Ruby's Smooch 2.0 is wonderfully all snout. Theresa Crawford's Fixated is a regal portrait of a contemplative shih tzu, while b.moodyart's The God Dog is a raw, emotive portrait of a bulldog, almost primitive in its acrylic sketches. There's an extreme lightness in Nola Parker's Charlie I, which depicts a dog mid-air, bounding carefree through the grass. In photography, there's a great suite of dogs at their quirkiest. Mary Magsamen and Stephan Hillerbrand turn to the family dog for their portrait of Cerebrus, who's lying almost luxuriously in a pile of white bread. Lee Deigaard's goofy The Dog Who Took the Place of a Mountain is a blurry portrait of a cross-eyed bloodhound named, perfectly, Buster, while Martha M. Thomas's Disdain depicts an extremely angry-looking poodle that is just raw emotion. Meanwhile, Ben Tecumseh DeSoto makes it political with Dog Realizes Death, a photograph of a frightened-looking puppy being led reluctantly by a person in rubber rain boots. The text accompanying the photo tells us that the dog is about to die by lethal injection. It's the most heartbreaking and serious submission in this diverse show. That it's placed next to a photograph of two dogs humping — that's the gift of the open call. Through September 30. 301 E. 11th St., 713-869-4770. — MD
"Flyaway: New Work by Aaron Parazette" Since moving to Houston in 1990 to be a part of the Core Residency Program at the Glassell School of Art, Aaron Parazette has become one of the city's premier artists. He's taught at the School of Art at the University of Houston for more than a decade, had several solo shows in Houston, Dallas and abroad, and put on major shows himself, including a survey of Houston art currently up at McClain Gallery. Of course, there's also the matter of the art itself — crisp, slick, abstract designs that play with color and form in new ways and seem to get better and more refined every time. So Parazette's current title as Art League Houston's Texas Artist of the Year is a no-brainer. With the award also comes a solo show at Art League, and aren't we lucky. Parazette has decked out two walls of the space's main gallery with his signature, a wall installation. Called "Flyaway," it's an enveloping grid of blue, green, black and white that seems to stretch on infinitely. I loved the sense of speed Parazette managed to create in his bursts of color and lines, and even, likely unintentionally, the way the colors reflected off the black floor. The painting doesn't stop. The show also features six selections from Parazette's new Color Key series. He has abandoned the surfer slang he's experimented with in previous solo shows and focused solely on lines, color and shape. They're unusual shapes, at that — slanted, bulging half-circles, abrupt pentagons and perfect ovals that seem as if they're reacting to the bursts of color and geometric shapes within, trying to contain it all. Of course, these paintings are contained, whether by the limits of the canvas or the walls of the gallery itself. But at least for a little bit, it seems, those limits don't exist. Through November 2. Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — MD
"Glass Graphica" The two artists whose works appear side by side in this exhibition, Moshe Bursuker and Miguel Unson, have long been acquaintances. Bursuker taught at UrbanGlass, a community space in Brooklyn, New York, when Unson was a student. The two found that their love of glass was a common bond despite their varied approaches to technique. Bursuker's method combines photography and glass collaged together to create an abstract world, encased in ice. In some of his pieces, nonfigurative forms, almost appearing like globs of glass, hide another world. Inside the shapes, the reflections of buildings and windows can be perceived, although they may not be noticed upon first glance; it is a secret the artist has extended to us. Other works by Bursuker are more colorful yet contain the same twist on reality. Solid plates of melded glass are filled with colorful fractured patterns that at first appear random but come together to make a scenic picture. If the Impressionists had worked in glass, these pieces would fit nicely into their catalog. Meanwhile, Unson's pieces are primarily disc-shaped objects, black with colorful light seeping through. In his piece She Won't Look at You (Won't Look at You), Unson has found a way to weave using glass. The result is beautiful. White strands, almost vein-like, swim through black matter, making intricate patterns and shapes. The two artists complement each other nicely. Their work is wildly different yet holds the same basic foundation, and their passion for the material is ever apparent. Through October 14. Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — AK
"Texas Eclectic" "Texas Eclectic" is a lighthearted survey of the state's modern art scene, a who's who of local artists working in everything from painting and photography to sculpture and textile. Judy and Scott Nyquist are Art League Houston's "Texas Patrons of the Year," a yearly honor bestowed upon those who support the arts community here that also lets the honorees show off their collection. Among the 35 artists included in the Nyquist show, there are appearances by Joseph Havel, Sharon Engelstein, Bill Davenport, The Art Guys, Jonathan Leach, Sasha Dela, Aaron Parazette and this publication's own Kelly Klaasmeyer. Leach's plexiglass W.Y.S.2. is a focal point, drawing all eyes to its exact lines, while an untitled work by Robin Utterback that's all circles and dripping paint is particularly notable. Gary Sweeney's You're Our Favorite Artist is one of the funniest among several humorous works in the show, using speech bubbles to speak to the oftentimes contradictory nature in supporting the arts by asking for free work. There are also several works that put ordinary objects in a new context, from Dela's books of gossip magazines to Rachel Hecker's giant Green Car Check. Not only are these works the Nyquists chose, which hang in their home, but several of the pieces are gifts or were commissioned just for them. Chuck Ramirez's Elderflower is a crisp photograph of Judy's purse. Sarah is a straightforward photograph of the couple's daughter, made while the artist Amy Blakemore tested out a vintage camera with the Nyquist family as her subjects. Study for Jake by Parazette features experimental designs of the couple's son's name — a font all his own. These works won't mean nearly as much to you as they do to the Nyquists, but to their credit, they still manage to be engaging. Through November 2. Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — MD
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