Capsule Art Reviews: "Berlin, Potsdamer Platz," "The Graphic Arts of Hans Erni," "The Livable Forest," "Love Man," "New Paintings: Geoff Hippenstiel," "Perspectives 177: McArthur Binion"
"Berlin, Potsdamer Platz" Magda Boltz-Wilson's current collection features an abstract succession of block prints, some monotone, others with striking swipes of colors. Potsdamer Platz is one of the most noted intersections in Germany. It has been at the center of decades of history for the country, from its total destruction after the Second World War, to its literal divide when the Berlin Wall was erected, to its becoming a pile of rubble after the demolition of the Wall. In 1991, the area was reborn as the largest building site in Europe. It is this Potsdamer Platz that Boltz-Wilson has captured in her artwork. Some of Boltz-Wilson's prints are obvious images of the construction. Skewed skyscrapers jut out of the canvas. If you look closely enough, you can almost feel the city coming alive in these prints, along with the hope of a new era. Large mechanical cranes assist in the buildings on her canvas, and dust covers the perimeter. In addition to the black and white buildings, Boltz-Wilson has a series of colorful, vinyl block prints that move away from her infrastructure theme and depict the history of the area. In one print in particular, a series of faces stares out at you. Are they watching you, like some sort of secret police, or are they the victims, attempting to hide away? Either way, the impact is haunting. Through March 10 at the Redbud Gallery, 303 East 11th St., 713-862-2532. — AK
"The Graphic Arts of Hans Erni" Hans Erni is one of Switzerland's best-known artists, and a contemporary of Picasso, Kandinsky and Mondrian. Over the decades, he's worked in lithography, digital technology and everything in between. At 103 years old, he still works in his studio every day, rivaling artists a quarter of his age. So I had high hopes for Erni's first major retrospective here in the United States, held at the Museum of Printing History. But I was let down. The retrospective consists of 40 posters, mainly painted illustrations, arranged for the most part in chronological order, from 1948 to 2009. In his decades-long career, Erni has done more than posters, and the museum's exhibition brochure even boasts that his work includes paintings, print and book illustrations, stage design, tapestry and postage stamps. Sure, the exhibition needs some focus given his wide span, but with row upon row of 128-by-91-centimeter posters, other types of graphic art would have been appreciated simply for some variety, as well as to accurately portray and pay tribute to the range of Erni's work. Another missing component is context. Given his Swiss pedigree, the posters are largely in French and German, and, removed from their time frame of reference, they're difficult to decipher. But you can still judge Erni's graphic artwork on its own. The work itself varies wonderfully in style and theme, from dramatic images of a skull topped with an atomic bomb plume to a decapitated tree (literally). Many are united by Erni's repeated use of geometric elements, especially circles, and sometimes even consistent fonts. In some works, the artist adopts styles similar to those of the masters, such as in a striking silkscreen from 1961 of a naked woman that's reminiscent of Picasso, and a Degas-esque print of a woman holding up a giant nut. These intriguing finds make for some standouts in this small show, which despite its flaws is necessary viewing for fans of Erni stateside. Through June 9. 1324 W. Clay St., 713-522-4652. — MD
"The Livable Forest" This winter, the closest you can come to ice is at the Devin Borden Gallery. Laura Lark's latest show turns the gallery into a cool forest of silver and white. From the piles of brick on the ground, topped by deer and sirens, to the Tyvek the Houston artist uses as a canvas, the space is coated in shiny silver and stretches of white. The human dwellers of this forest are equally cool — portraits of Steve McQueen, Jane Fonda and a trio of lounging, longhaired women hang throughout the space, with silver strands of faux leaves hanging from the ceiling. The images of McQueen and Fonda, pulled from old magazine photo shoots, are meticulously made through stippling — a seemingly simple, elementary task of making many, many black dots, here with a Sharpie marker, with the dots denser in some parts, less so in others, to create the desired image. It's a technique Lark has used before, but is still completely awe-inspiring. Other works are made with watercolor, in smooth, blue strokes that look light and easy in comparison despite their own painterly skill. Lark has chosen one of Steve McQueen's most enduring images — his 1962 Harper's Bazaar cover — to re-create, but she crops out any white space, so that even the magazine name just reads "Azaa," and just focuses on his grinning mug, draped by a seemingly disembodied arm. Lark's black-and-white stippling technique makes him ghostly, as if McQueen is slowly disappearing. In a second dotted-Sharpie replica of the movie star, McQueen comes off more menacing than sexy, as the lipstick marks on his forehead and mouth once implied, with his hard, cold stare coming back at you. Fonda, on the other hand, looks more like a goddess than ever in a long, striking profile, based on an image when she was a teenager, forever young. Through April 7. 3917 Main, 713-529-2700. — MD
"Love Man" Justin Brown Durand's new drawings at Front Gallery are inspired by Valentine's Day, but don't expect any hearts, flowers or anything remotely resembling your typical saccharine romance. But there is tons of pink. For "Love Man," gallery owner Sharon Engelstein reached out to Durand to specifically make a show to run during the Hallmark holiday. The artist says he then put himself in a "love trance," looking to romance, lust and passion for inspiration. The result of that trance shows the three at play in raw works that are alternately creepy, strange and oddly alluring, done in crayons, pastels, markers, pencil and pen. The subjects of Durand's paintings are exposed, both literally and emotionally — naked, with outlines of bones and arteries dressing up their limbs. The hearts here are outside the body, bleeding and still beating. The drawings are like R. Crumb meets Picasso — black and white ink sketches of bodies with their proportions, well, out of proportion. The subjects themselves display a wide range of romantic states — one couple is in rapture, embracing tenderly. Another is lying straight as boards, dead-looking, displaying no sense of intimacy despite their mutual nakedness. "Moccasins" is one of the most memorable, if also alarming, pieces — it shows an anonymous couple, their faces masked by long, flowing hair, in a heated moment. Both are naked save for their moccasins, and one is being dismembered, the torso cut in half and guts being pulled out. That gruesome scene is immediately followed by the touching "Virgins" — the image of a couple embracing, gazing into each others' eyes, with the words "I never thought tonight would ever be this close to me" coming from the man's mouth. Through March 17. 1412 Bonnie Brae St., 713-298-4750. — MD
"New Paintings: Geoff Hippenstiel" It seems trite to say an artist's work is exciting — how often have you heard that before? But that's the exact reaction I had when viewing Geoff Hippenstiel's new, large paintings at Devin Borden Gallery. In his first solo show here since his well-received MFA show at the University of Houston in spring 2010, the abstract oil paintings are almost too big for the gallery to contain. They take up its main exhibition space, its storeroom, even its office, making for some nice, colorful scenery at two desks. Every single one of these works is untitled — even the show is simply called "New Paintings" — but they're not without their own backstories. In short, the Houston artist starts off with one central image — Monet's lilies, Cézanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire, even, randomly, a Goya-bust award statue — and paints. He paints until the original inspiration is barely recognizable, though traces of it remain beneath the surface. As a result, the paintings feel familiar, and yet completely new. Whether it's the starting image or the artist's obsessive painting over it, the same material is always used — oil paint — but in an almost meta moment, Hippenstiel's viscous patches of metallic paint start to take over the work. The paint itself — its color and its thickness — becomes the subject, squeezing out the lilies or covering the pale gold of the Goya head in a bright green. In another painting, the original image is indiscernible, covered almost entirely in a thick blanket of shiny silver, erasing whatever came first. Experiencing the effacing quality of paint in this context is simple, but still exciting and completely alluring. The paint wins. Through March 13. Devin Borden Gallery, 3917 Main, 713-529-2700. — MD
"Perspectives 177: McArthur Binion" McArthur Binion's show at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston features a repetition of geometric shapes — triangles, squares and circles — varying only by color. To make them, he presses wax crayon onto wood and aluminum panels in a very laborious process that results in what the Chicago artist likes to call "Rural Modernism," both a nod to the pieces' heavy texture and his Mississippi upbringing. The result of all this repetition, however, is that once you see one piece, you've seen them all. Whether it's a red triangle, green triangle or purple triangle, there's not much to propel you forward. To be fair, each piece is subtly different, though that's largely indiscernible to the naked eye. That's because barely visible under each layer of crayon are autobiographical elements — pictures of Binion, his birth house, and parents, as well as lynched men and even racist and stereotypical imagery taken from fruit wrappings. The artist cleverly calls this the "under-consciousness" of the work, though like anything that's under the surface, you have to be told it's there, or otherwise miss it completely. One piece that did stand out in the artist's museum debut was Stellucca I: (Rural Geometry) — a parallelogram, the only one of its kind in the show, whose title is a combination of Binion's children's names, Stella and Lucca. With just a few simple lines, Binion manages to create a great tension that really grabs you. Through April 1. 5216 Montrose Blvd., 713-284-8250. — MD
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