Capsule Art Reviews: "Bert L. Long Jr: An Odyssey," "Cats, Bunnies, and The Surface Value of It All," "A chain of non-events," "Janice Jakielski: Constructing Solitude," "New Work: Drawings, Collages, and Tiles," "Plain Sight"
"Bert L. Long Jr: An Odyssey" If you can look on the bright side, this was some fortunate timing. The UAC Contemporary Art Gallery at Houston Baptist University was putting together a small show of Bert Long's work late last year when the Fifth Ward artist was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died a month later, on February 1. In what turned out to be one of his last acts as a Houston artist, Long wanted to show work that even his friends and collectors hadn't seen before. Given his two-inch-thick résumé, full of local shows and press clippings, that would pose quite the challenge, but the resulting show is one that's full of surprises and a fitting tribute to the beloved artist. The 16 works on display were made in the last 30 years and include photographs of a trip to Cuba, paintings, sculpture and assemblage. One of the earliest works is Persistence (Mums the Word) (1983), a curious piece of mixed media that features an ax piercing black, stitched lips, with the word "art" carved over and over again into the canvas board. The most recent work on display, completed in 2012, also has a dark edge to it. Purgatory prominently features the flashing neon words "Hell" and "Open," as subtle a message as a stop sign. The heaviest piece is Dear John, Dear Vincent, Dear Pablo, Dear Bert, an overwhelming 400-pound clock that's a wall of boots, giant nails and broken glass. That's right. These often unsettling works can be literally dangerous if not handled properly. Long strove to be truthful in his work, and, like the truth, these pieces are not always pretty or neat. One of the most prominent pieces is Quest, an assemblage displayed in the middle of the small gallery. It was initially found buried in the middle of Long's studio, and looks as though it had collected everything in there. A trunk has almost too many items to mention affixed to it — an old credit card of Long's, a license plate, liquor bottles, an old newspaper, rope, a toothbrush, a lit lightbulb and a broken wine glass. The trunk is supported by two "legs," one foot wearing a white shoe and the other a black one, and there's a steering wheel on top. It looks like a walking time capsule, continually on the move. Long's massive bound résumé is also on display for your perusal. It's composed of hundreds of pages that document his shows and press from the start of his art career up to 2008, giving those unfamiliar with his work an insight into his prominence in Houston's art community. Of course, some of the best insight into his style will be right in front of you. These works are loud, strange, unsettling and anything but boring, and will leave you wanting more. Through April 18. 7502 Fondren, 281-649-3678. — MD
"Cats, Bunnies, and The Surface Value of It All" Fresh Arts' latest exhibition wants to let you know right off the bat that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Titled "Cats, Bunnies, and The Surface Value of It All," the two-person show is just what it sounds like — a lighthearted look at art that prominently features cats and bunnies and doesn't get much deeper than that. But just because it is what it is doesn't mean it isn't any good. Au contraire. Lynn Lane's photographs and Melanie Loew's paintings are well-crafted pieces that are enjoyable to behold and examine. Both artists present a portfolio edited down to their respective animals. Lane is on the feline side. He presents 21 black-and-white photography portraits — giclée prints on 100 percent cotton rag archival paper — set against a fantastic bold pink wall. The portraits are of Lane's friends — a motley crew of choreographers, dancers, musicians, tattoo artists, body piercers, DJs, lawyers, cops and more that includes a few prominent people in the Houston arts scene — all holding his cat, Orange Cat. Orange Cat proves to be quite the versatile model; he never holds the same pose twice, and comically squirms and cuddles from one photo to the next. Lane's human models are unique in their own right, too. Once he lets them cut loose with a cat, he captures each person's presence in natural, flattering photos. Most of the subjects are smiling, if not laughing, and seem to be having a genuinely good time. Loew's work is also composed of portraits of people holding animals. But rather than photography, Loew works in paint on paper. She also trades cats for bunnies. Each bunny throughout her seven works is different, too. If you were an expert in this type of thing, you would be able to distinguish breeds; that's how exact her painting is. Compared to Lane's works, Loew's side of the gallery has more of an edge and is weirder. Each person is set against a unique wallpaper pattern, and both animal and human seem to disappear into this flat background. They are all head and limbs but no body; Loew edits out whole torsos. This subtraction, combined with the pallor of the subjects, gives the paintings an eerie, ghostly sense, but it works. The focus is on the pleasant faces and rabbits before you. In such a simple conceit, both artists' works almost dare you not to like them (the bunny in Loew's aptly titled painting Precious is especially adorable). But you'll easily and gladly succumb to their charms — and craft. Through April 26. 2101 Winter St., Studio B11, 713-868-1839. — MD
"A chain of non-events" At Lawndale Art Center's "Big Show" last summer, Katie Wynne's piece stood out from the nearly 70 others in the exhibition. The installation consisted of just a motorized tie rack and blue satin, but the rack was turned on so that it was constantly revolving and catching the cloth in its hangers. It was utterly mesmerizing in its simplicity. Lawndale's latest round of shows features a different Wynne, one who is much, much messier. In the artist statement for "A chain of non-events," found upstairs in the third-floor Project Space, the Houston artist even says, "In a reality of too much orderliness, I am keeping room for the untamed." This is a show that revels in its disorder. This ambitious exhibition feels like one giant installation, though it is really broken up into five works. There are no tie racks employed, but there are oscillating fans, cassette players and a foot massager, which, mounted on the wall, looks like a big cassette or mini air-conditioner. Scattered among these electronics are colorful blouse sleeves, wrapping paper, sequins, cardboard, felt, fabric and more. These fragments are propped up by wooden beams or tables, which are connected by white string that creates a loose trail and propels you from one piece to the next. There's a sense in which the machines are following some innate logic or instruction. The fans in last judgment repeatedly go back and forth, moving the blouse sleeves attached to them with it, to no end. A paint brush in pangea maria is attached to an oscillating fan and twists like a brush stroke, though the brush is dry. It feels like a rote action, one that can't help taking place, long after the paint has dried, like a muscle memory. These little situations and setups are not as simple as a tie rack and satin, or as mesmerizing, for that matter. They're more complicated, more layered and harder to access. Which isn't a bad thing. Through April 20. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — MD
"Janice Jakielski: Constructing Solitude" Janice Jakielski's work somehow manages to feel both futuristic and Victorian at the same time. Her colorful headdresses on display at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft are quite photogenic, embroidered prettily with birds and adorned with paper flowers. They also feature some curious fashion choices: coffee mug halves that surround the eyes, wide ribbons that obscure the ears and even a bonnet made for two, each separate headdress connected by a striped portal in a way that forces each wearer's back to the other. These dozen or so hats are purposefully exaggerated, their impracticality meant to enforce a sense of isolation on the wearer. The exhibition is even titled "Constructing Solitude," and sets out to explore how a minor change or two from the norm can radically alter our view of the world. Or something like that. It all can be a bit of a leap. You have to go from merely admiring the skill and craftsmanship in these headdresses to imagining wearing them and how that might feel. It doesn't help that the headdresses are placed at varying heights on the walls, and the taller they are, the harder it is to really examine them. Some key references are also unclear and don't seem to readily serve the piece. The flowers are meant to signify floriography, a Victorian-era practice in which flowers were used to send messages, while the birds are a reference to auspicium — a form of divination that looks to the flight patterns of birds for signs. That's nice, but to what end? Jakielski does give museum-goers the chance to experience, rather than imagine, her work by setting up an interactive installation in the middle of the gallery space. In "Across the Divide," three pairs of handmade binoculars look upon these miniature porcelain nature scenes, which include a pile of leaves and what looks like a cornfield and some weeds. The idea is that when you look through the binoculars, someone else has the opportunity to look through the other pair and you can experience this act of viewing together. Of course, that only works if there's another person there to look through the binoculars with you and you both somehow know what to do. Otherwise there's little to guide you through the intended experience of this piece, which can lead you to look on in confusion or ignore it all together. Through May 5. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — MD
"New Work: Drawings, Collages, and Tiles" While exploring the imagery of power lines throughout his 30-year career, Randy Twaddle's work with the surprisingly elegant black lines has appeared in paintings and on wool rugs, textiles, even tote bags. A new show at Moody Gallery featuring the Houston artist and designer's work demonstrates that he's not done yet with the electric muse and there's still a lot more experimentation to be done. In fewer than 20 pieces, Twaddle works in plywood, charcoal on paper, tiles and collage, all mediums that convey the simple, transfixing beauty of the silhouettes. I would have liked to see more of his work with plywood beyond just the introductory Tether, with the lines striking the wood in gesso, though that's so 2011. As of late, Twaddle has made a return to his medium of choice — charcoal and paper — in the works Lord's Acre and Forager's Compass. The massive abstract drawings are perfectly symmetrical, resembling some urban Rorschach test. Twaddle goes beyond these flat surfaces and into more 3-D territory with Mirabeau Tile, a wall sculpture based on a 2-D transformer-based pattern that consists of four identical bas-relief tiles cast in hydro-stone. There's no black silhouette here, just monochrome white, which makes the raised bumps of the transformer seem creepily like veins. Beyond these explorations in tile and charcoal, the majority of the new works on display are small collages. There are 14 arranged in two neat rows that are made up of photographs of power and utility lines. These documents are cut up and put back together, like patchworks of varying blue skies, the occasional cloud and, in a nod to a recent practice of Twaddle's, coffee-stained paper. They feel like stamps showing the evolution of this impressive, ceaselessly inspiring interest in power lines — a look at where it's been and where it's possibly going. Through April 20. 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911. — MD
"Plain Sight" East Sunset Heights film institution 14 Pews usually directs your attention up front to its screen, but this month, it's encouraging you to look at its walls as well. In collaboration with Houston arts organization Intuitive Eye, 14 Pews is displaying the work of three acclaimed outsider artists in the show "Plain Sight." "Acclaimed outsider artists" is a bit of an oxymoron. By definition, outsider artists operate outside of mainstream art institutions and art historical context. But in their lifetime, the three here were able to gain recognition for their craft, showing in galleries, winding up in collections and drawing the eyes of admirers. Of the three men, two were from Houston, the third from Baltimore. Two were also homeless, while the third preferred to work "in the fresh air" along the road. Two are also dead, the third only presumed to be alive. To view their work, you must go in and out of the pews; it's a slow, contemplative process. The dramatic lighting of the former church does well to highlight the art, and Paul Darmafall's glass mosaics are particularly beautiful under the spotlights. Known as "The Baltimore Glassman," Darmafall (1925-2003) claimed a busy stretch of Baltimore roadway as his white wall, making mosaics and collages from found shards of glass. His varied subjects ranged from the religious (Jesus, an angel) to the patriotic (George Washington, Yankee Doodle, the Liberty Bell). Richard Gordon Kendall's drawings bring us to closer to home. The Houston homeless man (born about 1930; current whereabouts unknown) turned to art when he reached "retirement age." His subject was the streets themselves — a homeless shelter, a yellow building, even recognizable places like Two Houston Center. This being Houston, these downtown spots are also devoid of people. Kendall salvaged paper from the trash and, amazingly, saved up for ballpoint pens, markers and crayons when he could. The fact that a man chose to buy these tools, likely small luxuries, speaks volumes about the value of art, craft and self-expression. The third artist is "Remmy," a Houston homeless man who died in 2008 after a hit-and-run. Curator Jay Wehnert had admired Remmy's work — installations in the Heights made from found paper, ribbon and cardboard boxes — from afar for several years. His wife photographed one such installation in the railroad trestle underpass on Yale Street, seen in this show, preserving it for good before it was mistaken for garbage and removed by trash collectors. Such found-art installations demonstrate what can be a fine line — as the saying goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure. Through April 26. 800 Aurora, 281-888-9677. — MD
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