Capsule Art Reviews: "Bo Joseph: Empire of Spoils," "Endearing the Line," "HJ Bott: Rhythm and Rhetoric," "How I Will Die," "Members," "reverse of volume RG," "Jason Yates: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything"
"Bo Joseph: Empire of Spoils" In Bo Joseph's first solo show at McClain Gallery, his paintings are hardly reproducible — they're made through a complicated method involving layers of oil pastels, water-based tempera and acrylic-based ink on sheet paper that often damages the delicate paper in the process. Joseph works in patches, putting the pieces together like a puzzle, so if something does happen to go horribly awry, he can fix it. Still, the resulting works aren't perfect; there are uneven edges and parts that seem like they were cut out with a Zippo knife. More to the point, though, there's evidence of Joseph's handiwork all over them. It's only fitting that these works challenge and redefine notions of printmaking, as Joseph is all about challenging conventional notions of material, process, context and, foremost, subject matter. He has appropriated disparate images — ceremonial masks, birds, children, even rugby players — found in printed sources such as books and auction catalogs, stenciled them and repeatedly or strategically stamped them onto the paper to the point where they're almost unrecognizable. They're dense, cryptic, abstract works; it feels like if you stare at them long enough, you'll start to make meaning out of them. And that is the point — Joseph has taken these images out of their original contexts to create new meaning and commonalities. Through June 23. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — MD
"Endearing the Line" Berlin-based artist Dirk Rathke has quickly built himself a reputation here in Houston. After several shows at Gallery Sonja Roesch, he's known for his curved canvases — monochrome shapes that bend, twist and seemingly ripple ever so slightly; you have to check the edge of the work just to make sure of their depth — and stripped-down drawings that go off the canvas entirely. In his third exhibition at the gallery, Rathke returns to familiar territory. As the name suggests, the show plays with line, space and dimension, resulting in playful, attention-holding pieces. The most prominent is the remarkable site-specific installation Room-drawing for Houston #2. In his first solo show at Sonja Roesch, back in 2007, Rathke memorably took over the back end of the gallery with neon orange tape. He does so again, this time placing orange tape in the shape of two squares that take over the ceiling, wall and floor. It's part sculpture, part painting, thanks to the brush stroke-like lines of the tape, and it completely throws you off. You're not sure how to react to it — do you look at it straight on, or dare to get inside the lines and challenge the 3-D quality of the work? The canvas-twisted works also play with this line between sculpture and painting. Rot Zweiteilig is the most striking of these, comprised of two solid-red canvases that are forced together, a line between them adding to the tension. In the future, it'd be nice to see the artist move in another direction instead of doing more of the same. But what he has now is still powerful, memorable work — those neon orange squares will be etched in my mind for quite some time. Through June 30. 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424. — MD
"HJ Bott: Rhythm and Rhetoric" Houston artist HJ Bott has been exploring his so-called "displacement-of-volume system" for 40 years now, and he's celebrating with an exhibition of his newest works at Anya Tish Gallery. It says something that after 40 years, Bott hasn't gotten bored with his self-developed technique, which explores lines and geometric shapes on fiberboard that he then casts with glossy, bold color. And the op-art works themselves are far from boring — they're bright, colorful works that attract viewers like moths to a flame. And once they get you there, they're highly cerebral — through his sharp lines and shapes, Bott plays with dimension, creating 3-D shapes that almost seem to rotate in space on the canvas. It's no surprise that the boldest and the brightest of them all — Mesocarp Mischief — is the star of the show. The painting graces the cover of the latest Arts and Culture magazine, it's the poster image on the gallery's handout and it attracted gallery-goers during the opening like none of the other works. It's an intriguing visual — its thin black lines over the hot pink make it look like a Barbie barcode, while circles are uniquely dissected by lines, colors and curves. Bott says he's dabbling in concepts like yin/yang and string theory and applies layers of paint and glaze in vibrant colors up to 100 times, but his works lack emotion. It's all a bit too methodical — Bott even uses specific "warm" and "cool" colors to achieve the multi-dimensionality of his works. These works are all about dimension, but it's hard to get below the surface when it's all so manipulated. Through June 9. 4411 Montrose, 713-524-2299. — MD
"How I Will Die" In Kristy Peet's series of clinical-looking photographs, all sharply lit and crystal clear, she is confronting her hypochondria, as she puts it, though it more closely seems to be her fears of mortality. In one photograph, she's lying stretched out on a gurney, a white blanket stretched over all her body except for her feet, which are sticking out towards you with tags hanging from one of the big toes. In another, she's wrapped almost entirely in gauze bandage, her face a white, blank mask. Other images deal with biohazards, amputation, skin cancer and obesity, primarily with the artist as the subject. Peet's playing, it's make-believe, but there's some aspect of truth to it all — we all go somehow. It's such a personal subject, yet the photos seem scrubbed clean of any messy emotions. The most evocative of all, in this sense, is the gauze portrait, The most common type of bandage is the gauze bandage. Covered in gauze, Peet has been consumed by her fears to the point where she is indistinguishable. Through May 31. Gallery 1724, 1724 Bissonnet, 713-582-1198. — MD
"Members" Britt Ragsdale works with bodies, though his photographs don't set a scene so much as capture the angles, forms, shapes and scale of the human body. There are images of outstretched hands, baby's feet, a bald head, knobby knees and, to be honest, some body parts that aren't so easily identifiable. They're only parts — photographed against a black background, they don't even look like they belong to a body at all. There's a classic quality to them, the skin as luminous as anything you'd find in a Caravaggio painting. Most of the photos were printed on a small scale — six by six inches, or 12 by 12. I left wishing Ragsdale had gone bigger. Sure, you can fit more photos in the space when they're smaller, but these photos are larger than life, and should be displayed that way. In fact, the two largest prints — Members Study 1.1 and Members Study 2.1, which feature legs and bodies stacked on top of each other — were the most captivating. They commanded your attention. Through May 31. Gallery 1724, 1724 Bissonnet, 713-582-1198. — MD
"reverse of volume RG" Yasuaki Onishi's latest installation at Rice Gallery is made out of just plastic and black hot glue, and yet it manages to take on multiple properties depending on your perspective. As you walk around the site-specific piece, it resembles a forest, the thin black glue like sparse dead trees on top of a mountainous terrain. Staring at it straight on, it looks like an otherworldly, alien creature, like an inverted jellyfish with long black tentacles. Venturing directly under the plastic, you're walking through a cave that's had all the color drained from it, save for hundreds of black splotches. Most of all, though, Onishi's new piece is unlike anything you can see or put a name to. There is a ghostly aura about the plastic as it stretches unevenly from one end of the gallery to the other, attached to the ceiling by strings of black hot glue. It's as if the plastic is propped over some misshapen form that you cannot see. These materials follow their own logic — the glue is splattered in a happenstance fashion, giving dimension to the cavernous plastic shape — which seems to be dictated by whatever is under it. As the title implies, the piece is playing with emptiness, filling the void above you and leaving the gallery's floor and walls untouched. One of the most remarkable things about this installation is how delicate it is. It seems like a slight cough would send the whole thing floating down on top of you. Even the gallery's air conditioning disturbs the structure, making it undulate ever so slightly. But, against all odds, it remains intact. It's a remarkable sight to behold at any angle. Through June 24. Rice Gallery, 6100 Main, 713-348-6069. — MD
"Jason Yates: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything" Jason Yates has lowered the volume on his art. In his first Houston solo show, at Barbara Davis Gallery, he has eliminated almost all color for mostly black-and-white patterns, creating an environment that's more meditative than in-your-face. There are even black wooden "monk boxes" scattered throughout the gallery that, if you didn't know any better, you'd think were places to sit down and drink in his textural works. In all, it's a pleasantly cohesive show. Yates has a series of acrylic and ink canvases that consist of intricate crosshatches and pieces of scalloped paper cascading down sections of the canvas. The drawings are incredibly meticulous — you might easily miss how labor-intensive it all is because the works are almost soothing. They're mostly black-and-white, varying by pattern, with the occasional loud pink or pale orange thrown in to shake things up, as if Yates teasingly turned the volume up to jolt you awake, then turned it back down once he had your attention. You'll be tempted to take a seat on one of the monk boxes before Snake Pit, a painstakingly crafted wall drawing that makes use of the gallery space in an incredibly clever way. The work is all zigzags à la Sol LeWitt and frames an entryway that looks right out onto Sunset and Sunrise, a wallpaper hanging in the front of the gallery that features black-and-white crosshatched squares reminiscent of Jasper Johns, but less carefree. As you stand there, these furious line drawings come together and take on a whole new dynamic. Yates doesn't have to be loud to completely hold our attention. Through June 30. 4411 Montrose, 713 520-9200. — MD
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