Capsule Art Reviews: "Cleve Gray: 1967 Silver Paintings," "CraftTexas 2012," "Debra Barrera: Kissing in Cars, Driving Alone," "[Houston Times Eight]," "Liz Ward: Cryosphere," "Structural Impermanence: New Works by Renée Lotenero"
"Cleve Gray: 1967 Silver Paintings" It was 1967. The late, great Cleve Gray was angry with his painting — a semi-Cubist composition of black and a bit of green — because it was "boring." So he threw a bucket of aluminum paint on it that he had lying around, likely from painting a tennis court fence. Luckily, it wasn't ruined, and it wasn't boring anymore. In fact, the resulting artwork, Silver Diver, became the starting point for a brand-new series by the abstract expressionist painter that experimented with metallic paint, from throwing the paint onto the canvas to using a compressor hose to manipulate the paint and make the splashes. A new exhibition up at McClain Gallery displays a year's worth of this experimentation, with Silver Diver as the centerpiece as well as six works that followed that year. Appropriately titled "1967 Silver Paintings," the show is a dense one for having just seven works. The large-scale color studies are explosive and radiant to behold, and each one is like a little mystery. How did Gray paint this? What color came first? What was his process? The metallic silver paint itself is also very textured, leaving imprints on the canvas like craters on the moon that you have to get right up close to see. One of the most engaging aspects of these 45-year-old paintings is the "mistakes" resulting from the process. Gray wasn't always sure how his acid-hued paint splashes and stains would work out on the canvas — in fact, they were driven by an "I wonder what would happen if I did...?" mentality. Splashing water onto the wet paint left those uneven lunar craters, and other works have rusty stains from the oxidation of the acrylic paint that look like halos of coffee stains around the gorgeous silver. Rather than being distracting, though, these elements only further illustrate this sense of free experimentation. Gray didn't interfere with the work by painting over and erasing these effects. He let the paint do its thing. Through December 1. 2242 Richmond. 713-520-9988. — MD
"CraftTexas 2012" This juried biennial show at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft purports to feature the best in Texas-made contemporary craft, and the 40 artists featured don't call that into question. Paula Gron is a basket weaver by nature, but uses her skills to concoct a wooden handle with found tree branches protruding creepily and chaotically from it like some alien takeover. For all its creepiness, it's not without a sense of humor — the piece is called My Toothbrush. Danny Kamerath also works in wood; for his compelling Table for Two he crafted two Barbie-size chairs and a table out of a stump of yaupon holly. The stump leans at all angles, pulling apart this quaint little set and making you feel incredibly uneasy in its unevenness. The dining-room table — a domestic constant — is coming apart. George Sacaris's Faux Bois Stumps features "stumps" of aluminum that sprout from the floor and have remnants of severed tree limbs jutting from their sides, but these highly polished pieces don't try too hard to fool you, which I like. They're too polished and shiny, for one, and they come in all sorts of unnatural colors, from rose to an Excel-logo green. In not resembling the stumps it so clearly does try to resemble, the piece makes you think about those differences even more. There's much more to see and like, from Diana Kersey's bonkers Bird Pot earthenware to Steve Hilton's epic wall installation, Tea for ? The latter is a clear winner in the show, even literally (Hilton, along with Gron and Sacaris, won jurors' prizes). It consists of families of teapots constructed out of stoneware. They sprout horizontally from the wall almost organically and resemble gnarls and knobs of wood, which in and of itself is a neat effect. But the teapots also seem to congregate like people do, even possessing distinct physical attributes. The longer you look at them, the more they seem to be reflections of ourselves. Through December 30. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — MD
"Debra Barrera: Kissing in Cars, Driving Alone" The standout piece in Debra Barrera's debut show at Moody Gallery is a little red rearview mirror near the back on the gallery's wall. Titled For Dorothy Levitt, the found sculpture, taken from a 1986 Pontiac Firebird, is named after the inventor of the rearview mirror. Levitt was a "motorina," a pioneer of female motoring who advised women to carry a little handheld mirror when they drive so they can see what's behind them in her book The Woman and the Car — the first documented use of what became known as the rearview mirror. The sight of the mirror on its own is interesting — it's so rare to see it not attached to a car that, by itself, you can really consider its unique shape, form and angle. It's a neat little formal piece. The Houston artist's debut solo show is filled with a lot of strong material that references the automobile, a subject of Barrera's for the past year. The show includes graphite drawings of old car models as well as photographs from her "Salvage Yard Documentation Series," which was the catalyst for this show, its images depicting the left-behind remains from cars in auto salvage yards. There's a Precious Moments Bible, a pile of dirty balloons, a Mr. Goodbar pencil from 1986, a yellow air freshener, a tiara and Jay-Z's memoir, Decoded, all starkly photographed as if for some forensic file. Thanks to Barrera, they live on like timepieces. Other works toy with this idea of cars as time capsules. I'd rather have a Lamborghini than memories is a circular suitcase spray-painted Gallardo Blue, just like the luxury car. It's apparently filled with travel mementos of the artist — movie and airline tickets, museum guides, restaurant mints, a love letter and a diamond bracelet. This is the most romantic component of the rather romantically named show — the suitcase is filled with memories and history, a rearview mirror to the artist's past. Through November 21. 2815 Colquitt St., 713-526-9911. — MD
"[Houston Times Eight]" The Station Museum of Contemporary Art recently kicked off an ambitious new series called "HX8" ("Houston Times Eight") wherein the museum curates a show of eight diverse, contemporary Houston artists. Fabio D'Aroma is like a modern-day Caravaggio. He presents a grotesque procession along all four walls. There are naked bodies with thin arms, knobby red elbows and knees, and distended stomachs that are engaged with curious symbolism. There's a peacock and a menorah in one painting, a watermelon, some rifles and a bag of charcoal in another. There's so much coded in there, and it's all done in such jaw-dropping detail, that it's all a bit confounding. Street artist Daniel Anguilu has left his telltale mark all over Midtown and brings his animal imagery inside for the museum show, painting an epic, abstract mural on a temporary wall constructed just for the exhibition to create separate, almost sacred spaces for each artist. Robert Pruitt's powerful portraits depict three strong, fully realized African-American women. Prince Varughese Thomas's conceptual works criticize the wars in the Middle East, representing the lives lost, both of civilians and soldiers, through white, ghostly pennies and names in charcoal, layered until the paper turns black. Lynn Randolph processes the death of her husband through ancient symbols of mortality — birds. Her grief is overwhelming and beautiful in the sheer amount of work she has created and the number of birds that fill the walls of her room. Floyd Newsum's distinct, naive style and dense collages are loaded with personal materials, from chalk to photographs and symbols of his family. Serena Lin Bush explores concepts of family and bonds between sisters and friends through a video installation. And Forrest Prince's works in wood and mirror are calls to "love" and "repent," though the most biting words go out to his fellow artists: "If the work you are doing isn't contributing to the restoration of peace on our Mother Earth, or the health and welfare of all the creatures on her, then you are wasting your life and everyone else's time." Amen. Through February 17. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. — MD
"Liz Ward: Cryosphere" In 1897, the Swedish explorer Salomon August Andrée and two companions attempted to travel over the North Pole by hot air balloon. They never made it. In fact, two days after taking off from Norway, they crashed onto Arctic ice, where they faced inevitable death. Their hot air balloon, and what was left of them and their camp, weren't discovered for another 30 years. It's a fascinating, but also horrifying, tale, and one that speaks to the allure of the North Pole at the time — an attraction that cost many men their lives. Liz Ward understands this appeal. The Texas artist is captivated by the North and the histories captured in its ice cores, which provide the subject matter of her new watercolors and silverpoint drawings currently up at Moody Gallery. In light watercolors and silverpoint, Ward depicts the ice cores, which are like the rings in tree trunks, except they record climate conditions over thousands of years via accumulations of snow and ice. Given its age, Arctic ice has unfathomable history and depth, and Ward's watercolors seem chock full of both, especially in her large-scale watercolors. In torrents of gorgeously vivid blues, reds, yellows and more blues, she manages to capture an inherent, raw energy, all the more aided by the subtle sparkle of the mica in her watercolors. In addition to these large-scale works, which the artist calls "glacial ghosts" in a further reference to climate change, Ward has two watercolor pieces positioned directly across from each other in the gallery titled Ice Balloon. They're minutely detailed blue circles that directly reference Andrée's doomed expedition. Even if you didn't know the morbid history, you couldn't look at these icy blue watercolors and not shiver. Through November 21. 2815 Colquitt St., 713-526-9911. — MD
"Structural Impermanence: New Works by Renée Lotenero" Renée Lotenero's works occupy an in-between space. They're piles of rubble creating something new as sculpture, while at the same time still remnants of something that used to be. They're photographs of tiles that once lined a floor or wall, digital replicas of these missing pieces that are now there, but still not there. A wall installation can be seen as the epitome of this impermanence — it's a piece that occupies the space now, only to come down once the exhibition ends. It's fitting then that the Los Angeles artist's show of new works at Peveto Gallery is titled "Structural Impermanence." The exhibition, the second here for Lotenero after her Houston debut five years ago at McClain Gallery, is chock full of new ideas and directions for the artist. Along with her trademark drawings and sculptures, there are some firsts — photography, collage and installation — and they all have another thing in common — repetition. In the wall installation The Back of a sculpture, the photograph of, yes, the back of a sculpture, which Lotenero had made four years ago, is used over and over again, printed at various sizes. It stretches out across the wall like the branches of a tree, as if organic. The artist's collages use a similar photographic effect, piling mounds of the same image over and over again into a slope. You'll have to get up close to the images to even realize that they're constructed in this manner, like a mountain of a deck of cards. In four photographs, Lotenero documents site-specific work she's done with tile. Their use isn't really functional; the images of the tile are like viruses, invading kitchens, a family room and a front yard. This artwork is playfully alive. Among all these new experiments in medium, one element is still crucial to the artist — scale. This is no clearer than in the sculpture Remnants of a small building with a new fig path installed, a piece of stainless steel surrounded by photographs of a repeated image. The ankle-high sculpture is comically small. It looks like an afterthought, as if it's not even supposed to be there. But there's as much going on here as in her giant wall installation, once you come down to its level. Through December 15. 2627 Colquitt St. 713-360-7098. — MD
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