Capsule Art Reviews: "Cruz Ortiz: I Speak Lightning," "Farewell Ruins: Julia Haft-Candell and Julia Kunin," "Greg Miller: Over Time," "Joshua Goode: Origin of Myth," "Kathryn Kelley: "The uncontrollable nature of grief and forgiveness (or lack of)"
"Cruz Ortiz: I Speak Lightning" Cruz Ortiz is known to work in wheat paste murals, video, street sculptures and guerrilla AM radio broadcasts. His latest solo exhibition is just gouache on paper and panel, but that doesn't make it any less quiet. "I Speak Lightning" at David Shelton Gallery is a loud, blaring show. It is full of bold colors, bright text and, yes, more than a few streaks of lightning. The Houston-born, San Antonio-based artist made a splash here three years ago with his solo exhibition at CAMH. That show introduced many to Ortiz's (to borrow the term) lo-fi aesthetic. There's a simplicity and crudeness to his paintings, a freestyle, rasquache technique that allows Ortiz to work really fast — he created the nearly two dozen pieces in the show just this year. I can see that crude flatness being a barrier to appreciating Ortiz's art — he doesn't seem to try all that hard — but I found it to be part of his charm. In fact, one of my favorites in the show was "Darlin." The piece features just the word "Darlin" done in a thin pink font of Ortiz's design — letters alternate between uppercase and lowercase at whim — against a teal background. Purple stars line the top and bottom of the panel in a free-hand style that, again, can come off as slapdash. But there's something about the combination of the bold colors, simple proclamation and unrefined drawing style that is just winning. The show alternates between these text-based pieces that speak of sunshine and "amor" and Ortiz's lovesick poets — cowboy hat-sporting, bandanna-wearing cowboys who are likely the originators of these texts and have literal stars in their eyes. This part can get a bit confusing, but Ortiz's black-lipped alter ego Spaztek (that's part-Aztec, part-spaz) also shows up a few times in portraits such as the sunburst Menudo Power. As the legend goes, Spaztek is on a cosmic search for love — complete with a ray gun. He's a prop, it seems, through which Ortiz can freely speak of personal yet universal topics like love and desire. Though it professes to be about love, "I Speak Lightning" isn't a romantic show; in place of hearts, Ortiz uses stars. But it is an eccentric, giddy celebration of the kind of love that causes fireworks and drives men crazy. When you're immersed in those graphic paintings, the enthusiasm is contagious. Through March 30. 3909 Main. 832-538-0924. — MD
"Farewell Ruins: Julia Haft-Candell and Julia Kunin" There are quite a few similarities in Inman Gallery's new two-person exhibition, "Farewell Ruins." Both artists work in ceramics to create otherworldly sculptures that take on unfamiliar forms that don't strive for perfection. They are also both named Julia. But that's where the similarities end. Through entirely different processes, Julia Haft-Candell and Julia Kunin arrive at pieces that are uniquely strange and captivating. This is the Julias' second group exhibition at Inman, and it's clear why they make such an appropriate pair. Drawn together by their similarities, they each help accentuate what makes the other's work so original and fresh. Kunin's nearly dozen sculptures are lined up in a nice row. Though labeled as vases, they aren't all that practical. For starters, each of them has a very small hole through which to add water or a bouquet; doing so is almost an afterthought. And you wouldn't want to distract from these striking standalone pieces with a few roses or tulips. The Zsolnay porcelain factory in Hungary glazed the Brooklyn-based artist's pieces using a secret technique it invented 150 years ago. Kunin used stones she found in a 15th-century Hungarian monastery. The resulting works have an iridescent luster that looks like gasoline or some other toxic substance. Their craggy, misshapen forms also add to this unnatural feel. It seems as if once perfectly functional vases have corroded and decayed into these current objects, which are nevertheless more interesting to look at in their mutant states. Where Kunin's works are small and contained, Haft-Candell's commandeer the gallery space just on size alone. The Los Angeles artist's floor-bound pieces are a combination of a variety of materials — porcelain fragments, fabric, structuring wire, rebar, thread, wood, cement, ink, gouache, epoxy resin, and more — as well as mediums, as Haft-Candell employs painting, drawing and sculpture. The resulting five assemblages look like bandaged branches or limbs; they invite personification. One of the pieces is even called Elbow, another Charlie. These look like wounded, vulnerable things that Haft-Candell has given a second life, like pastel Frankenstein's monsters that take on a life of their own. Or maybe they're on their last legs, continually broken and then bandaged. The show is titled "Farewell Ruins," after all. Through March 30. 3901 Main. 713-526-7800. — MD
"Greg Miller: Over Time" Greg Miller often gets grouped with the Shepard Faireys and Banksys of the art world, though what the post-pop artist does is quite the opposite of the famed street artists. Miller doesn't go out and tag walls (he considers himself "something of an environmentalist," he says by way of explanation in a recent interview with Los Angeles writer Peter Frank). Rather, he brings the outside in by re-creating walls layered and aged by advertising and graffiti through sculptural paintings that are composed of airbrushed images, drips of paint, pages from mid-20th century novels and ads. The artist, who splits time between L.A. and Austin, presents 12 new paintings that do just that in his first solo show in Texas, currently up at Peveto Gallery. These works represent a new direction for the artist, a favorite in L.A. circles for his cool, slick pop art paintings of swimming beauties and pop iconography. (He's even been commissioned by film directors to create parting gifts for casts, most recently for Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained.) But his paintings aren't all Hollywood surface; there's a depth to them. It's in the layered, rugged surface of his canvas — these paintings look as if they were ripped from a brick wall that's been shaped by decades of advertisements, opportunistic street artists and natural elements. It's also in the sentimentality and nostalgia that the specific iconography Miller uses evokes — the popsicles, baseball players, diner signs and pin-up girls that are the main subjects of his collages. These cultural reference points are pulled directly from his father's era. Miller's even re-created images of pin-up girls that his father, a World War II vet, used to have and skillfully airbrushed them to give them the look of photography. These feel not so much like paintings but artifacts. There's much color and pop to these busy, coded works, though one of my favorites is the most subdued. Seven features aged, yellow pages; fragments of ads; a hand of playing cards; and a giant black "7" that's partially obscured by drips of white paint. Its debt to graphic artists like Rauschenberg and Schwitters is clear, though that brazen strip of white paint helps keep it fresh. The "7" also adds an alluring shroud of mystery to it all. Miller's kept some secrets for himself. Through March 9. 2627 Colquitt, 713-360-7098. — MD
"Joshua Goode: Origin of Myth" Joshua Goode is a big kid at heart. The Fort Worth artist has a silly sense of humor, plays with toys and is boundlessly imaginative. Just look at his show currently up at Darke Gallery, better off temporarily known as the Contemporary Alternative Natural History Museum. The Detering Street gallery is filled with "artifacts" "discovered" by Goode during an "excavation" of its street, the story goes. These artifacts are attributed to the Ancient Aurora Rhome civilization in North Texas, and, according to the gallery's fantastic release, "possess attributes of objects found in ancient Egyptian, Mycenaean, Etruscan tombs and of toys from the 1980s." Love it. They are unholy combinations of toys — there's a horse with a man's legs where its head should be, a tiger's body with a horse's rump for a head, and so on — and are given the most ridiculous names (the Legorse, the Asshtar). These chimeras — all painted the same shimmery gold — are placed under bell jars and accompanied by labels describing the figurines and their significance to the Aurora Rhome civilization. Goode is fully committed to this bit of make-believe. The fun doesn't stop there. Gallery-goers are able to participate in the excavation, too, thanks to a wooden rectangular structure filled with salt and buried figurines that you can dig for. Once you find one, you can identify and document it by placing it on a shelf underneath its appropriate label. Accompanying these figures are a whopping 40 small-scale paintings that Goode calls "Auroran Miniatures." These depict anything from fossils and ghosts to oil fields and owls and are all done in a loose, collage-like style that seems to evoke the artist's memories. If you detect a strong childlike quality to them in their crudeness (and, in one case, penciled hearts), Goode's six-year-old daughter in fact worked with him on these. The show is titled "Origin of Myth," and it is a fascinating exploration of one man's personal mythology as he ravages his past and present for material — and gives it new meaning in the process. The sprawling exhibit presents an impressive range of skill, too, as everything on display, including the beautiful wooden pedestals that support the bell jars and the interactive dig, is the result of Goode's touch. It all makes for a unique show unlike anything you've ever experienced. Through March 9. 320-B Detering. 713-542-3802. — MD
"Kathryn Kelley: "The uncontrollable nature of grief and forgiveness (or lack of)" There's a lot going on in Kathryn Kelley's installation at Art League Houston. For starter's, there's the title — "The uncontrollable nature of grief and forgiveness (or lack of)" — which is accompanied by several stanzas of a poem on the gallery wall. Beyond text, in her exploration of grief and forgiveness, Kelley primarily employs materials that seem to be pulled straight from a junkyard. Pieces of wood have random hinges, and spools of rubber have even tracked in leaves. The rubber takes on various forms throughout the space, most prominently as three rubbery specters that cascade from the ceiling, with teal picture frames jutting out at odd angles. Attesting to their haunting quality, Kelley calls these "monsters in the attic." Floating planks of wood also play a starring role, suspended from the middle of the ceiling in a slight spiral shape like a bridge to nowhere. They look like thin fragments of doors, with doorknobs still attached. Other planks of reclaimed wood are used to create an impractical, wildly out-of-proportion chair. It even leans against the wall, discarded for its impracticality. A corner of the space is devoted to neat stacks of those teal picture frames and tubes of rubber. It looks like a version of the artist's workshop; her supplies are lined up for the taking. There's even a tool belt hanging from the wall, ready for work. As it relates to grief, there is a heaviness felt in the space, most prevalently in the dank, dark rubber that reaches up to the ceiling. There is a weightiness to these thick black forms. As for forgiveness, I haven't quite pieced that together yet, save for the notion that forgiveness often may follow grief (or, as the show's title implies, not). It's a difficult show to wrap your head around, from the poetic ramblings on the wall to the unusual materials, and it's not helped by the awkward, cluttered layout of the installation. And for all that there is in the relatively small space, there's also an unfinished quality to it. This might even be intentional. As with the uncontrollable nature of grief, there's always more material to work with. Through March 8. 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — MD
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