Capsule Art Reviews: "Demiak: The Big Blow," "J. Todd Allison: Unresting," "Jerry Jeanmard: Collages," "Peat Duggins: Wreaths," "Staring at the Wall: The Art of Boredom"
"Demiak: The Big Blow" Maarten Demmink was born in the Netherlands, honed his craft at art schools in the Netherlands and currently lives in the Netherlands. But the multimedia artist's work is anything but provincial. In a solo show currently up at Redbud Gallery, the artist, who goes by the name Demiak, makes work that references regions as diverse as New Orleans; Punjab, Pakistan; Lisbon, Portugal; and Breezy Point, New York. These are oil paintings and watercolor pieces that depict destroyed houses and flooded streets. These pieces have the look of aged photographs, complete with burned edges, white splotches and yellow coloring. But the trick's on you — they are neither photographs nor old; they have all been painted by Demiak within the past year or so. They depict the aftermath of hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters around the world — "the big blow," to borrow the name of the exhibition. Each piece is named after a location and a year, leaving you to guess which historic "big blow" the piece is depicting. The image of a flooded street titled "New Orleans 2005" is naturally Hurricane Katrina, a pile of rubble called "Breezy Point, New York 2012" Hurricane Sandy. The paintings are small like archival prints usually are, too. Nothing here is overblown or overwhelms you. Like the wooden houses, everything is on an intimate, knowable scale. There's never the same perspective, either. The works range from street-level close-ups to aerial views, further adding to this archival feel, as if a different person had made each document. Why go through such pains to replicate images of disaster when so many already exist? It seems as if Demiak, by giving all of his works this aged quality, is trying to make us pause and contemplate the image and give the type of reverence these archival prints usually receive as historical relics. There is no shortage of images from disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, one after the other depicting destruction and human suffering on an epic scale. But such an overload can be desensitizing. By depicting them differently than you could ever expect to experience them, Demiak makes you take time to really look at them and see them differently, too. Through December 30. 303 East 11th St., 713-862-2532. — MD
"J. Todd Allison: Unresting" A Winnebago rides cresting waves like some mobile surfboard, while bouquets of esophagus-like flowers hang overhead and sprout from the water. An air vent unit twists and turns, an upside-down chair attaches to one end and green petals shoot out of it like a leaf blower. Birds fly over a miniature living-room scene in which a red book is as big as a couch. These oil paintings by J. Todd Allison are, suffice it to say, surreal. They're also some of the more concrete images lending themselves to description among the nearly 20 new works in a solo show currently up at G Gallery. In fact, many of the ink drawings and oil paintings consist of imagery that doesn't seem to depict anything — or anything familiar, at least. From his carefully rendered paintings of chairs, Winnebagos and air vents to other repeated imagery including birds, conch shells, fishing lures and houses, it's difficult to discern what, exactly, Allison is saying with this visual language. And the 18 pieces in the Houston artist's show are packed with this information — visuals the artist has said he pulls from such diverse sources as novels, conversation, science illustrations from grade school, and a garage. So while the resulting images don't seem like anything out of our reality, they are very much so, just highly disjointed. However strange and unfamiliar his paintings and drawings are, it's hard to deny Allison's skill in rendering these flat, surrealist landscapes. There's an incredible amount of painstaking detail given to each piece, whether it's the loose-leaf-paper-sized ink drawings or the massive canvases and panels. They're worth spending time in front of just for that. Through December 30. 301 East 11th St., 713-869-4770. — MD
"Jerry Jeanmard: Collages" Jerry Jeanmard has an eye. The longtime Houston resident has worked as an interior designer for nearly 30 years for the firm Wells Design/Jerry Jeanmard. He's also made his name as an illustrator; his claim to fame is one of his earliest jobs — the Blue Bell Ice Cream logo (you know the one — the silhouette of a little girl leading a cow for milking). For the past five years, Jeanmard has turned his eye to a less public endeavor — creating collages out of envelopes, bills and other scraps of paper. These pieces usually didn't see the light of day, going into storage upon completion or being sold to select clients. But lucky for us, the artist has his first solo show in an exhibition of 17 collages currently up at Moody Gallery. The collages were born out of Jeanmard's fascination with paper, and he's not discriminating. What would normally be seen by most as pieces of garbage are treasured items to Jeanmard. Once they're combined, the resulting conglomerations are clean and sharp, even where the paper is uneven, torn or creased. There's a nice continuity to the show, too — all of the works are done on the same size paper, and all of the collages are enveloped by a significant amount of white space, which helps the somewhat muted colors stand out. It's tempting to try to draw some sort of meaning out of the items used in the collages, from text to recognizable forms such as stamps and maps. But as the phrase goes, they are what they are. In fact, none of the pieces on display are even titled. (Broken Hearted, the lone titled work, sold and has since been replaced by an untitled piece.) If anything, these pieces are mostly about the appreciation of the paper. There can be beauty (or, more so the case here, a strong pleasantness) even in the most unlikely places, a lesson which can always bear repeating. Through January 5. 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911. — MD
"Peat Duggins: Wreaths" Wreaths are ubiquitous this time of year, but the wreaths in Peat Duggins's fourth solo show at Art Palace have nothing to do with evergreens or season's greetings. In one piece, there's a perfect circle of wasps, forming a ring out of what seems like a hole in the wall. In the next, a snake subtly lurks in a lovely bouquet of azaleas. In another careful arrangement, this one of lilies, ants crawl about on the pink and white petals, quietly going about their business. These works are full of life, though there's a sense of control and order to it. The wasps are never out of line; the ants keep to their petals. The most things threaten to fall apart is in Untitled (Roaches), wherein the icky bugs are drawn to scale and take over nearly the entire frame, keeping an improbable square formation except for the bottom right, where they start to break away. Or maybe they're getting into their proper place. These are works about order and disorder, a reaction to our attempt to tame what has always been wild. Each of these pieces is done in watercolor and ink that is so exact and straightforward in its drawing of roaches, wasps and other bugs, you wouldn't be surprised to find them as illustrations in a children's book (and Duggins is no stranger to children's books, having illustrated one called Grendel Gander the Sinister Goose, published earlier this year). In addition to making these usually unpleasant subjects palatable, the watercolors are intended to be taken at face value, stripped of any symbolism; there's no Freudian meaning in those ants. It's a concept that takes some getting used to, as it's hard to imagine there isn't any implied meaning somewhere in a watercolor like Untitled (Eagle/Snake), wherein a snake battles an eagle on a bed of green leaves. But in the end, that's just what it is, and that's pretty refreshing. Through January 5. 3912 Main, 281-501-2964. — MD
"Staring at the Wall: The Art of Boredom" When an art show about boredom begins with the warning "Viewer discretion is advised," you can rest assured it'd be anything but boring. In "Staring at the Wall: The Art of Boredom," the main show currently up at Lawndale Art Center, curator Katia Zavistovski brings together six artists who address boredom in their work, whether through the pieces' repetitiveness or as a distraction from boredom. From the get-go, the show seems pretty sparse, though there's a lot to unpack among the drawings, video and sculpture present. Upon entering the gallery, the first thing you hear are the words "art," "work," "hard" and "work" repeated in a robotic-like chant from somewhere, but we'll get to that later. Chris Akin's works stands out for its referencing of another Houston art institution — the Menil. A guard at the museum, Akin says he's "spent a lot of time looking at the floor." Using that as inspiration, he's mapped out areas of the Menil's gallery spaces from his various perspectives. The most effective of these works is a two-year series that depicts the Menil floor plan. The shape of the floor is tilted at an angle, turning it into a piece of abstraction, and is repeated six times in black, green, gray and yellow, as if Akin's returned to it and wanted to depict a different mood. Jeremy DePrez tackles boredom head on by replicating the spiraling scribble from one of his notebooks. In a clever, playful conceit, he's turned a 6½-inch doodle into a 6½-foot oil painting. The mindless, unconscious, typically insignificant act of doodling becomes monumental and through the act of painting gives it this funny, unexpected reverence. Rounding out the paintings is the lone inclusion by Seth Alverson — an oil painting of an empty red leather chair. In this case, the subject matter itself is boring. This is a risky choice — can the work itself rise above the inherent banality of its subject? In this case, the piece is saved by the rusty blood red of the chair, which is an unusual, intriguing choice. Boredom is often measured in the passage of time — or seeming stoppage of it — a topic explored in Uta Barth's photographs. This is a difficult thing to convey, but in two similar works, she manages to capture the ephemeral quality of sunlight as it moves like an unsteady cardiogram across a curtain. The images themselves seem to be barely there. Video artist Jenny Schlief turns the camera on what's just in front of her — her young children. Kids are constantly entertained, whether it's by toys, TV or their own imaginations. They should not know boredom. In Schlief's videos, they are wrapped up in their own mindless activities. In one, her son and daughter dance in the shower wearing animal masks. In another, her daughter shakes it to Vivaldi's "Spring," playing from a toy ark, while Schlief says, "I am making art" over and over again in a nod/ode to John Baldessari's self-conscious performance art. It is all so delightfully, giddily absurd. Whereas Schlief's works can be enjoyed without any introduction, Clayton Porter's have a backstory that needs to be shared to really resonate and have meaning. For instance, Anal Patina isn't just a stationary bike with a curious bronze seat anymore once you learn that he rode more than 650 miles — naked — on the bike (there's photographic proof). Similarly, eight plaster of Paris casts of melted butter that line the window are seemingly nothing more until you find out about Porter's process. That's revealed discreetly through three inward-facing TV screens that are the source of the spoken words "artwork" and "hard work." Spoiler alert: Each screen shows a video of the artist placing his erect penis onto butter, causing it to melt. (That's where the viewer discretion is advised.) Once you get over the unexpected imagery, it's a process not unlike watching paint dry. It's boredom in the flesh. Through January 12. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — MD
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