Capsule Art Reviews: "Drawings & Air Conditioning," "Interstitial Spaces: Julia Barello & Beverly Penn," "Kyle Farley: Countenance," "Layover," "Perry House: Elegance/Violence," "Six Apart," "Sky, Trees and Earth"
"Drawings & Air Conditioning" With its current show, Front Gallery clearly wants to lure you out into the summer heat and into its Montrose bungalow space. There's a free-form, experimental feel throughout many of the selections on view in the show, especially prevalent in the five pieces by Michael Blair, an artist who has said he is inspired by images made by "non-artists" such as children, for their "earnest expression." It's an unfortunate allusion, as his pen drawings are exactly the type of art that elicits the response "My kid can do that." It's all unconscious lines and scribbles that ultimately don't amount to much to look at. Biff Bolen has a similar unbridled, creative-unconscious quality in his abstract watercolor and oil drawings, but these give you more to work with, from the contrast of materials to the vibrant colors. Erin Hunt's watercolors are even better — her gray depictions of a socket, an urn and more unrecognizable forms are strange and intriguing. The four selections from Clarence Chun's Postcard Series provide more shape and color to appreciate, though the works are on such a small scale you'd benefit from a magnifying glass. The thin drawings look like they're details taken from a larger piece — they go on beyond the white of the paper — offering just a hint of his minutely detailed craft. Megan Harrison's drawings in charcoal, A Catalogue of Shapes, depict the most clearly defined objects — bricks — but they curiously don't add up to anything. The neatly stacked piles; falling, tumbling bricks; and bricks bent upwards against some unseen force are all exercises in order and chaos. She's practicing, and letting us look in on the process. Through September 8. 1412 Bonnie Brae St., 713-298-4750. — MD
"Interstitial Spaces: Julia Barello & Beverly Penn" The Houston Center for Contemporary Craft's inspired current show, "Interstitial Spaces," brings together Julia Barello and Beverly Penn in their first collaborative installation. This is such a natural pairing that it makes for a cohesive, rich, full show, even with only nine pieces on view. The two artists make skillful, sculptural wall works. Barello's materials of choice are X-ray and MRI films, which she cuts and dyes to look like delicate flora — they seem to sprout from the wall, they're so textured and alive. Penn, meanwhile, takes real plants, then freezes and casts them in bronze to capture every curl or twist. The resulting pieces have such a lightness to them, it's surprising and impressive to find out that they're bronze. Each of the artists' works have a sense of wild about them that's still nonetheless contained — Barello's flowers and trees are neat and trim, while Penn's threads are sprawling like unruly weeds yet still contained, whether in perfect circles or straight, exact lines. Their sensibilities combine wonderfully in a new collaborative wall installation made just for the center that stretches the length of the main wall. It's massive — you can't take it all in at once, but have to walk along, taking it in as you move through the space. It's called Submerged, and the film and bronze do seem to move together fluidly, like water or, similarly, a wind current. What really comes through here and in the other exhibition works is the ways the pieces interact with the spaces they don't occupy. Around each twist of a bronze or film flower, there's emptiness in the form of the white wall. As the name of the show implies, these between, or interstitial, spaces are as important as the works themselves. Through September 1. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — MD
"Kyle Farley: Countenance" Most of the eight works by Kyle Farley in this show are lit, either by a source within, by small bulbs on the surface or, as is the case in one piece, by a red spotlight attached to the work. But it's one of the more straightforward pieces that features the strongest imagery. In Untitled (Navajo Swastikas), there are no lights or complex parts, just the black-and-white image of a basketball team digitally printed on wooden boards seemingly ripped from an old basketball court. On their uniforms, the players sport swastikas. But these aren't German Nazis. They're Navajos, circa 1909, photographed before the swastika was adopted as a symbol of the Nazi party. It's a powerful photo, made all the more so by Farley's composition and materials. The ancient symbol is seen again in Swastika Ball. Here, Farley uses a light box and a photograph of a group of children performing the Nazi salute. This scene is not in Germany, either, but Milwaukee during the mid-1930s. One half of the photo is clearly manipulated, as the children are stiffly raising their left arms instead of their right. The 80-year-old image is subversively undermined thanks to some modern-day photo technology. They're big pieces — Farley showed up with 30 works for the show, and the modest Redbud Gallery was able to fit only eight — with big, if also a bit perplexing, ideas. Here's this good ol' boy from Cleburne, Texas, digging up forgotten Nazi paraphernalia. But shock value seems to be only part of it. Other works feature images of the Nazis' base in Antarctica, Vladimir Putin, the American eagle, rockets and oil fields. They're all symbols of power that Farley's managed to diminish. Nothing is off limits here. Through August 27. 303 E. 11th St., 713-862-2532. — MD
"Layover" Putting art in an airport is almost a defeatist goal — people are too busy getting to someplace else to pause and reflect on an intricate painting or abstract sculpture right in front of them. But that doesn't mean Houston isn't going to try. Through a partnership of the Houston Airport System, City of Houston and Houston Arts Alliance, the city started curating a permanent collection of museum-quality photographs, paintings and sculpture by regional artists that can be rotated throughout Hobby Airport and George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The installation isn't happening until later this summer and into the fall, but the public can get a preview of some of the selected works in a current exhibition at the Alliance's gallery. The ten on display are hardly a majority of the 30-plus-item collection, but if this sample is any indication, there is a freshness to the works that goes beyond the provincial, "easy" or obvious. Katrina Moorhead's Map of Incomplete Listing of Uninhabited Islands of the World does deal with an obvious topic — travel — but there's a tongue-in-cheekiness to it as she's marked uninhabited locations on a print of a map that's been beautifully detailed in watercolor. These are not places you're likely to be traveling to today, but rather uncharted territory out there to be explored. Jonathan Leach adds some much-needed pop to the proceedings with Mainline, a pink, geometric painting in acrylic and spray paint that depicts a hectic cityscape — loud billboards and zigzagging lines. On the sculpture side, there's Jeffrey Forster's Device, a strange little green industrial-looking relic that looks like it's been left to rust and corrode, though incredibly, it's made out of ceramic. If this doesn't catch a harried traveler's attention, nothing will. Through August 24. 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-9330. — MD
"Perry House: Elegance/Violence" Perry House is all about opposites — he strives to create images that are beautiful and disturbing, elegant and violent, exploring construction and destruction, bordering realism and abstraction, and walking the line between "horror and humor," as he says. His giant retrospective at the Art Car Museum spans House's 30-plus years of painting. It includes several of his most recognizable series — the most well-known being his surrealist Southern Dinner Series, composed of amoebic, loudly patterned plates that bend around the edges like bedpans and are set against loudly patterned backdrops of fish and flowers. This series is barely ten years old, but already House has moved way past his distorted Fiestaware and returned full circle to a preoccupation of his earlier in his career — landscapes, which are all noted by a mysterious date (2.20.11, 6.3.11 and so on). These are not the overwrought, wreckage-filled landscapes of his Aftermath Series but something more abstract — two-dimensional cityscapes. In an age of 3-D everything, there's something disconcerting, and arresting, about their flatness. With a 1980s graffiti vibe (must be all that neon), they're disjointed and distorted. House has said he doesn't think too much about color when he paints, but these recent paintings have such a strong sense of pigment that you may easily refer to them as the blue one or the red one. Meanwhile, his black-and-white ink drawings, wherein he essentially forgoes a palette altogether, are especially alluring. Through September 2. 140 Heights Blvd., 713-861-5526. — MD
"Six Apart" This new exhibition at Barbara Davis Gallery is part of ArtHouston, an annual festival that strives to liven up the slow, hot summer art scene with fresh works from emerging artists. Thinking of it in those terms, this miscellaneous little show, featuring work by six very different artists, succeeds. Lisbon's Sara Bichão contributes a bold red 3-D wall sculpture, f.nyc, a dripping, diamond-shaped piece that juts out as if some bloody extension of the white gallery wall. It consists of concrete and glue, making for a rough, raw feel. Houston's Daniel McFarlane sets rigid, wooden geometric shapes against solid backgrounds of automotive paint and then adds oozing layers of acrylic paint in various colors. There's great tension in these planes, which seem to float in vivid time and space. Houston artist Ruth Shouval's Fragile series consists of two very different takes on a house. In two pairs of prints, Shouval depicts a house in the most basic, elementary way possible — 11 thick black lines — and then as an abstraction of itself, the lines running crooked, ruined and completely unstable on a crumbled piece of paper. It's simple yet elegant, this contrast of calm and chaos, and is one of the strongest parts of the show. Jon Swindler of Athens, Georgia, displays The Unfortunate Nature of Lithography #5, an installation of cascading poplar frames that display lithographs of related imagery. They're all tied to a drawing of what appears to be an elephant stuffed animal, though there's hardly a perfect print among them. Some are blackened, others off-center. They're the visual "left-overs," as Swindler calls them, the mistakes he's made in the process, displayed for all to see. It's a documentation of his failure, which is such a brave, funny and useful idea. The show also features Edward Schexnayder's perplexing wall-mounted abstract sculptures and Troy Stanley's Forest, Tree, Line — four wooden boxes with two-way mirrors. Through August 25. 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200. — MD
"Sky, Trees and Earth" Margaret Miller's oil paintings of Texas landscapes in Archway Gallery's new show are not as banal as the straightforward title may imply. They're certainly pleasing, as even mediocre landscape paintings can be, but they're also strikingly detailed and have a sense of humor about them. There's a mix of large (about 30-by-40-inch) and exceptionally small (eight-by-eight-inch) landscapes on display at the Dunlavy Street artist cooperative, of which Miller is a three-year member. The sky, trees and earth are inspired by places like Brazos Bend State Park and the Texas Hill Country. You might recognize those you're familiar with, though Miller leaves little hints beyond names like Texas Sunset or Afternoon in Texas. There's a warmth and vibrancy in her touch and use of color that comes out in works like Texas Sunset, which gives off all the warmth of the real thing with its violets and oranges. That same orange comes back unexpectedly in the companion pieces, Live Oaks and Live Oak Trail, in little splashes throughout the sky and grass. Before getting too sentimental, Miller's not afraid to muck up her pretty, perfect landscapes with jolts of color. Of the bigger paintings, the less realistic a landscape, the better. Impressionist works like Lotus Flowers and Nightfall, for instance, play with light and color to beautiful effect. The humorously named Watch Out for the Bees turns the ground into an angry sea of green and orange, the latter painted on in an unusually thick impasto in hectic, scattered dashes. You can just imagine Miller out in the field busily sketching in her notebook and hear the bees buzzing around her. Through August 30. 2305 Dunlavy, 713-522-2409. — MD
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