"Flying Solo" One of my first reactions to seeing the names involved in "Flying Solo," a new group exhibition at Art League Houston featuring Houston artists who aren't represented by a commercial gallery, was surprise that so many of them aren't represented. The seven artists included offer such unique, distinct voices, and, just because they're underrepresented, in a sense, doesn't mean they've been flying under the radar by any means. Just take Daniel Anguilu. In addition to the Art League show, in just the past few months, the muralist has been included in group shows of Houston artists at the Station Museum and Cardoza Fine Arts and was one of the artists who participated in the repainting of Lawndale Art Center's outside wall. In fact, he's pretty much synonymous with Midtown, thanks to the omnipresence of his distinctive animalistic murals. The other six free agents in the show, thoughtfully curated by Art League Visual Arts Director Jennie Ash to offer a diversity of mediums, subject matter and techniques, similarly have long résumés filled with runs at prestigious museums, residencies and MFA programs. Ann Wood stands out with two visceral pieces — a collage of two aggressive-looking horses in rapture, literal hearts floating from the charged piece, and her taxidermic pig installation — it's pretty in pink covered in glitter, but absolutely grotesque at the same time, thanks to some spilled "blood" and broken teeth. Lawndale Art Center resident Patrick Turk works on a smaller, more contained scale. His three-dimensional electronic sculptures are illuminated by LED lights and use magnifying glasses like little portholes onto the images of snakes, birds and bugs. The lone photographer, Chuy Benitez, turns his lens on Occupy Wall Street with his panoramic visions of protest and prayer. Lovie Olivia is harder to define — her two totem paintings, one of which intriguingly forgoes any traditional sense of portraiture and focuses exclusively on a tattooed woman's backside, employ a fresco-like technique that consists of layers of plaster, paint and printmaking. Fernando Ramirez's drawings are more straightforward in design — acrylic marker and pencil — but they create dense cities crowded with dynamic faces. Multimedia artist Emily Sloan's contributions are polar opposites and would seem born of two different minds — one is a messy, colorful portal, the other a stark steel form — if they weren't united by their lampshade-esque design. The exhibition starts and ends with Anguilu, from his color mural on Art League's front entrance to three works in the space's hallway consisting of spray paint and grids of wood, as if attempting to domesticate the graffiti. It's a very fresh show — all of the work is from this year. That, coupled with the unsigned angle, gives off this finger-on-the-pulse sense of discovery that's exciting. Ultimately, though, the show's conceit makes you wonder what the artists' defining collective lack of commercial representation is supposed to mean. Is the show an urgent call to sign these artists now? Or is it more a "We're doing just fine, thanks but no thanks" snub of the commercial art world? It seems to be a little bit of both, attempting to remain neutral and straddle both lines, which is a little frustrating. Of course, the real indicator will be whether any of these talented artists fly solo for much longer. Through January 4. 1953 Montrose. 713-523-9530. — 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
"Jonathan Faber: Surface" Looking at Jonathan Faber's new work up at David Shelton Gallery, I see faces looking back at me. As with some Rorschach test that replaces black and white for neon colors and blots for primal geometric shapes, I can't help but see faces. In Surface, there are sleepy, swollen eyes, a light black stroke for a nose and a thin zigzag for a mouth. In Broadcast, the image of a face is less apparent, but there appear to be the makings of a green skull with jagged lines for teeth. Whether or not you see faces, you'll surely be striving to find something familiar in these abstract pieces. (Is that a sail in Blanket?) The Austin artist has a history of creating works that are intentionally ambiguous, based off of slippery memories of boating trips, his childhood home, Vermont stays and whatever else is buried there. Several of the works, in fact, seem indicative of a place. Wake looks like some sort of marshland, inhabited by an ominous aqua-blue specter waiting in the reeds. Segment is surprisingly restrained compared to Faber's busier works. There's what appears to be a sewage pipe spouting toxic water, and black blobs that look like scrambled Mickey Mouse ears. The painting has an unfinished quality, with black marks floating off into the distance. It's open-ended. The majority of these works are oil paintings, though Faber also has little studies in pastels. These seem less indicative of a certain place or landscape, as in Bouquet. As the name promises, there are images of flowers, however faint. They are floating, delicate imprints surrounded by harsh, crude lines of stripes and triangles. The bouquet is almost an afterthought. With this latest work, Faber continues to toe the line between figurative and abstract art, though it's one that's increasingly getting blurred. There's more guesswork involved and not knowing. That can be challenging, but Faber leaves just enough clues to keep you in the game. Through January 5. 3909 Main. 832-538-0924. — MD
"Joseph Havel: Hope and Desire" In his solo show at Hiram Butler Gallery, Houston artist and Glassell School of Art director Joseph Havel has just two pieces in the gallery's main room. The more prominent, and colorful, even in its monochromatism, is Hope and Desire, which also gives the show its name. It consists of ten Plexiglas boxes densely stuffed with carefully arranged shirt labels embroidered with the words "hope" and "desire." There are upwards of 30,000 of them to each box, with each box alternately consisting of shirt labels labeled "hope" and "desire." Thanks to the white edges of the labels, the labels form blue lines that run up and down, across and diagonally, like some Sol LeWitt line drawing done in fabric. Havel has worked with shirt labels and Plexiglas boxes like this before, but the ten used here make it the largest of this scale yet. It's visually striking, too. The labels read like blue and white paint until you get up close to confront it and the illusion is gone. The messages in the labels are also mostly hidden, save for some that are revealed along the edges of the clear frame or are out of place in the line, like a happy accident. The second piece in the show is Architecture, a tower of cast resin that replicates the collected papers of Sigmund Freud. The stack consists of seven casts of the set of books, as well as the original model, now destroyed, making it 5'7" tall — which by some lucky math was also the height of Freud himself. The cast leaves the imprint of the books' volumes and author like a ghostly shadow, which is quite fitting since it's meant to be referential. By using Freud, Havel is speaking to the influence of the thinker on Modernism. Hope and Desire is also said to be inspired by The Dream Songs by John Berryman, a work that expresses Freudian concepts. There's much art historical, cultural and personal information to read here, but even if it all doesn't come across, both works are still really satisfying formally to look at. Through January 26, 2013. 4520 Blossom St. 713-863-7097. — MD
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"Shane Tolbert: Talk of Montauk" Even before he spent a residency this summer out in Montauk, at the tip of Long Island's South Fork, Houston artist Shane Tolbert was already drawing comparisons to one of its most famous former residents — Jackson Pollock. The father of the Abstract Expressionist movement could be seen in the splashes of Tolbert's earlier work and his large canvases. And while in a solo show now up at Bill's Junk in the Heights, Tolbert has traded big, sprawling canvases for ones that would easily fit in a suitcase, the shadow of Pollock is even more evident. From the 19 total works he created during his residency at the Edward Albee Foundation in Montauk, Tolbert has six up on display here in the show, titled "Talk of Montauk," as well as an additional three not on the walls but available for looking. They are a colorful lot, from the dotty Pastels Found at Dusk, which looks like the clean pixels of a bright light, to an untitled piece that verges on resembling an artist's palette, a mix of peach and sky blue and forest green and black. Two Columns Understanding Their Own History is even more splattered and carefree, while still maintaining a sense of deliberateness in each patch of color. Tolbert also goes beyond messy splotches and incorporates shapes into his small canvases. There are the triangles of Picture 13: Currents, which look like rows of orderly sailboats on swift ocean currents. The sails are a parade of calming colors beyond the standard white, painted against a less orderly, almost violent background of blood red and black. In Montauk at Night, one of the paintings not up on display, Tolbert depicts what I assume are stars done as yellow squares against a stunning blue and black sky. If the sky really did look like this, I wouldn't complain. Through December 22. 1125 E. 11th St. 713 863-7112. — MD