Capsule Art Reviews: "Flying Solo," "[Houston Times Eight]," "Jonathan Faber: Surface," "Structural Impermanence: New Works by Renée Lotenero," "Translucent Trajectories"
"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
"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
"Translucent Trajectories" Both Orna Feinstein and Carlos Zerpabzueta are multimedia artists who traffic in works that are optically playful and vibrantly colorful, making this show a dizzyingly fun experience. Each uses materials that are very plasticky — Feinstein with her plexi, Zerpabzueta with his co-polyester. These materials can be very cold, disengaging and, sometimes in the case of Zerpabzueta's work, muddy, but once you get past that, they are highly interactive thanks to their three-dimensional qualities.Feinstein creates an almost "Magic Eye" effect with her Tree Dynamics series — layered pieces of fabric, paper and monoprint on plexi radiate orbs meant to represent the concentric circles of tree rings. There's a lot of tension in the works, between the natural and synthetic, as well as her use of a traditional printmaking medium in such a contemporary way. Feinstein continues to play with that dynamic in her Morel series, inspired by the structure of a plant or fungus when observed under a microscope. These sculptural works feature sheets of monoprint on plexi that seem to move and pulsate as you walk around them. Zerpabzueta studied architecture at one point, and his minutely constructed works here do take on a strong architectural quality. There are boxes and monitor-like structures filled with layers of acrylic on co-polyester that take the form of patterns or text. They seem like little puzzles, pieces that need to be decoded. That's especially the case with Codigo de Marcas, a mounted piece that looks like an open book layered with letters in yellow, black, red and blue. Despite the familiar letters, these textual elements don't reveal anything (at least not to the solely English-fluent viewer). The more you look at it, the less sense it makes, but you can't help but continue to stare. Anya Tish Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-524-2299. — MD
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