Capsule Art Reviews: "Greg Miller: Over Time," "[Houston Times Eight]," "Kathryn Kelley: "The uncontrollable nature of grief and forgiveness (or lack of)," "Mac Whitney: Sculptures and Paintings," "Mie Olise: Crystal Bites of Dust," "Wilo Vargas"
"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 as way of explanation in a recent interview with L.A. writer Peter Frank). Rather, he brings the outside in by recreating 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
"[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
"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
"Mac Whitney: Sculptures and Paintings" Mac Whitney's current show at Gallery Sonja Roesch only just went up earlier in January, but the sculptor would be familiar to regular gallery-goers as well as those who just happen to drive by the Midtown gallery. For the past seven months, the artist's 3,000-plus-pound sculpture Carrizozo has stood prominently outside the gallery, a red beacon as well as a preview of sorts of his solo show — a variety bag of a dozen of the Texas artist's sculptures, as well as a handful of paintings, all made over the latter half of his more than 40-year career. Whitney is a skilled metalworker who can manipulate steel at any scale and make it bend or curve at his command. It's quite astonishing to go from his 20-foot-tall Carrizozo to the barely 20-inch Bosque, another red number that rests on the gallery's table and is one of the first works you see upon entering. Despite their difference in stature, they have the same sense of strength, movement and elegance. Through his minimal use of color — just solid reds, blacks, blues or grays — he lets the raw steel do the talking. The artist's paintings are quite the departure from his metalwork. Where Whitney's sculptures are strong, interlocking forms, his oil paintings are loose and erratic in their lines. Where his sculptures are solid, bold colors, his paintings are messy bursts of blues, yellows and reds all at once. It's like he's freeing his mind from the constraints of the steel and imagining what shapes he might be able to bend his next sculpture into, against all odds. Through February 23. 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424. —MD
"Mie Olise: Crystal Bites of Dust" The Gowanus Canal is barely two miles long and yet the lore surrounding the Brooklyn waterway is renowned. Decades of pollution from chemical plants and coal yards on its shores have made it one of the most contaminated bodies of water in the nation, and two years ago it was designated a Superfund site. At one point, it was even diagnosed with gonorrhea. Sadly, it's also a place where dolphins go to die. For years, the area surrounding the canal has also attracted artists looking for cheap rents and the romantic inspiration that decaying industrial sites can bring. Mie Olise is one of them. Originally from Copenhagen, the painter currently has a studio only a few blocks from the canal, and her latest series pulls directly from the canal (literally, it turns out, too). As if the canal's bleak, rugged industrialism and murky, toxic waters didn't provide enough to work with, Olise was also painting after Hurricane Sandy, and the resulting displacement of the area's structures is evident. Things are slightly off in her loose, flat paintings. Boats and canoes lean at odd angles, and factories and plants stand on stilts, stretching up to the sky at unsettling heights and tilts. These aren't landscapes, either — the boats and houses that occupy her monumental paintings and small studies exist in their own planes, with little telling you this is even a waterfront, save for the reflections of canoes in a couple of works. In a move that's both fascinating and icky, Olise uses her subject literally in her paintings, mixing water from the Gowanus with her acrylic paint. It's there in all of her works, though its presence seems to be most evident in the dirty brown of "Loading House." The titular house looms intimidatingly and threatens to collapse on its thin wooden legs at any second, or just wash away completely. Thanks to the dripping quality of Olise's Gowanus paint, it seems to be in the midst of that process. But these works aren't all dark. Olise employs unnaturally cheery pastels in her paintings, from the pinks in the canoes and solid backdrops to the dreamy strips of blues in her abandoned factories. The Gowanus in Olise's mind is not some gross, sad place, but one still worthy of some color and beauty. Through March 8. Barbara Davis Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200. — MD
"Wilo Vargas: Hierophany and Pareidolia" What makes an image of a man no longer just a man, but Buddha? How do people see the visage of Jesus on bread or in a tree, and why is it such a big deal when they do? When does an elephant stop being an ordinary elephant, but a totem? These are some of the questions explored in Wilo Vargas's current show up at G Gallery, which also marks the Peruvian artist's Houston debut. The title, "Hierophany and Pareidolia," refers to two psychological states — one being the manifestation of the sacred in objects (hierophany), wherein objects are given significance or sacred meaning, the other being the act of unconsciously recognizing these objects (pareidolia) — for example, seeing Christ's face on a slice of toast. Vargas plays with these notions by using iconography in his paintings. There are images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Buddha and Christ, as well as totemic animals like elephants, eagles and lions. But the catch is that their likenesses aren't all that apparent at first. Like a gigantic "Magic Eye," you have to pull away from the painting for these hidden images to become clear. It's an unnerving, exhilarating effect; just when you think you've seen all that you can, you're able to see the paintings in a whole new light that gives it a completely new meaning and resonance. These images within images are actually better seen through a photograph of the painting, funny enough. That's when they are best defined. Though of course these paintings are meant to be seen not through an iPhone screen but close up. Only then can you get a sense of the immense work Vargas puts into each of his massive paintings. The obsessive layering of his neon doodles, like a controlled, psychedelic Pollock, become almost textured. It's a painting technique apparently inspired by hallucinations the artist had following a spider bite. There were no spiders present in the paintings as far as I could tell, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. These paintings take time and patience to fully reveal themselves. Through February 24. 301 East 11th St., 713-869-4770. —MD
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