Capsule Art Reviews: "Greg Miller: Over Time," "Janice Jakielski: Constructing Solitude," "Joshua Goode: Origin of Myth," "Lisa Ludwig: Black Black Forest," "Maggie Taylor: No Ordinary Days"
"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 by way of explanation in a recent interview with Los Angeles writer Peter Frank). Rather, he brings the outside in by re-creating 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
"Janice Jakielski: Constructing Solitude" Janice Jakielski's work somehow manages to feel both futuristic and Victorian at the same time. Her colorful headdresses on display at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft are quite photogenic, embroidered prettily with birds and adorned with paper flowers. They also feature some curious fashion choices: coffee mug halves that surround the eyes, wide ribbons that obscure the ears and even a bonnet made for two, each separate headdress connected by a striped portal in a way that forces each wearer's back to the other. These dozen or so hats are purposefully exaggerated, their impracticality meant to enforce a sense of isolation on the wearer. The exhibition is even titled "Constructing Solitude," and sets out to explore how a minor change or two from the norm can radically alter our view of the world. Or something like that. It all can be a bit of a leap. You have to go from merely admiring the skill and craftsmanship in these headdresses to imagining wearing them and how that might feel. It doesn't help that the headdresses are placed at varying heights on the walls, and the taller they are, the harder it is to really examine them. Some key references are also unclear and don't seem to readily serve the piece. The flowers are meant to signify floriography, a Victorian-era practice in which flowers were used to send messages, while the birds are a reference to auspicium — a form of divination that looks to the flight patterns of birds for signs. That's nice, but to what end? Jakielski does give museum-goers the chance to experience, rather than imagine, her work by setting up an interactive installation in the middle of the gallery space. In "Across the Divide," three pairs of handmade binoculars look upon these miniature porcelain nature scenes, which include a pile of leaves and what looks like a cornfield and some weeds. The idea is that when you look through the binoculars, someone else has the opportunity to look through the other pair and you can experience this act of viewing together. Of course, that only works if there's another person there to look through the binoculars with you and you both somehow know what to do. Otherwise there's little to guide you through the intended experience of this piece, which can lead you to look on in confusion or ignore it all together. Through May 5. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — MD
"Joshua Goode: Origin of Myth" Joshua Goode is a big kid at heart. The Fort Worth artist has a silly sense of humor, plays with toys and is boundlessly imaginative. Just look at his show currently up at Darke Gallery, better off temporarily known as the Contemporary Alternative Natural History Museum. The Detering Street gallery is filled with "artifacts" "discovered" by Goode during an "excavation" of its street, the story goes. These artifacts are attributed to the Ancient Aurora Rhome civilization in North Texas, and, according to the gallery's fantastic release, "possess attributes of objects found in ancient Egyptian, Mycenaean, Etruscan tombs and of toys from the 1980s." Love it. They are unholy combinations of toys — there's a horse with a man's legs where its head should be, a tiger's body with a horse's rump for a head, and so on — and are given the most ridiculous names (the Legorse, the Asshtar). These chimeras — all painted the same shimmery gold — are placed under bell jars and accompanied by labels describing the figurines and their significance to the Aurora Rhome civilization. Goode is fully committed to this bit of make-believe. The fun doesn't stop there. Gallery-goers are able to participate in the excavation, too, thanks to a wooden rectangular structure filled with salt and buried figurines that you can dig for. Once you find one, you can identify and document it by placing it on a shelf underneath its appropriate label. Accompanying these figures are a whopping 40 small-scale paintings that Goode calls "Auroran Miniatures." These depict anything from fossils and ghosts to oil fields and owls and are all done in a loose, collage-like style that seems to evoke the artist's memories. If you detect a strong childlike quality to them in their crudeness (and, in one case, penciled hearts), Goode's six-year-old daughter in fact worked with him on these. The show is titled "Origin of Myth," and it is a fascinating exploration of one man's personal mythology as he ravages his past and present for material — and gives it new meaning in the process. The sprawling exhibit presents an impressive range of skill, too, as everything on display, including the beautiful wooden pedestals that support the bell jars and the interactive dig, is the result of Goode's touch. It all makes for a unique show unlike anything you've ever experienced. Through March 9. 320-B Detering. 713-542-3802. — MD
"Lisa Ludwig: Black Black Forest" Lisa Ludwig made a name for herself making cake sculptures out of sugar cubes and crafting enchanting, elaborate installations. One of her most memorable shows at Moody Gallery involved a field of silica in the center of the gallery that sprouted barren trees and had crystalline apples lying in the "snow." Over the course of a 20-plus-year career, of course, interests evolve. And in her latest show at the Colquitt space — her seventh — Ludwig's sculptures are composed of more traditional — and permanent — materials (porcelain), and they line the gallery walls on shelves and pedestals in an ordinary fashion. Still, that doesn't make them any less strange and intriguing. Despite what the show's name might imply, in "Black Black Forest," there is a striking absence of black — or any color whatsoever. All the pieces are stark white, just the color of the porcelain after it came out of the kiln. The only color comes from tulips that occupy three of Ludwig's functional vases. Though they are devoid of any color, the sculptures are so minutely detailed, they aren't lost to the white walls. The animals and objects they depict are instantly recognizable, too. Ludwig's forest is teeming with toads, birds, mice, snakes and rabbits surrounded by matches, spools of thread, even sweet gherkin pickles — she is that specific. The animals aren't dead, stoic things, either; they have a sense of purpose and even diligence as they go about their business. Snakes coil through twigs. A bird surrounded by spools of thread has a needlepoint in its mouth. Rabbits stand upright holding branches or blindfolds, some quixotically sporting these blindfolds themselves. As the crafter of these mysterious scenes, Ludwig doesn't provide any overt clues to the little dramas at play — all 13 sculptures are untitled. Still, the fact that these colorless porcelain sculptures are teeming with such life and curiosity is impressive. All the color that's needed is in the craft. Through March 23. 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911. — MD
"Maggie Taylor: No Ordinary Days" Maggie Taylor's brand of photomontage is a fascinating mix of old and new forms of photography that results in even more fascinating images. Since 1996, the Florida artist has been working with Photoshop, taking advantage of its imaging magic to create pictures that are truly surreal, strange and, yes, magical. She starts with 19th-century tintypes, photographs and other images she's acquired from flea markets, antique stores, eBay or other artists. She scans and then manipulates them in Photoshop, colorizing and layering the originals with her own photographs and other images she's come across. In what takes only seconds to describe, Taylor will spend weeks, often months manipulating a single piece, adding upwards of 60 layers or more. Thirty of these resulting images are on display at Catherine Couturier Gallery, timed to the publication of a new book of Taylor's works titled No Ordinary Days. Indeed, these pieces are anything but ordinary. Taylor's work is often described using the word "dreamscapes," but it's difficult to tell whether it's born of dreams or nightmares. In her alternate, unsettling realities, bees can magically coordinate to form a dress; a swimmer walks a cloud; a child tears her head in two as if it's a piece of paper; pigs fly; animals, flowers and leaves explode out of the back of a man's head; and landscapes are paradoxically lit like in Magritte's Empire of Light, the sky light as day while the land is in the shadows of darkness. They're by turns delightful and bizarre, but they're oddly compelling in their strangeness. They seem like illustrations to fairy tales or children's stories, full of whimsy, beauty and originality. And like any good tale, they leave you questioning your own sense of what's possible. Through March 16. 2635 Colquitt, 713-524-5070. — MD
"Rosa Loy: Souvenir" In describing Rosa Loy's work, artist Helmut Klarner writes that "the seemingly representational fails to explain itself." That does so well to describe the experience of looking at Loy's paintings that I couldn't help quoting it here. Nearly 30 recent paintings and drawings by the German artist are on display at McClain Gallery in "Souvenir," her first exhibition in Texas. Loy's work is often accompanied by the adjective "feminine," and it's easy to see why. The subjects of her paintings are all women — long-haired women, short-haired women, dreaming women, mischievous women playing with fire, levitating women. Loy also often puts her women in domestic settings — houses appear frequently, including on the top of two flying women's shoulders in "Saat des Schweigenssaat." Clearly, these are no ordinary women and no ordinary paintings. They seem to reference a specific folklore, each painting like a page out of a book, but it's one of Loy's own creation. She mischievously leaves us trying to craft our own meaning and narratives from these mysterious images and their names (titles like "Humility" and "Comfort" provide contextual clues). It feels as if you're visually reading a book, one that's sometimes in a different language. More important to Loy than the meaning of these narratives, however, is the form — the color and composition of her paintings. And however strange, curious or befuddling they are, they are still a pleasure to look at. Loy paints with the rarely used casein, a water-soluble paint derived from milk that gives her canvases a surprisingly traditional look. The colors are muted and soft while at the same time incredibly rich. They are quite stunning to behold. Through March 2. 2242 Richmond. 713-520-9988. — MD
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