"Neurotic" Over a film career spanning 40 years, John Waters has managed to simultaneously offend and entertain his audience. His art, it turns out, is no different. This show at McClain Gallery includes conceptual works by the Pink Flamingos director made between 1993 and 2009 that comment on film, writing, sex, humor, and, yes, neuroses — it's a glimpse inside Waters's twisted, transgressive bald head. The bulk of the show is comprised of these visual storyboards — movie stills Waters took with a camera and grouped by a highly specific, highly dark theme. There are images of plane crashes, people puking, drug use — he tries to make you cringe, then laugh, then question both reactions. In other, less shocking montages, Waters had some fun with Photoshop. In Product Placement, he adds some unfamiliar items to famous movie moments (in one humorous scene, Charlton Heston's Moses clutches The Ten Commandments in one hand, a bottle of Tilex in the other). Though all made within the past 15 years, these series have this throwback 1980s New York art school vibe that Waters seems to embody. On the non-photography side, Waters fills the gallery with quirky surprises that are also highly personal works. There's his larger-than-life replica of a La Mer jar — a long-time favorite of the artist's — minus the actual lotion (if he did fill it with the pricey stuff, the jar would have a price tag upwards of $200,000). For some inside art world humor, there's Visit Marfa, a satirical advertisement for the minimalist art capital of Texas. The poster highlights such attractions as "Eat food all the same color," "Pretend to see the 'Marfa Lights,'" "It's a l-o-o-o-o-n-g drive!" You get the idea. It's one of the few insidery pieces in an otherwise highly accessible show. Through April 21. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — MD
"The Cowboy Spirit: Faces of the American West" Robb Kendrick's show at William Reaves Fine Art Gallery features photographs dedicated to the American West. Each of the multitude of images tells a story; most are profiles of cowboys, with various scenic shots of ranch life sprinkled in. The portraits are nothing less than stunning. You may find yourself staring into the eyes of a young boy in a beat-up ten-gallon hat for more time than feels comfortable, but it is too difficult to turn away from him. A wiry old cowboy with a thick mustache conjures feelings of a lost generation, desperate to remain relevant. The wrinkles under his eyes are deep and cracked from years of living an SPF-free lifestyle. What is so remarkable about these photos, aside from the captured images themselves, is the manner in which Kendrick has shot and produced them. He uses an antiquated process called tintype, which dates back to the mid-1800s. The process is complicated and difficult, but its result is magnificent. The images come out somewhat underexposed, with unequal amounts of light distribution and a grainy, tan pigment. If you have ever taken one of those "old timey" photos that are so prevalent along boardwalks and amusement parks, you can conjure up an image, but Kendrick's photos are the real deal. Through April 21. 2313 Brun St., 713-521-7500. — AK
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"The Livable Forest" This winter, the closest you can come to ice is at the Devin Borden Gallery. Laura Lark's latest show turns the gallery into a cool forest of silver and white. From the piles of brick on the ground, topped by deer and sirens, to the Tyvek the Houston artist uses as a canvas, the space is coated in shiny silver and stretches of white. The human dwellers of this forest are equally cool — portraits of Steve McQueen, Jane Fonda and a trio of lounging, longhaired women hang throughout the space, with silver strands of faux leaves hanging from the ceiling. The images of McQueen and Fonda, pulled from old magazine photo shoots, are meticulously made through stippling — a seemingly simple, elementary task of making many, many black dots, here with a Sharpie marker, with the dots denser in some parts, less so in others, to create the desired image. It's a technique Lark has used before, but is still completely awe-inspiring. Other works are made with watercolor, in smooth, blue strokes that look light and easy in comparison despite their own painterly skill. Lark has chosen one of Steve McQueen's most enduring images — his 1962 Harper's Bazaar cover — to re-create, but she crops out any white space, so that even the magazine name just reads "Azaa," and just focuses on his grinning mug, draped by a seemingly disembodied arm. Lark's black-and-white stippling technique makes him ghostly, as if McQueen is slowly disappearing. In a second dotted-Sharpie replica of the movie star, McQueen comes off more menacing than sexy, as the lipstick marks on his forehead and mouth once implied, with his hard, cold stare coming back at you. Fonda, on the other hand, looks more like a goddess than ever in a long, striking profile, based on an image when she was a teenager, forever young. Through April 7. 3917 Main, 713-529-2700. — MD
"Pictures and Words" Geoff Winningham doesn't so much tell stories with photographs as he spots other people's stories and photographs them. They're fleeting images — thought-provoking relics of people who have long left the scene of the crime, or are unknowingly part of it. These often anonymous, mysterious stories comprise this retrospective of sorts at Koelsch Gallery. Most photos are pulled from different series Winningham has shot over the past 40 years, chosen because they're either a picture of a picture, or a picture of words. It's a simplistic conceit that reaps big rewards. For "Photos," there's the collage of news clippings, magazines covers and photos on an abandoned barn in Leadville, Colorado. Winningham broke in to take the shots in 1994, and, after some detective work, found they dated as far back as 1943. Time gave these clippings an aged, frozen-in-time look — sepia in action, no Instagram necessary. For "Words," there's a series of handmade signs that Winningham found on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. There's one advertising carne asada, another "dirt-sand," a third for gasolina, but with the word humorously broken up into "gasol" and "ina" to fit onto the wood. The jackpot, though, is a long, unexpectedly poetic tirade by one Joseph C. Dunn against the harassment he's apparently faced at the hands of the FBI. Read it in full. Winningham reprinted the majority of these works for the purpose of this show, and the materials used are as diverse as his subjects. There's an incredible piece from the Leadville series comprised of carbon pigment on brushed aluminum, as well as photogravures, archival inkjet prints, vintage gelatin silver prints and German Etching paper, to name a few. Winningham has really experimented, and the show is enjoyably engaging as a result. Through April 21. 703 Yale St., 713-626-0175. — MD
"Push Play" In his first solo show in eight years, for those keeping track, Kyle Young picks up right where he left off. His bold paintings continue the play with geometric shape and order that he's become known for in his new show at Art Palace. And the colors are as bright as ever. Young has been operating a fairly successful art storage and refurbishing company, Ty-Art, handling the care and treatment of other people's art. That detail gives a whole new way of looking at his work here. Most of his paintings have been chopped up, first painted on a whole canvas, which is then sliced into even pieces that are rearranged very carefully to make the canvas whole again. It sounds like a nightmare to potentially destroy your art, but the works are very clean and smooth, handled with utmost care and each piece placed just so. That's not to say they aren't without tension. In such pieces as Fathers and Dialogue — Red & Orange, your mind tries in vain to piece the work back together to its original, more familiar form, the visible strokes of paint no longer connecting from piece to piece. Similar to this reordering and rearranging to create something new, some of Young's works also deal in inverses. The most impressive of these, Chalice Reversed, shies away from the artist's bright pastels and works with just black and white — with the black largely engulfing what little white there is. It is a giant, and takes up one of the gallery's walls. The work references Chalice, a much smaller painting in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's collection that consists of the same image and proportions, but with the black white and the white black. A simple detail like that, even without the referenced work displayed, reminded me that this is a piece of art that has a history, a lineage, and no one work is ever really "done." Through April 7. 3913 Main, 281-501-2964. — MD
"Thin Places" For this exhibition, on display at The Vineyard Church of Houston in the Heights, each artist has given his or her interpretation of the "veil that separates heaven from Earth." Peel back a corner of the veil, and just maybe you will see your maker. The exhibition is a group show featuring photography, collage and mixed media, under the thematic umbrella of spirituality and a higher power. Because the show is being presented in conjunction with FotoFest, much of it is simple photography, which happens to be the strongest work in the show. A series of photographs, The Great Physician by Hala Aboudaher Needham, takes an intimate, painful look at what happens behind the hospital curtain. The series feels like a story, beginning with a tearful diagnosis on a surgeon's table and ending with more crying, but this time tears of joy over a newborn baby. In another series of photographs, Postures of Mourning by Mike Higuera, haunting faces and contorted bodies in various states of mourning beg for your sympathy. The images, some multiplied for exaggeration, almost blend into their pitch-black backgrounds, which is very effective. A young man stares from out of a dark place, his face filled with despair, while a woman is in the throes of emotional pain, each moment captured beautifully by Higuera. While these and some other pieces are standouts, "thin" may be more of a description of the quality of the overall show than anything else. It lacks substance as a whole, and I had a difficult time connecting the dots between the featured works and the theme of the exhibition. Through April 8. 1035 East 11th St., 713-869-9070. — AK