East Sunset Heights film institution 14 Pews usually directs your attention to its screen, but this month, it's encouraging you to also look at its walls. In collaboration with Houston arts organization Intuitive Eye, it is displaying the work of three acclaimed outsider artists in the show "Plain Sight."
Acclaimed outsider artist is a bit of an oxymoron. By definition, outsider artists operate outside of the mainstream art institution and art historical context. But in their lifetime, the three here were able to gain recognition for their craft, showing in galleries, winding up in collections and drawing the eye of admirers.
Of the three men, two were from Houston, the other Baltimore. Two were also homeless, while the third preferred to work "in the fresh air" along the road. Two are also dead, the third only presumed to be alive.
To view their work, you must go in and out of the pews; it's a slow, contemplative process. The dramatic lighting of the former church does well to highlight the work, and Paul Darmafall's glass mosaics are particularly beautiful under the spotlights. Known as "The Baltimore Glassman," Darmafall (1925-2003) claimed a busy stretch of Baltimore roadway as his white wall, making mosaics and collages from found shards of glass. His varied subjects ranged from the religious (Jesus, an angel) to the patriotic (George Washington, Yankee Doodle, the Liberty Bell).
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Richard Gordon Kendall's drawings bring us to closer to home. The Houston homeless man (born about 1930 with current whereabouts unknown), turned to art when he reached "retirement age." His subject was the streets themselves -- a homeless shelter, a yellow building, even recognizable places like Two Houston Center. This being Houston, these downtown spots are also devoid of people. Kendall salvaged paper from the trash and, amazingly, saved up for ballpoint pens, markers and crayons when he could. The fact that a man chose to buy these tools, likely small luxuries, speaks volumes about the value of art, craft and self-expression.
The third artist is "Remmy," a Houston homeless man who died in 2008 after a hit-and-run. Curator Jay Wehnert had admired Remmy's work -- installations in the Heights made from found paper, ribbon and cardboard boxes -- from afar for several years. His wife photographed one such installation in the railroad trestle underpass on Yale Street, seen in this show, preserving it for good before it was mistaken for garbage and removed by trash collectors. Such found art installations demonstrate what can be a fine line -- as the saying goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure.
"Plain Sight" at 14 Pews, 800 Aurora Street, runs through April 26 and is available for viewing when the space has events. For more information, call 281.888.9677 or visit www.14pews.com.