Don't Pass Over Peter Massing's Powerful Paintings at Nau-haus Art

"Chopsticks' by Peter Massing. The red and green print made from the wood block is also visible in the background.
"Chopsticks' by Peter Massing. The red and green print made from the wood block is also visible in the background.
Photo by Meredith Deliso

The big talkers at Peter Massing's new Nau-haus Art show are his involved carvings -- wood blocks with images of tricksters and wizards carved into them -- and their resulting red, blue and green ink prints. It's understandable; the poppy prints are fun to look at and compare the block to its flipped paper counterpart. And it's an admirably laborious process, involving the time-tested practice of reduction printing -- see, even I can't help but talk about them. But in the printmaker's second solo show at the Heights gallery in four years, his collages and prints are really the works to behold.

One piece in particular is a big collage that's primarily two blocks of blue scattered with engravings and random images -- mainly a couple of old doilies and cartoonish images of two little boys playing. Untitled, the name doesn't give you much from which to infer, but it's an extremely emotional work. There's a sense of nostalgia, like artifacts from a half-remembered childhood. I was left with an overwhelming sense of sadness, but also sweetness.

Another strong piece is the screen print "Marriage/Some Kind of Institution." The main image is an orange sapling, with eyes glowering at you from its leaves. Along the bottom are the words "marriage/some kind of institution ... you can't even marry a tree."

If you think this might be some comment on the controversial piece "The Art Guys Marry a Plant," it'll help to know that Massing is the brother of Jack Massing, who is one half of The Art Guys. Though what that comment is, exactly, is a bit unclear to me.

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The image of the tree is flanked by floating heads of Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy -- two civil rights defenders, so there's that -- as well as bordered by alternating blocks of crude stencils of people, portraits of women that are reminiscent of works by classical and impressionist painters, and photographic-like flowers --it's as if the piece is putting the Art Guys' performance in art history, though I'm not sure if the marriage of institution, or art, is what fails. Ambiguity aside, I was enthralled.

"Peter Massing: Time and Time and Time Again" at Nau-haus Art, now through January 28. For more information, call 281-615-4148 or visit the gallery's website.

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