Visual Arts

Dreamy, Billowy Clouds of Joyful Color

Happiness and light – with a generous dose of hospitality – are what’s being served up at d. m. allison gallery, courtesy of local abstractionist Tuyet Ong-Barr, who spent time in Paris and originally hails from Vietnam. While acknowledging that there is darkness in our world, Ong-Barr prefers to focus on the joys of friendship and good conversation, gracing the dreamy, layered and vibrant acrylics in her “Gathering” exhibit with names like Reunion, Tea Time, At My Table and Quest of Happiness.

At the Glassell School of Art, she has studied under Brian Portman, Terrell James and Francesca Fuchs, but seems to be most influenced by the works of James; her compositions contain similar movements, gestures and marks, but with a notably brighter palette and somewhat more edited.

The pieces created this year are dreamy, billowy clouds of exuberant color, as if the artist is arranging flowers and pushing them towards the center of her canvas, allowing the light to shine through in the periphery. Spectrum, with its glowing center bar of hot pink, shows depth and layering as the colors force the darkness into the recesses. The same light-filled corners are apparent in Cross Road #2, while she chooses to fully embrace the canvas with color in Tea Time.

Although smaller in scale at only 18 inches square, last year’s Jewel is big on color. With a supporting cast of aquamarine and cobalt blue, the mandarin orange and poppy-colored burst of energy shows nature at its finest; the artist admits to drawing inspiration from the garden, as well as the bright colors found under the sea.

As the pieces in the exhibit include paintings created over the past five years, it allows the viewer to see her evolution as an artist. Her earlier works in 2010 invoked fat brush strokes with a reduction in saturation; in Streamers the color flies away from the center, while in Axis we can see Ong-Barr is beginning to push her strokes into densely populated color groupings. In Overlook, from 2012, the artist has almost completely abandoned the thick strokes in favor of the large swaths of color, though their edges are hard and defined, also evident in 2013’s Quest of Happiness.

Most of the works produced over the past three years have the softened edges and dreamy qualities that demonstrate a relaxed spontaneity, using purposeful drips to hug or embrace the composition. Ong-Barr seems to play with a couple of formulas; her characteristic light-filled corners are found in 2013’s Cross Road, Wonderland, Squish and 2014’s The Group. It’s a matter of preference, but I found the pieces where she chooses to fully saturate the canvas with jewel-toned colors quite striking, as in 2013’s Reunion and several pieces from 2014: Mix, At My Table, Twink and Within Us. If you’re having a bad day, then please do stop by the gallery for a colorful, joy-filled lift.

“Gathering” continues through September 5, at d. m. allison gallery, 2709 Colquitt, open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 832-607-4378,

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney