There's some optically supercharged work currently on view in Houston. Sicardi Gallery presents "Carlos Cruz-Diez," an exhibition of work by the 83-year-old veteran of optically kinetic art. Meanwhile, Devin Borden Hiram Butler Gallery is showing "William Betts: Interference," new paintings by the artist that look like over-caffeinated versions of '60s op art.
Carlos Cruz-Diez's low-tech, optically kinetic work is made with thin stripes of color, painted or silk-screened, separated by slender strips of Plexiglas to conceal and reveal shifting colors as the viewer moves past them. Sicardi, as well as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has shown examples of this work before, but the current exhibition reveals some of the octogenarian's other retinal forays. Transchromie (1965) hangs in the entryway to the gallery. It's a pretty amazing piece created with simple components. Long, slender planks of thin Plexiglas are hung on end from the ceiling in rows and lines. The translucent colors red, yellow, gray, orange and blue blend and create stripes of shifting color as the viewer moves around the piece. It's a seemingly simple idea, but the effect is phenomenal.
Environment Chromointerférent, an installation from 1975 re-created in 2007, is pretty great too. Three projectors send video with a series of moving lines into a room. The video covers the walls and runs over white cubes, a sphere and a hanging cylinder in the room. The lines warp as they move over the geometric volumes and the viewer. For the original low-tech 1975 installation, Cruz-Diez painted stripes on the wall and used six slide projectors, each with a motorized screen in front of it casting moving linear shadows that seemingly animated the stripes on the wall. With his new work, he's embracing today's technology but still using the same principles of the '75 installation. It's great to see Cruz-Diez's optical inventiveness adapt itself to new media.
Over at Devin Borden Hiram Butler Gallery, William Betts's paintings are a super high-tech digital take on op art. Betts is the artist who developed a “proprietary technology” that created paintings from digital images. His first series using his technology was made up of highly successful stripe paintings for which he took a one-pixel-wide strip from a photograph and then extended the pixels into lines. The lines were impossibly crisp and slender, and the colors were fantastic. His next series of works, which were less successful, took images from surveillance cameras and reprinted them using technology to create dots of paint instead of lines. The idea behind the images wasn't that provocative, and because Betts was essentially reproducing pixelated images with pixels of paint, they weren't especially visually interesting.
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But the current body of work, all from the last year, is another story. Betts has adapted existing CNC (computer numerically controlled) technology to create paintings by layering lines. He determines the angle, the spacing and the width of each set of lines, printing them in specially mixed paint, then responds to each set of colored lines with another, slowly building up the designs. He calls the process “neurotic and anal yet improvisational.” It results in spectacular patterns of grids and v's that shimmer like moiré satin as the lines of color radiate against each other. In fact, on his Web site, Betts refers to the series as “moiré paintings.” As you look around the gallery, each painting has an optical hum, and some of the color and pattern choices, like the turquoise-y blues and greens of M-0023 (2006), are gorgeous. Betts is showing eight paintings in the gallery, each 45 inches by 45 inches. In the future, it would be interesting to see him experiment with a larger scale or combine multiple canvases. It would also be intriguing to see his paintings hung alongside those of Houston/New York artist Susie Rosmarin, who has been doing similar work for quite a while, but laboriously taping and painting her lines by hand. I'd like to see how handmade and machine-made play out side by side.
The new paintings really showcase Betts's deft sense of color and design, as well as his ability to bend technology to his will. It's nice to see him back on track.
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