Waterston's more traditional paintings, such as Two Moons, work better than his installation.
Waterston's more traditional paintings, such as Two Moons, work better than his installation.
Courtesy of Inman Gallery

Trading Spaces

After several years of searching, Inman Gallery finally has a permanent home at Isabella Court, that great Spanish-style building constructed in 1929 in Midtown. That place is so wonderful, it's a miracle somebody hasn't bulldozed it and put up a multi-story, synthetic, stucco eyesore, which has been the fate of most cool old buildings in Houston. I'd petition for a special place in hell for Houston's slash-and-burn developers -- but that's another story.

Inman, originally one of Houston's "house galleries," started out in 1990 on Barkdull Street. Galleries in converted homes are becoming increasingly rare for a variety of reasons, but then, so are bungalows; Montrose is entering the final death throes of its town-home-ification. Anyway, Inman simply outgrew the converted downstairs of its lovely two-story brick location. Showing art in modestly scaled domestic spaces is charming but restrictive, with low ceilings and living and dining room-sized galleries.

In 2002, Inman took up temporary residence in Lawing Gallery's sleek, high-ceilinged commercial space on Travis Street. At the time, owner Kerry Inman was entertaining the idea of constructing a new building for the gallery. But then an opportunity arose to join several other Houston galleries in a specially built space planned at 4411 Montrose, and she decided to join in. The new space would create a Colquitt-esque concentration of galleries in a single building, with the bonus of a cafe.


"Darren Waterston: Chimera"

Inman Gallery, 3901 Main

Through September 4; 713-526-7800

The building's completion was scheduled for fall of 2003, and the gallery owners who signed on for the project were planning to open their November '03 shows there. But November came, and the Montrose location was instead packed with hundreds of Scotch pines and fir trees as it again hosted the Pope Tree Lot's annual array of tannenbaums. By early 2004, construction was finally under way, and the building now is targeted for completion by the end of this year.

The delays impacted the galleries. Uncertain plans make scheduling shows difficult -- after all, different spaces allow for different kinds of work. Inman Gallery remained in its temporary Travis Street location, anxiously awaiting a permanent home, until one day earlier this year when owner Inman noticed a for-lease sign in an Isabella Court window as she rode the light rail to work. After investigating the possibilities of the space, Inman withdrew from the 4411-Montrose project and hired architect John Blackmon to remodel the new location.

It's a wonderful place to show art, and the gallery should inject new life into the ground-floor retail spaces of Isabella Court. The building has some amazing apartments upstairs and an incredible Spanish-style courtyard, but the lovely storefronts always seemed forlorn. Hopefully the light rail and the addition of a gallery space will remedy that.

You could still smell wet paint at the opening of Darren Waterston's "Chimera," Inman's first show at Isabella Court. It was a toss-up whether the aroma was from the remodeling contractors or the artist's freshly rendered wall mural. Waterston's show is a nice inaugural exhibition for the gallery; it presents an ambitious, site-specific wall work and several of his lush and gorgeously atmospheric paintings.

Running over three walls, the mural, also called Chimera, is Waterston's first in a commercial space. Its imagery includes pale blue, snaking forms, clusters of black tadpoles and spermatozoa swimming across the wall, and translucent swirls of gray paint floating and trailing umbilical-like cords. The mural incorporates a nice array of Waterston's fluid, calligraphic, organic and altogether otherworldly imagery.

But it feels too stark on the white wall. Waterston usually works in oil on wood panels, and acrylic on Sheetrock doesn't do much for his work. Chimera is more drawn than painted, and it comes off as too matte and chalky, lacking the lush, layered translucence that's integral to the success of his paintings. The image isn't badly composed, but it ultimately comes across as some sort of hip interior design, especially in comparison to the richness of his oil-on-panel works.

Phantasm (2004) is phenomenally more successful. The painting is rendered on a large oval panel that seems like a mirror reflecting dramatic and shimmering gray clouds. A tiny speck of fluorescent pink -- a foreign sun peeking through the smog of an alien sky -- glimmers through. It's as if Waterston's channeling a scenic postcard from some remote, gaseous planet.

Paintings like Two Moons (2004) have sensual layers of color that make you want to be enveloped in them. And Specter (Orange) (2004) has a floating and looping calligraphic orange line that feels like some rococo fragment set free in the atmosphere. It's a carefree flourish among the artist's thin, meditative veils of color. Waterston makes some beautiful works -- he's just not at his best when painting on walls.


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