Berlin artist Dirk Rathke has quickly built himself a reputation here in Houston. After several shows at Gallery Sonja Roesch, he's known for his curved canvases -- monochrome shapes that bend, twist and seemingly ripple ever so slightly you have to check the edge of the work just to make sure of their depth -- and stripped-down drawings that go off the canvas entirely. In "Endearing the Line," his third exhibition at the Midtown gallery, Rathke returns to familiar territory.
As the name suggests, the show plays with line, space, and dimension, resulting in playful, attention-holding pieces. The most prominent is the remarkable site-specific installation, "Room-drawing for Houston #2." In his first solo show at Sonja Roesch, back in 2007, Rathke memorably took over the back end of the gallery with neon orange tape. He does so again, this time placing orange tape in the shape of two squares that take over the ceiling, wall, and floor. It's part sculpture, part painting, thanks to the brush stroke-like lines of the tape, and it completely throws you off. You're not sure how to react to it -- do you look at it straight on, or dare to get inside the lines and challenge the 3-D quality of the work?
The canvas-twisted works also play with this line between sculpture and painting. "Rot Zweiteilig" is the most striking of these works, comprised of two solid-red canvases that are forced together, a line between them adding to the tension. To even see the piece in its entirety, you're forced to move around and look at it from all angles. Nearly all of the nearly 20 works on display need to be approached in this manner -- from the side, the front, and the side again -- to fully take them in.
With his devotion to exploring and testing the limits of the line, Rathke has been grouped into the geometric-abstract tradition, though his works are much simpler and subtler than ones that may come immediately to mind. He does risk treading all-too-familiar, and comfortable, ground with more shows like this one. In, presumably, his next show here, it'd be nice to see works that might not be so predictable. But what he has now is still powerful, memorable works -- those neon orange squares will be etched in my mind for quite some time. Endearing indeed.
"Endearing the Line" at Gallery Sonja Roesch, 2309 Caroline Street, is showing now through June 30. For more information, call 713-659-5424 or visit www.gallerysonjaroesch.com.
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