Artist Elena Wortham Digs Deep and Sparkles at d.m. allison gallery

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Elena Cusi Wortham was born and raised in Mexico City, but has lived in Houston since 1975. She works in various mixed media, and the current exhibition of her work at the d. m. allison gallery features striking collages, usually with a dominant central image.

One work, titled Demolition 2, (35"x43") shows a tall, slender and multi-layered brown-and-white building rising from the detritus of a garbage dump, with the walls of each floor missing, and the insides - like its origins in the dump - trashed. The result is unlivable, like trailers from hell piled at odd angles one over another, yet there it is, towering above us, and daring us to admire it. Whether we do or not, it is impossible to ignore, a driving force outlined against a blue collaged sky.

Another work strikes the same theme, but is seductive rather than demanding, inviting us in. Titled Demolition 1 (35"x43"), it shows a series of similarly unappetizing open-walled rooms, residences that even the homeless might spurn, stacked and outlined here against a background of trash instead of sky. We are left to wonder whether the "building" has collapsed to the ground, or whether the trash heap has risen to the sky.

While these are commentaries on a world that treats objects, and sometimes humans, as disposable, they are not negative, but instead pulse with life, much like the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. We are cautioned, without being repelled, and are invited into sharing a contemporary reality.

On a lighter note is Nature 2 (20"x33"), a found object converted to art. While the previously cited works create the illusion of depth and three-dimensionality, here we have real depth, as Wortham has placed a found gar fish, scales and all, against a patterned collage. You might not want to live with it, but it is droll and amusing.

One work, Wars; Refugees (approximately18" high x 36" wide) is both ambitious and successful. It has 49 small ceramic figures placed against a metal hillscape, as though trudging from war into an unknown destination. The figures are crude but human - there is one dog - and all are off-white except for a boy wearing a red capelet. Their faces are expressive, and capture the sense that here we have one of the tragic side-effects of nations jousting for power. It sings of loneliness, isolation even in a crowd, and of humanity.

The artistic gene has apparently been passed on to Elena's daughter, Pia Wortham, whose work is also shown. She has some lighthearted work, and one life-size two-dimensional cut-out El Bailarin Espanol (48"x80") has a jester whose hinged arms, legs and head move, so he can be arranged in a variety of positions.

Pia has also created five "booklets", folding colored paper to make four pages, with pages 2 and 3 a collage illustration. Page 1 is the title page, and the 4th page has excerpts from writers who inspired Pia to create that specific piece. I especially liked one booklet titled Illusion, with a jester puppet collage with verve and wit. The back page here cited text labeled Clothed in the Beauty of Possibility - the title alone is poetic. These booklets are original, fragile, and poignant.

The third artist shown, Judith Freedman, is in the alcove gallery, and is not to be missed, as her work is powerful, and compelling. Freedman uses ceramic figures with mixed media, often found objects. Girl in the Cage (approximately 14"x12") has a white clay figure, kneeling with head bowed, either praying to her god or accepting her fate, trapped inside a semi-hemisphere of rattan, with slits too slender for an escape. It is an eloquent comment on what is sometimes the position of women.

Another work is exciting because of its stillness, and complexity. A clay figure, the head of a woman, is shown inside a pattern of metal, and titled The Web I Wove (approximately 18"x18"x18"). The shape of the woman's head echoes both a Modigliani and an Easter Island statue, and her expression is stoic, a Mona Lisa without the slight smile, but the stony eyes seem to suggest regret, and the pursed, off-kilter mouth to indicate loss, leaving one to wonder if getting one's own way is all it's cracked up to be. The work is fascinating and, in a way, terrifying, as it screams silently of a life poorly lived, where mistakes were made.

The exhibition continues through April 26, at the d. m. allison gallery, 2709 Colquitt. It is open 11 am to 5 pm. Wednesday through Saturday, and information can be obtained at 832-607-4378.

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