Visual Arts

Big and Bold: Bayou City Expressionists Command Attention at Reaves | Foltz

Some grew up in Houston, while others arrived in the ’50s and ’60s, but these pioneers all went on to create significant works that helped place Houston on the national arts scene. Now, for the first time in several years, works by these modernists stand side by side at William Reaves | Sarah Foltz Fine Art in "Texas Originals: Six Bayou City Expressionists."

From Jack Boynton (1928-2010) are three small works on paper and three large-scale paintings: the spiky fur of an unseeing monster in The Blind Beast, the amethyst-plum grass of Untitled (Purple Landscape), and Event in Green, with its fiery red snake that seems to pulsate and glow against an absinthe sky.

Art is never an island unto itself, and there's a playful dynamic with how a piece is hung, or the color of the wall, or what other art surrounds a piece. In this instance, Boynton's stark Beast is flanked by two more complicated works by Richard Stout, though in the same color palette, with the cataclysmic Fourth Day and the roiling gray sea of the untitled work echoing back the unseeing creature's danger and menace.

Overall, the nine pieces from Stout (b. 1934) demonstrate a variety of styles from the muted and color blocked expansive acrylics For Matisse and Gate, the rock-like formations of Hamlet and Home, and the radiating concentric circles of Time After Time. The latter, with its ghostly time-travel feel, demands that the viewer ask more about the central character: a red and black figure eight at the center of the force field.

There are four vibrantly large oils by Dorothy Hood (1919-2000), including the indigo-inspired Campeche Dawn, the minimalist Navajo Diptych with its bright reds and pinks, a somber Winter Sea, and the massive Comet Tangled in the Sun (a bifurcated oil with a corner of molten blocks erupting under a tangerine sky). 

Charles Schorre (1925-1996) has five vibrantly energetic large-scale acrylics in the show, as well as two smaller collages from the ’70s. The upward movements and explosive colors of his 84-inch-square Secretouch  from 1965 are highlighted in places by vibrant cobalt, emerald, orange and red lines and — as if even the artist were amazed at the result — Schorre has gone in and circled certain areas: a wisp of foam in this corner, a sweetly drawn heart near the top. Of his collages, there's an untitled mixed-media piece from 1973 with an almost tie-dyed effect in the plum border, surrounding a busy portal with a torn strip lateral band.

What’s most interesting about the large-scale oils by Leila McConnell (b. 1927) is that the ghostly orb that appears in an untitled piece from 1961 is seen again in a work from last year, though this time set against a monolith. Her early influence by Mark Rothko is evident, as she studied briefly at San Francisco's California Institute of Art, where he was an instructor. In the piece from 2015, the monolith moves from dark to light against an earth-tone background gradating from light to dark.

Dick Wray’s (1933-2011) earliest piece is the dark and moody No Good Black Magic from 1962, and his latest, from 2002, is a frenetic jumble of colorful strokes and black marks challenging the viewer to find a focal point. There are ten pieces in all from Wray and he, too, seems to experiment with style. Any Texan will recognize cacti in Untitled 1851, though the artist has added energy and movement with both circular scrapings and fiery orange strokes.

"Texas Originals: Six Bayou City Expressionists" continues through March 19 at William Reaves | Sarah Foltz Fine Art, 2143 Westheimer, open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 713-521-7500, Free. 
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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