Bite-Sized Paintings, Recycled Plywood and Caribbean Girls : Weekend Art Crawl

After a run of covering moody, monochromatic sketches, we were happy to find color in the city's art galleries. All three galleries we visited this weekend showcased artists who had no fear of the rainbow.

The first stop was Lawndale Art Center on Friday. The broken air conditioning didn't keep patrons from scouring the building, and the large throng consoled itself with cold beers and makeshift fans made from programs. Joel Hernandez's "Mexicanos" had the honor of taking up the front part of the building, in the Grace R. Cavnar Gallery.

"This work deals a lot with the Mexican American culture that has been passed down to me," said the 27-year-old Hernandez of the photographs depicting Mexican "flamboyancy." With in-your-face statimagery, such as a shirtless man overlooking a plastic baby Jesus or a teary-eyed man in drag, Hernandez's showing was meant to spark conversation.

"Every piece is a little story," he said.

In the John M. O'Quinn Gallery, we found "SOUTHERN/Pacific," a grouping of Portland artists who had come together to display their wacky art. Friendly sculptor Jeff Jahn, who resembled a retired surfer dude, was the proud creator of Chasm II, two pieces of lime-green recycled plywood that were sticking out the side of the gallery walls. He followed us around the gallery, giving us tidbits about his curious creative process. "I'm into things that are both receding and proceeding," he said of the jutting-out pieces.

Upstairs, New England transfers and University of Houston graduate study peers Jeremy DePrez and Francis Giampietro were paired together in the Mezzanine Gallery for "The Power of Negative Feedback," a series of pieces inspired while the two artists completed a residency in Japan. The exhibit consisted of squares and circles painted with muddied colors of yellow and brown and random traffic paraphernalia scattered throughout the Mezzanine like a crime scene. Perhaps the title of the exhibit expressed a subconscious longing for, well, negative feedback; the works were the subject of criticism by viewers.

All the shows at Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main, are on view through September 24. For information, call 713-528-5858.

On Saturday, we continued our art hunt, first stopping at the PG Contemporary Gallery, a tiny spot tucked away in Midtown, for its reception honoring "My Caribbean Self," a collection of provocative and worthwhile paintings dedicated to the female experience and form. Not only was the gallery tiny, but so was the attendance, and wrongly so; the art was arguably some of the best we had ever seen. Owner and curator (and fellow Trini) Zoya Tommy was there to direct viewers to Skype conversations with the Trinidad-based artists.

One piece that caught us off-guard was Adele Todd's Gyul. The three-dimensional word composed of wire and covered in colorful thread, an innocuous phrase to most Americans, is actually a derogatory slur toward women in Trinidad. Donald Hickson, the only artist in the room to make use of black-and-white charcoal, drew our eyes to his larger-than-life sketches of sassy Trini girls, the most noticeable being Bump and Wave, a rear-view depiction of a curvy young girl in nothing but a bikini top and bottom. Cute.

This exhibit will be on view through September 6. For information, contact PG Contemporary Gallery, 3227 1/2 Milam, 713-523-7424.

Our final trek led us to Betz Gallery in Montrose, where walking into the seductively lit building was like walking into a room of art candy. Colorful, bite-sized paintings covered the front room from head to toe. We originally came to see the advertised exhibit, "Aqueous Transmission," but that was hidden in the back of the gallery while relics of the recent White Linen Night in the Heights exhibit, hosted by gallery owner Lori Betz's nonprofit organization, Houston Art and Culture, caught our attention on the walls up front.

Houston Art and Culture supports artists in the city by providing scholarships, resources and a vehicle for them to showcase their art, including the walls of Betz Gallery. The mini paintings served a symbiotic purpose, first as a way to get local artists noticed, and second, at $100 each, as a way for visual neophytes to start a modest art collection. After musing over the two-dimensional vignettes, such as Dannye Jones's Hope and Rewind 2, an acrylic painting of a bare woman with a real-life belly ring running through her canvas navel, and Pedro Guevara's Pink, an immaculately detailed pink rose painted over a striking violet blue background, we made a mental note to come back and purchase one of Bonnie Blue's "titillating" (Bosom Buddies, Purple Girls) paintings. Her works are composed of bras painted with acrylic faces.

Jonatan Lopez's wire hearts took up the majority of the "Aqueous Transmissions" exhibit, and if we had $700 more, we would've sprung for his Reconstructed Heart 3 sculpture.

We knew our time was up when we were approached by a rather cheeky old man who said to us, "If I told you I had done all these and just put someone else's name on them, would you believe me?"

We grabbed our things and rushed out of there, thankful for finally having satiated our thirst for good art.

Through August 31. For information, contact Betz Gallery, 1208 West Gray, at 713-576-6954.

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