Capsule Art Reviews: "A Coarse Portal," "The Dead Weight of a Quarrel Hangs: Selections from The Atlas Group Archive," "Incident at Osbourne Grove," "Liz Ward: Crazy Weather"

"A Coarse Portal" "A Coarse Portal" is Philip Durbin's largest showing to date, and it's a fine rogue's gallery of the characters that inhabit Durbin's dreamy kingdom. The artist is obviously influenced by pop art and Warhol in particular — as seen in silk screens like Pop Skulls and OJ — but Durbin's best when he transfers his fondness for application onto the elaborate creatures displayed here in limited-edition prints, which, at $65 a pop, are highly affordable (and a steal). Durbin's subjects become canvases themselves, whether it's the wallpaper-like patterns applied to his Cobra, Wounded Seal and Itchy Man, or the colorful tattoo designs decorating Owl Horse, Sailor Man and, of course, the wonderful Octopus with Tats. The prints themselves will make tattoo lovers drool. You'll leave wishing you had a sleeve of Philip Durbin originals. Through November 22. ArtStorm, 4828 Caroline, 713-568-8174. — TS

"The Dead Weight of a Quarrel Hangs: Selections from The Atlas Group Archive" Lebanese-born artist Walid Raad is founder of The Atlas Group and creator of this show. The Atlas Group, according to the exhibition, was founded in 1999 "to research and document the contemporary history of Lebanon," in particular the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). Truth be told, The Atlas Group is, according to the MFAH and numerous other sources, not a real foundation but a decade-long endeavor of Raad, created to make us question how we understand and interpret events. Lebanon's recent history is especially important to Raad, as he grew up in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. The exhibition features three strangely beautiful videos, each with its own fictional back story. There's also My neck is thinner than a hair: Engines (2000-2003), 100 photographs (front and back) of car bombings taken by real photojournalists, as well as a group of photos taken by Raad in 1982, called We decided to let them say "We are convinced" twice. It was much more convincing this way (2005). Framed in near stereopticon pairs, they depict civilians in East Beirut watching as West Beirut is bombed, planes dropping bombs overhead, and smiling Israeli soldiers relaxing in the shade of their trucks and tanks. Sometimes an artist says he's created his work in order to make you view things differently, and generally that is a load of crap. But Walid's work achieves his exact intentions. It not only makes you question the "archive" of The Atlas Group, but makes you question the news you read and listen to every day. Through November 23. The Glassell School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Houston, 5100 Montrose, 713-639-7500. — BS

"Incident at Osbourne Grove" It's been written that Gary Komarin was mentored by the abstract-turned-neo-expressionist Philip Guston, and in this show, that influence is felt both very strongly and not at all, the best work being of the not-at-all variety. Works like Komarin's "Stacked Cake" series echo late-career Guston in their thick, sometimes interrupted lines, but it's Komarin's large, abstract canvases that dominate this show and contribute a wholly different, emotionally resonant yet ambiguous vibe. Komarin likes to crown his paintings with a jagged bar of color that seems to suggest a downward focus by implying a high horizon line. A Suite of Blue Sea, Sip, Sip, for instance, could be interpreted both as a view from the beach or as a view from just slightly above the surface of the water. The mostly sandy-colored canvas is occupied by what could be food-and-drink vessels or housing structures. Titles like Who is Hercules and Why are you Calling Him? add weight and intrigue to Komarin's works. He is probably a very process-obsessed artist, because looking at this work is a process, too — a pleasurable one. Through November 22. Gremillion Gallery, 2501 Sunset, 713-522-2701. — TS

"Liz Ward: Crazy Weather" Liz Ward makes lovely, delicate watercolors informed by the unlovely subject of environmental degradation. In her artist's statement, Ward cites the North Pacific Gyre, the giant floating island of plastic crap created by a vortex of ocean currents, as one of her influences. The most successful works in the show are based on the irregular shapes and radiating rings of aquatic dead zones. With its fragile lines and translucent colors, a quiet thoughtfulness pervades the work. It's as if Ward is sitting at the planet's bedside, contemplating it as it slowly fades away. Through November 22. Moody Gallery, 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911. — KK

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
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Troy Schulze
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Beth Secor