"Bert L. Long Jr: An Odyssey"
If you can look on the bright side, this was some fortunate timing. The UAC Contemporary Art Gallery at Houston Baptist University was putting together a small show of Bert Long's work late last year when the Fifth Ward artist was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died a month later, on February 1. In what turned out to be one of his last acts as a Houston artist, Long wanted to show work that even his friends and collectors hadn't seen before. Given his two-inch-thick résumé, full of local shows and press clippings, that would pose quite the challenge, but the resulting show is one that's full of surprises and a fitting tribute to the beloved artist. The 16 works on display were made in the last 30 years and include photographs of a trip to Cuba, paintings, sculpture and assemblage. One of the earliest works is Persistence (Mums the Word)
(1983), a curious piece of mixed media that features an ax piercing black, stitched lips, with the word "art" carved over and over again into the canvas board. The most recent work on display, completed in 2012, also has a dark edge to it. Purgatory
prominently features the flashing neon words "Hell" and "Open," as subtle a message as a stop sign. The heaviest piece is Dear John, Dear Vincent, Dear Pablo, Dear Bert
, an overwhelming 400-pound clock that's a wall of boots, giant nails and broken glass. That's right. These often unsettling works can be literally dangerous if not handled properly. Long strove to be truthful in his work, and, like the truth, these pieces are not always pretty or neat. One of the most prominent pieces is Quest
, an assemblage displayed in the middle of the small gallery. It was initially found buried in the middle of Long's studio, and looks as though it had collected everything in there. A trunk has almost too many items to mention affixed to it — an old credit card of Long's, a license plate, liquor bottles, an old newspaper, rope, a toothbrush, a lit lightbulb and a broken wine glass. The trunk is supported by two "legs," one foot wearing a white shoe and the other a black one, and there's a steering wheel on top. It looks like a walking time capsule, continually on the move. Long's massive bound résumé is also on display for your perusal. It's composed of hundreds of pages that document his shows and press from the start of his art career up to 2008, giving those unfamiliar with his work an insight into his prominence in Houston's art community. Of course, some of the best insight into his style will be right in front of you. These works are loud, strange, unsettling and anything but boring, and will leave you wanting more. Through April 18. 7502 Fondren, 281-649-3678. — MD
"Cats, Bunnies, and The Surface Value of It All" Fresh Arts' latest exhibition wants to let you know right off the bat that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Titled "Cats, Bunnies, and The Surface Value of It All," the two-person show is just what it sounds like — a lighthearted look at art that prominently features cats and bunnies and doesn't get much deeper than that. But just because it is what it is doesn't mean it isn't any good. Au contraire. Lynn Lane's photographs and Melanie Loew's paintings are well-crafted pieces that are enjoyable to behold and examine. Both artists present a portfolio edited down to their respective animals. Lane is on the feline side. He presents 21 black-and-white photography portraits — giclée prints on 100 percent cotton rag archival paper — set against a fantastic bold pink wall. The portraits are of Lane's friends — a motley crew of choreographers, dancers, musicians, tattoo artists, body piercers, DJs, lawyers, cops and more that includes a few prominent people in the Houston arts scene — all holding his cat, Orange Cat. Orange Cat proves to be quite the versatile model; he never holds the same pose twice, and comically squirms and cuddles from one photo to the next. Lane's human models are unique in their own right, too. Once he lets them cut loose with a cat, he captures each person's presence in natural, flattering photos. Most of the subjects are smiling, if not laughing, and seem to be having a genuinely good time. Loew's work is also composed of portraits of people holding animals. But rather than photography, Loew works in paint on paper. She also trades cats for bunnies. Each bunny throughout her seven works is different, too. If you were an expert in this type of thing, you would be able to distinguish breeds; that's how exact her painting is. Compared to Lane's works, Loew's side of the gallery has more of an edge and is weirder. Each person is set against a unique wallpaper pattern, and both animal and human seem to disappear into this flat background. They are all head and limbs but no body; Loew edits out whole torsos. This subtraction, combined with the pallor of the subjects, gives the paintings an eerie, ghostly sense, but it works. The focus is on the pleasant faces and rabbits before you. In such a simple conceit, both artists' works almost dare you not to like them (the bunny in Loew's aptly titled painting Precious is especially adorable). But you'll easily and gladly succumb to their charms — and craft. Through April 26. 2101 Winter St., Studio B11, 713-868-1839. — MD