Capsule Art Reviews: "Between Heaven and Home," "Gunplay," "Layers," "Neurotic," "Pictures and Words"

"Between Heaven and Home" For a while, Christopher French was known as the guy who made conceptual pieces out of Braille paper. But there's nary an inch of it in his exhibition of new art at Devin Borden Gallery. The six works on display are all united in materials — oil and acrylic on linen — as well as their healthy population of circles. Black, white, pink or yellow dots line abstract flowers, reference pools of ivy and, when connected by lines, resemble molecules or, to go significantly bigger, constellations, such as in the seemingly aptly titled piece Between Heaven and Home. These sharp circles are comprised of oil mixed with different materials, including marble dust, making for subtle differences in texture and shine. French's use of color seems to be simplified compared to previous works, but also bolder and more purposeful, as in Touchy-Feely, a work of black-and-white dots over a teal background. Gone are the isolated grids of circles in his earlier works, replaced by circles that are nearly on top of each other, coming together to form a new, amoeba-like shape. There is a variation on his grid with The Day Before Yesterday, The Day After Tomorrow. The spirographic curves of the painting resemble a flower, their 3-D effect making for the richest, fullest piece in the show. The black dots circling the edge of this grid are so black, they look like hole punches cutting into the universe, orbiting. The blue, red and yellow of this piece are particularly jarring when compared to the cohesive pastels of the other works. There is room to experiment yet. Through May 8. 3917 Main, 713-529-2700. — MD

"Gunplay" I was almost seduced by Harlow Tighe's photograms. The sepia-toned images of various handguns — Colt Dragoon, Browning Buckmark, Ruger Vacquero — are repeated throughout Gallery Two1Four. The monochromatic effect of the brown paper and white, seemingly absent guns in various formation makes for an alluring show. That's kind of the point, too. Through her photograms, Tighe is attempting to change the meaning and associations we might have with guns and take away their power. And the resulting graphics are eye-catching and, well, cool. But then, I read about Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager who was killed by a handheld gun — a Kel Tel 9 mm, to be exact — while walking home from a convenience store last month. And then, this "gunplay" doesn't look so cool anymore. Tighe chose handguns as a subject for a reason. Beyond her own interest in them — she grew up in the South "surrounded by guns," having an almost blasé attitude toward them until living abroad and suddenly seeing America's gun culture as "exotic" — handguns are highly recognizable objects. That's an ideal quality when you're working in photograms, a process that involves placing an object on a piece of light-sensitive paper and then exposing that paper to light. Admittedly, it's clever stuff, especially the piece Flower Power 1, where a gun is "shooting" these botanical elements across two separate pieces. Several other eye-catching works add some corsets and panties to the mix, guns tucked away in the lingerie but still visible. They're appealing pieces when you're surrounded by them, but when I go back to Martin, it all seems like child's play and woefully out of touch. Tighe says so herself that she is attempting to strip guns of their power through a "search for beauty." But in the process, she also manages to make them even more alluring. It's unfortunate timing. She is giving guns more power, not taking it away. Through April 21. 214 Travis St., 713-227-1263. — MD

"Layers" There's an incredible amount of depth and movement to discover in the works by three artists now on display at Gallery Sonja Roesch. Swiss artist Julia Steiner steals the show with her seemingly simple works in gouache and paper. Her two pieces, Shift and Fragment (animal space), are both abstract landscapes in black and white. There's an immediate flatness in the work — it's just paint on paper — that makes you wonder why they belong in a show called "Layers," but there's a richness in these charcoal-like designs. The works are full of movement and activity that are intensely compelling and draw you in. New York artist Gabriele Evertz's works — Blue and the Spectrum and Red and the Spectrum — are just row upon row of blinding color. There's a precise method at play — thick blue; then thin red; then thin, light blue; then thick blue — that's the result of taping, painting, re-taping, painting and so on to get these perfectly straight, architectural lines. It runs the risk of becoming too methodical and impersonal, but when you step back, the works pulsate. There's a dizzying 3-D effect that overwhelms and resonates with you. Russian artist Lev Khesin works mostly in silicone, alternating between Plexiglas, wood, MDF and mirror-glass as a base. Though he works primarily with one main material, the eight works on display here are highly varied, thanks to the different thickness, viscosity, glossiness and transparency of the silicone, as well as the use of color and stroke. They all look like little terrains on some distant planet — some have a smooth, iridescent quality, others are more textured and rough, all are eerily beautiful. Khesin may have the most satisfying example of layers at work — especially in the works that have a thick layer of silicone over the color, creating this effect as if you're looking to the bottom of a pond. But joined by Evertz and Steiner, your conceptions of what that can mean are pleasantly challenged. Through April 28. 2309 Caroline St., 713-659-5424. — MD

"Neurotic" Over a film career spanning 40 years, John Waters has managed to simultaneously offend and entertain his audience. His art, it turns out, is no different. This show at McClain Gallery includes conceptual works by the Pink Flamingos director made between 1993 and 2009 that comment on film, writing, sex, humor, and, yes, neuroses — it's a glimpse inside Waters's twisted, transgressive bald head. The bulk of the show is comprised of these visual storyboards — movie stills Waters took with a camera and grouped by a highly specific, highly dark theme. There are images of plane crashes, people puking, drug use — he tries to make you cringe, then laugh, then question both reactions. In other, less shocking montages, Waters had some fun with Photoshop. In Product Placement, he adds some unfamiliar items to famous movie moments (in one humorous scene, Charlton Heston's Moses clutches The Ten Commandments in one hand, a bottle of Tilex in the other). Though all made within the past 15 years, these series have this throwback 1980s New York art school vibe that Waters seems to embody. On the non-photography side, Waters fills the gallery with quirky surprises that are also highly personal works. There's his larger-than-life replica of a La Mer jar — a long-time favorite of the artist's — minus the actual lotion (if he did fill it with the pricey stuff, the jar would have a price tag upwards of $200,000). For some inside art world humor, there's Visit Marfa, a satirical advertisement for the minimalist art capital of Texas. The poster highlights such attractions as "Eat food all the same color," "Pretend to see the 'Marfa Lights,'" "It's a l-o-o-o-o-n-g drive!" You get the idea. It's one of the few insidery pieces in an otherwise highly accessible show. Through April 21. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — MD

"Pictures and Words" Geoff Winningham doesn't so much tell stories with photographs as he spots other people's stories and photographs them. They're fleeting images — thought-provoking relics of people who have long left the scene of the crime, or are unknowingly part of it. These often anonymous, mysterious stories comprise this retrospective of sorts at Koelsch Gallery. Most photos are pulled from different series Winningham has shot over the past 40 years, chosen because they're either a picture of a picture, or a picture of words. It's a simplistic conceit that reaps big rewards. For "Photos," there's the collage of news clippings, magazines covers and photos on an abandoned barn in Leadville, Colorado. Winningham broke in to take the shots in 1994, and, after some detective work, found they dated as far back as 1943. Time gave these clippings an aged, frozen-in-time look — sepia in action, no Instagram necessary. For "Words," there's a series of handmade signs that Winningham found on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. There's one advertising carne asada, another "dirt-sand," a third for gasolina, but with the word humorously broken up into "gasol" and "ina" to fit onto the wood. The jackpot, though, is a long, unexpectedly poetic tirade by one Joseph C. Dunn against the harassment he's apparently faced at the hands of the FBI. Read it in full. Winningham reprinted the majority of these works for the purpose of this show, and the materials used are as diverse as his subjects. There's an incredible piece from the Leadville series comprised of carbon pigment on brushed aluminum, as well as photogravures, archival inkjet prints, vintage gelatin silver prints and German Etching paper, to name a few. Winningham has really experimented, and the show is enjoyably engaging as a result. Through April 21. 703 Yale St., 713-626-0175. — MD

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Meredith Deliso
Contact: Meredith Deliso