Capsule Art Reviews: "Collections: Annual HSPVA Juried Show", "Dan Kopp: TIMEAWAY" and "Josh Bernstein: Galveston", Hardbodies, Marc Swanson: The Second Story, Mitch Dobrowner: New Work, Musicians Who Make Art

"Collections: Annual HSPVA Juried Show" This popular annual exhibit is an interesting look at the up-and-coming artists at Texas's premier arts magnet school. The works span a broad range of media and technique (painting, sculpture, photography, collage, printmaking, drawing, mixed media, Photoshop), and there's terrific skill on display, but nothing particularly risky or provocative in terms of concept or content. A handful of artists show signs of future brilliance: Soon-to-be sophomore Hazel Fricke's Deep Waters is a deftly drawn graphic image of a mermaid; recent grads Adrienne Duncan, Hillary Henderson and Gray Crawford deliver nice work in mixed media, Photoshop and abstract drawing, respectively. Jesus Hinojosa's Expendable Youth is perhaps the show's standout piece. The black-and-white silk-screen print of a young boy displaying a strange wound or gash in his chest scores for its dramatic high contrast and mysterious vibe. Through August 29. Jung Center of Houston, 5200 Montrose, 713-524-8253. – TS

"Dan Kopp: TIMEAWAY" and "Josh Bernstein: Galveston" The two artists in this dual show deliver wildly different sets of work, in content, tone and methodology. Brooklyn-based Dan Kopp's colorful abstracts are puzzles of technique and material, layers of acrylic and urethane on fiberboard panels that seem almost like organic matter that's been sanded to reveal its mineral components. And yet, it's also imagery (when it wants to be, like the bizarre and angular creature clutching a little black device in Fucking Phone). It's obvious this work requires deep focus and skill, a solitary exertion. Josh Bernstein's collage and photographic works are more narratively outgoing. According to Bryan Miller Gallery, Bernstein is riffing on the adventures of Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca on the Texas Gulf Coast. He includes maps of the area, cut and manipulated on Plexiglas, as well as photographs featuring himself, wearing wacky masks and helmets, taken at locations on Galveston Island. The result is a juxtaposition of past and present, a time-travelling comment on myth, conquest and alienation. Through August 13. Bryan Miller Gallery, 3907 Main, 713-523-2875. – TS

Hardbodies Fans of graphic novels, zines and underground comics will definitely want to check out this show (assuming they haven't already heard of Domy Books). All four artists — Benjamin Marra, Nathan Fox, Zack Soto and Keenan Marshall Keller — use a section of wall in the tiny bookstore gallery to display a sampling of their work. Marra's alternative universe includes two kick-ass lingerie models/secret assassins (who're also secretly in love with each other, fighting an evil archenemy while expressing in thought bubbles how turned on they are). Fox is the best-known artist on display, contributing some muscular graphic panels as well as humorous pinups and celeb-inspired images (Metallica, Charlie Sheen, Conan O'Brien). Keller delivers some of the weirder stuff — surreal and violent content mixed with high silliness, as in Alien Hitler's Subterranean Birthday Bash. Soto shows his cool comic book covers for comics that don't exist, like the Shining-inspired Spectre Girls. As usual, Domy delivers an impressive selection of niche-oriented work, by really interesting artists, at relatively affordable prices. Through August 4, Domy Books, 1709 Westheimer, 713-523-3669 — TS

Marc Swanson: The Second Story This exhibit's title, "The Second Story," suggests that there was indeed a first story, a previous narrative — that this show is in effect a sequel. Or it references a San Francisco gay bar by the same name. Both are true. Viewers familiar with the artist Marc Swanson who are clued in to his gay-culture (specifically ball culture) references, may walk away from the show smugly satisfied, feeling as if they'd received a secret message. But the work is also enjoyable as a series of contemporary memorials: the "second story" of a life. Immediately visible upon entrance is a turtle shell encrusted with rhinestones (Swanson is known for his taxidermied deer heads covered in crystals), a reference to a character in the 19th-century novel Against Nature, who sets gemstones in his pet tortoise's shell, and the extra weight kills the animal. Other works are arrangements of items, chains, fabric and photos, boxed and hung like shrines. One piece is a kind of stacked totem displaying a man's portrait; it includes a little shelf where you might place a candle. Overall the show comes off as a highly personal set of works, and viewers' personal histories will determine the degree to which its symbolic content connects. But even without a reference library, the show emits a strong emotional charge. Through October 9, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250. — TS

"Mitch Dobrowner: New Work" If you've ever felt the eerie calm before a funnel cloud ravages a row of houses just a block away, or braced yourself while the offshore hurricane creeps toward landfall, you'll appreciate the new batch of spectacular photographs by Mitch Dobrowner currently on display at John Cleary Gallery. Dobrowner's hero is Ansel Adams, and he photographs a lot of mountain scenes in the Southwest and California. It's pretty stuff — placid, contemplative. But Dobrowner's storm photography is even better for its sense of action and impending violence. He captures mythological cloud formations in Tornado Alley, some resembling the special-effects storms caused by the mother ships in alien-invasion movies. Dobrowner's low horizon line in a photo like Arm of God, Galacia, Kansas characterizes the storm as a supernatural entity. It isn't a new idea. The hokey movie Twister used that "finger of God" language too, but Dobrowner's distance from his storm subjects suggests a more stark and sober mood than the ­adrenaline-fueled hysteria of a storm chaser. For Dobrowner, the swirling wind and danger is far away. For now, we're safe. But for how long? One photo, Monsoon, Lordsburg, New Mexico, captures a storm in the shape of a mushroom cloud, as if nature is mimicking human destruction, building up enough strength to blow us away. Through August 31. 2635 Colquitt, 713-524-5070. — TS

"Musicians Who Make Art" When speaking of crossover in art forms, perhaps musicians and visual artists are most successful at achieving success in each other's fields of expertise. Through their manual manipulations of instruments and materials, musicians and visual artists seem naturally inclined to swing between the visual image and the sonic composition. The Art Car Museum is proving it with its current exhibit "Musicians Who Make Art." Largely a Texas-based conglomeration of art, the show includes works by well-known musicians like Butch Hancock of the Flatlanders, whose otherworldly prints evoke sci-fi fantasy, and Joe Ely, who contributes a photo montage/collage of funny, prison-themed DIY infographics. Austin's Bob Schneider's contribution is most surprising, with his outlandish and meticulously detailed etchings and aquatints. (We actually like his artwork more than his music.) Ken Little and Bryan Wheeler are better known as visual artists first (who also play in bands), and their works on display are among the most visually arresting in the exhibit. Wheeler's Infinite Jest takes cues from Jasper Johns in its striking amalgamation of pop and abstract imagery, while Little's Black Jacket Moose amuses as a taxidermied moose head impressively outfitted in black leather and a selection of sporting-good footgear. On the local end, standouts include work by local concept-rock legend Beans Barton, Two Star Symphony's Jo Bird and the Sideshow Tramps' Craig Kinsey. Our favorite is a piece that addresses the quintessential meeting of art and music: the album cover. Jessica DeCuir of San Antonio's Hyperbubble deconstructs the covers of Blondie's Parallel Lines, Men at Work's Business as Usual and the Rolling Stones' Tattoo You into a cool, abstract grid. Through August 7. 140 Heights, 713-861-5526. – TS

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Troy Schulze
Contact: Troy Schulze