Capsule Art Reviews: October 2, 2014

"The Left Bank on the Bayou: Avant-garde Art & Theater in 1930s Houston" A burgeoning 1930s art scene included Margo Jones founding the Houston Community Players in 1936. The opening of The Little Gallery on Branard Street provided local artists with an opportunity to exhibit their works, including abstract art. That era can be revisited thanks to a fascinating exhibition at the O'Kane Gallery at the University of Houston — Downtown curated by its director, Mark Cervenka. One of the most striking works is a portrait by Nione Carlson, believed to be of the poet Edith Sitwell, that captures the power of her commanding personality. Carlson's "Small Landscape with a Tree" is eminently successful; the blue-green tree has a feathery quality, the steps might also be books, the tall buildings suggest dynamic growth and the discarded window frames suggest the opposite — decay. Robert Preusser's "Dwarf Dwellings" reminds one of hobbits gone urban, as small huts nestle, like a Brazilian favela, with step stairs that also serve as walls. Under a dark-blue night sky, the crowded hillside is empty of dwarves yet seems pulsing with life. Forrest Best's painting "Male Figure Study" shows a model standing on a small wooden block on a platform in a classroom, leaning on a table for support yet maintaining a graceful pose despite the awkwardness of his footing. Moving from painting to painting, the viewer senses the comradeship that must have been present and is filled with admiration for these talented artists. Through October 16. 1 Main, 713-221-8042, — JJT

"Living Lines" Arts Brookfield commissioned artist Lynn Randolph to create a 16-foot-long oil pastel mural, taking inspiration from some of Randolph's sketchbook drawings and incorporating words into a collage. Five of Randolph's paintings are also on exhibit — Eagle Pneuma, Soul SailMay Humble Weeping Bloom, Creation's Spoiled Darlings and Seraphim. In the mural, Rilke's words spoke most eloquently: "Every angel is terrifying. Still, though, alas, I invoke you, almost deadly birds of the soul." Some of the other quotations are platitudinous, and some are banal. The mural is intended as a sketchbook, and so the drawings are simplistic. Randolph's finished paintings show a mastery of craft but are inclined to oversimplify. I liked enormously Eagle Pneuma, with the sweep and scope of an archipelago enticing us with its natural beauty, but it is marred by an eagle centered much too precisely in the middle — whatever happened to composition? Arts Brookfield has given us several brilliant exhibitions this year; this is not one of them. For an artist whose mantra seems to be "The imagination!" Randolph refuses to let us use ours. Through October 9. Total Plaza Gallery, 1201 Louisiana (street-level lobby), 713-336-2280, — JJT

"Mokha Laget: Chromatic Constructs" Mokha Laget has broken free of "the tyranny of the rectangle," a straitjacket that many artists seem condemned to wear. Her shapes are her own, and they are refreshingly different. Laget's work has elements of architecture; while the paintings are two-dimensional, the images portray boxes, pathways, edifices that entice one to enter to explore their interiors — would that you could — and combinations that suggest mazes. Laget's work has vivid, striking colors, including an effective use of black, that seem to jostle each other — perhaps fighting for territory? The contrasts delight and the combinations entertain. She uses clay-based pigments on canvas, with the central theme of her work that each color field is an entity to itself — there is no blending, no softening, no blurring, just a color demanding its place in the sun. Ponte Vecchio, my favorite, has two strong vertical elements, the right one more multicolored than the left, joined at the middle by two irregular constructs. The title suggests a bridge, but it might just as easily be an abstract winged angel. Sahel is simpler, an elongated strip folded at the top and bottom, orange, yellow and purple; it has energy, style and even wit. The shapes in Butte do suggest a mountain rise, but the sharp edges suggest even more a protective castle wall for the habitat of a superior alien species, or perhaps a monolith left behind when they departed. Because of their striking, accentuated and framed colors and their wit, these pieces seem to be aperitifs rather than dinner. They whet the appetite, supply a delightful moment and merit careful scrutiny, and would serve admirably to brighten a room, or even a life. Through November 1. Sonja Roesch Gallery, 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424, gallerysonjaroesch. — JJT

"Pepe Mar: Parco Dei Mostri" The Miami-based artist Pepe Mar has created a highly personal exhibition, a trip down memory lane. It has three elements: a large, richly textured window-box collage; a wall-size bookcase filled with objects that fascinate Mar, some of which he made and some of which are found art; and, surprisingly, four framed shirts that Mar has worn, three by Versace. The title of the exhibition refers to the "Park of Monsters," a 16th-century outdoor sculpture "garden" in Bomarzo in northern Italy composed of many larger-than-life-size sculptures, including one of Hannibal's elephants mangling a Roman soldier. That the Parco dei Mostri left a strong impression on Mar is no surprise, since it also captured the imaginations of Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dalí. Mar, like the park of Bomarzo, intends not to please but to astonish. I was certainly astonished to see those four shirts that Mar had worn included as such a major part of the exhibition; they are beautifully framed and displayed. The bookcase is worth considerable study — it reveals a keen eye for found art, and a rich sense of humor. There are scores of objects, so leave time to savor them. The major work is The Cabinet of Dr. Mar — here in a shadow-box collage is where some of Mar's "monsters" emerge to do their work, but the art here is so complex as to defy description. Lest one be overwhelmed by the extraordinary detail, I suggest concentrating first on one section, then perhaps on another, to get a feel for the artist's intention. Mar gives a lot of himself here, and requires a lot from his audience as well. This exhibition reveals a powerful artist with a far-ranging sensibility. Through October 25. DiverseWorks — Midtown, 4102 Fannin,  713-223-8346, — JJT

"Unfolding: Lucrecia Waggoner" The open spaces in some of Lucrecia Waggoner's art are as important as the art elements themselves. Two major works in this elegant and graceful exhibition are composed of numerous individual ceramic plate-like "vessels", so how they are arranged is paramount. 290 in the Spring has 98 vessels arrayed in an elongated shape, lower on the left, higher on the right, to give the impression of something soaring upward. The spaces between the vessels are sufficiently large to create an open, airy feeling without breaking the sense of a unified whole. The totality is beautiful, and each individual plate is beautiful in itself. The plates are deep blue glazed porcelain, with palladium-leaf centers, and vary in size, though none is large enough to dominate. The entire effect is eminently successful. Unfolding has 112 vessels, white ceramic, with small gold-leaf centers. The shape is asymmetrical, elongated, like an Olympian god's beginning sketch of a dinosaur. The space between the plates is used wisely, and the complex structure here also retains an airy, open feeling. With spaces so important, the background becomes a dominant element. The wall here is a very pale blue, close to white. The 112 vessels thus lack the striking contrast that 290 in the Spring has, with its strongly blue vessels. There are two pieces, Sanctuary I and Sanctuary II, that capture a woodland, perhaps a fairy-tale, feeling. They are definitely three-dimensional, with a great many vessels attached to sturdy wooden branches; the plates or vessels thus seem like mushrooms growing on the trees. Each one is different in shape and in detail, but they complement each other so well that I hope a patron buys both. Through October 13. Laura Rathe Fine Art, 2707 Colquitt, 214-686-1441, — JJT

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