Capsule Art Reviews: September 18, 2014

"Earl Staley: Reconstructions" The transformations caused by time and the evolution of thought have been illustrated brilliantly by artist Earl Staley, who did a series of paintings of Greco-Roman mythology 30 years ago, and has now cut each of these works into strips of canvas, repainted over them with brush strokes and dots, and reattached the strips to a new canvas. The result is a double image resonating of both the past and the present. There is much to admire here, but Polyphemus and Galatea is especially interesting, portraying the Cyclops Polyphemus forcing his attentions on the nymph Galatea. The overpainting seems to screen the sensuality, but curiously, it actually heightens it. For some pieces, such as Winged Mermaid and Animas, the overpainting is so exciting that they stand on their own as works of art, without referencing the past. In Awakening, the joy in nature and the burgeoning of growth are paramount. One senses buoyancy, a savoring of the pleasure to be found in shedding the old for the new. Perhaps that is what this exhibition means to this very gifted artist. Through September 25. Jung Center, 5200 Montrose, 713-524-8253, junghouston.org. — JJT

"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, www.uhd.edu/academic/colleges/humanities/arts_humanities/okane_gallery. — JJT

"Literary Inspirations: The Art of Carl Köhler" Carl Köhler (1919-2006) was a portrait painter who never met his subjects, though he came to know them intimately through reading their books. Köhler varied his artistic style to match the subject — for example, the portrait of the French poet, playwright and critic Guillaume Apollinaire was superimposed upon a newspaper. While Köhler usually drew heads only, for playwright Antonin Artaud, Köhler included his hands — perhaps to permit applause? There is an intellectual and emotional power in these portraits that is compelling. Köhler's subjects tended to be intellectuals, iconoclasts who challenged the rules of conventionality, and often lived outside these rules. For authors such as Henry Miller, Günter Grass and Franz Kafka, Köhler used woodcuts where the heavy dark ink suggested a seriousness of purpose. Köhler's portrait James Joyce Getting Blind is extremely complex, very suitable for the author of the difficult Ulysses and the even more difficult Finnegan's Wake. By contrast, Köhler's portraiture of two Nobel Laureates, Claude Simon and François Mauriac, is confined to a few red lines or a simple line drawing. Köhler's portrait of Virginia Woolf shows the anguish that would eventually lead to suicide. Köhler's portrait of the influential author Anaïs Nin gave him a subject who was beautiful and strong-willed and reveals the serenity of a woman who marches to her own drum. Carl Köhler's son, Henry Köhler, believes he is an under-appreciated genius. On the basis of this extremely varied and most interesting exhibition, I am inclined to agree. Through September 19. Houston Central Library, 1st Floor Gallery Area, 500 McKinney, 832-393-1313, houstonlibrary.org. — 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, artsbrookfield.com. — JJT

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