Capsule Art Reviews: September 25, 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

"Kelley Devine: Unwhole" The Nicole Longnecker Gallery offers a panoply of cyborgs, part human, part machine. That the human element here is a body fragment, not a complete body, perhaps makes it all the more ominous. And yet enticing, for these sculptures have their own grace and elegance. Many of the machine parts are simply bicycle chains, but they take on a power of their own, portraying the gripping uncertainty of the unknown. Connected and Disengaged has a hand and a forearm, and branches like tendrils, mounted on a few books, one of which is Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. It's the only one that seems tentative, exploring, in transition, perhaps growing. The others are quite definite. Son Beau Sport has part of a left torso and leg, and is very powerful, even brutal. Unattached has an appealing irregularity, slender at the bottom and tapering wider toward the top. It has of a fragment of a left leg that's wide enough at its top to include a belly button; it's wonderful. Devine has a softer side as well, and uses strips of fabrics to suggest this. Warm Heart has bronze-colored shoulders from which hang multicolored inch-wide fabric strips of varying lengths. One of Devine's themes is that women and their sensuality strongly attract, but may pose danger as well. Resolute has fragments of female breasts, but sharp nails protrude from the underside. Happy Hour is dark bronze, a left hand, with shards of broken glass sticking out from the rear; women are not the only danger in the hunt for fulfillment. Olivia is quite different in texture: There's a miniature suitcase, as though the artist had been abandoned. A book is included, titled Women in Love. It is fascinating. Through October 18. 2625 Colquitt, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., longnecker gallery.com. — 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

"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

"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, diverseworks.org. — JJT

"Texas Before the Boom, 1850-1900: Selections from the Bobbie and John L. Nau Collection," on view at the Pearl Fincher Art Museum in Spring, consists of 40 or so paintings and drawings made in Texas or by Texans, mostly before 1900. Since most people, when they think of Texas art — especially the old stuff — probably think first of bluebonnets, cowboys and longhorn cattle, this show might just as aptly be titled Texas Art Before the Clichés. There's not a single bluebonnet or cowboy, and only one longhorn, in the show. The Nau Collection, encompassing all phases of earlier Texas art, is one of the largest and most comprehensive there is. Though only a fraction of the whole, the works included here are some of the earliest and rarest of their kind anywhere. Many of the works in this show speak to the vastness of Texas and to our Mexican heritage, and they're so early (for Texas) and so rare that there will be revelations for even the most seasoned viewer. Thomas Allen's Galveston Beach of 1877 is gorgeous — wedges of sand and water converging in the distance below a rectangle of sky, clouds echoing waves, no people, no buildings, reduced almost to a modernist study of geometry and subtle color. The most intriguing work is The Burning of the Heroes of the Alamo from 1903 by José Arpa y Perea. It's richly painted and complex, befitting Arpa's Spanish training: A painting of the burning Alamo surrounded by greenery sits before a female figure (is she a nun, an allegorical reference or something else?) holding an hourglass, or maybe an urn containing the ashes of the heroes. You'll leave it wanting to know more. Through December 13. 6815 Cypresswood Drive, Spring, 281-376-6322, pearlmfa.org. — RT

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Randy Tibbits is an independent art writer and curator, specializing in the art history of Houston. He is a member of the Board of Directors of CASETA: Center for the Advancement and Study of Early Texas Art and the coordinator of HETAG: Houston Earlier Texas Art Group. He writes art exhibition reviews for Houston Press from time to time.