Capsule Reviews

"Fellowship Series XI: Expositions" CACHH's fellowship series exhibitions continue to offer up interesting, bite-size selections of work from its grant recipients. This time the featured artists are Beth Secor, Angela Fraleigh and Darryl Lauster. Secor paints family portraits from old photographs; in an accompanying artist's statement, she relays snippets of crackpot family history that add an extra layer of intrigue to her dour turn-of-the-century faces (e.g., strychnine poisoning). Fraleigh contributed one of her large oil paintings that mix figures with smeared and poured areas of abstract color, but her lesser-known watercolors really upstage it -- their loose and fluid unpretentiousness makes the painting seem uptight. Rounding out the trio is Lauster, whose fascination with historical decorative objects and furniture inspires his sculptures. Here he riffs on 19th-century blue-and-white Transferware china. But instead of bucolic scenes, Lauster's collection of plates depicts events from American history -- the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, a Klan rally, suffragists, atomic blasts -- all ironically edged with charming decorative borders. Through August 3 at Space 125 of the Cultural Arts Council of Houston and Harris County, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-9330.

"Kaneem Smith" Kaneem Smith doesn't make pretty sculptures. There's usually something slightly icky and unsettling going on in her loose, abstract forms. They're covered in fabric and liberally coated with viscous substances that tend to evoke visceral reactions from viewers. New work by the artist is on view in the "Kaneem Smith" exhibition at Rudolph Projects/ArtScan Gallery. Smith mixes earthy, natural hues with latex and silicone to make things look rubbery and fleshy, while her tinted resin calls to mind the hard, shiny exoskeletons of insects. Adding to the organic nature of her work, Smith herself weaves much of the fabric she uses. It's usually stretched over or wrapped around metal or wire armatures, giving them furry pelts or epidermal coatings. Compulsory Matriarch hangs slackly from a nail on the wall. It's an elongated oval shell of felt lined with thick, matted strands of light brown camel hair. The six-foot-long work feels like a cross between a giant orifice and a nest. You don't know whether it's a place for birthing or for sleeping, but it doesn't feel creepy. There's a kind of warm animal comfort to the piece. Other wall pieces are less successful. Progressive Aggression is a series of works that use flat bands of metal and strips of thick and fuzzy gray felt bent and wrapped together. Hung on the wall like paintings, they're all pretty rectangular, around three feet high by about a foot and a half wide. The series illustrates an underlying problem in much of Smith's work: its overwhelming rectilinearity. She's a young artist, and it will be interesting to see what happens to her intriguing sculptures when she jettisons their internalized conventions and embraces their organic yearnings. Through August 12. 1836 Richmond, 713-807-1836.

"Out of the Life of Bert Long, Jr." In Bert Long's painting Ride the Tiger (2002), the artist depicts himself astride a tiger, naked save for a massive pair of eyeglasses. His long hair and beard flow behind him like a mane as the fiery tiger leaps through a vividly streaked sky. Instead of a hand, Long clings to the tiger with a hook. The tiger has the look of Asian kitsch embroidery, and its eyes stare out at the viewer with hypnotic power. You can't help but be drawn into the work's bright vivid colors, bold swaths of paint and surreal imagery. Surrounded by an equally dramatic frame daubed with color, it's the standout work in the exhibition "Out of the Life of Bert Long, Jr.," curated by his friend and fellow artist James Surls, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The painting refers to Long's "ride the tiger" art career. The hook symbolizes handicap -- living the life of an artist and being African-American are among the many challenges Long has faced in life. At six foot two and 250 (or so) pounds, Bert Long is a big bear of a man, and like his work, he's utterly unrestrained -- at turns funny, poetic and wildly opinionated. He has lived solely from his art since 1979, when, at the age of 39, he gave up a lucrative career as an executive chef. Long's show at the MFAH showcases some of his best paintings. Like the rest of his art, they grew out of Long's experiences with travel, the art world, racism and his personal life. Most of the works have collaged elements, and Long's frames are heavily decorated and as important as the paintings themselves. The show is by no means a retrospective of Long's large and eclectic body of work, but it makes you wish it were. Long is a talented artist and a fascinating character. Through August 13. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer