Capsule Reviews

"Bill Traylor, William Edmondson and the Modernist Impulse" Bill Traylor and William Edmondson are two African-American artists whose work came to the attention of the art world and the broader public in the late 1930s because of its modern aesthetic. This Menil exhibition explores the modernist aspects of their work. Traylor was born into slavery in 1854. In 1939, at age 85, he began to make art on the streets of Montgomery, Alabama. He made drawings, amazing drawings. His figures are abstracted into silhouettes or flat forms and patterns. Traylor was a keen observer of life, and rather than conveying a static geometry, his angular images of people are wonderfully attenuated and animated as they work, fight, talk and gesture. In contrast to Traylor's elegant, two-dimensional linearity, Tennessee artist William Edmondson's sculptures emphasize a solid, rounded geometry. Created from chunks of stone from demolished Nashville buildings, the figurative works aren't about creating an illusion that stone has turned to flesh. Rather than defying the blocky, massive qualities of his material, Edmondson embraced them. It has been easier for the American art world to deal with African-American artists in a paternalistic manner rather that treating them as equals. Traylor and Edmondson did not intend their work to participate in the modernist dialogue, but if something looks and smells like modernism, does that make it so? Depending on how you define modernism, there can also be something patronizing and elitist in trying to tie their work into the movement, as if doing so somehow elevated their work. Traylor and Edmondson's art is powerful, and it remains so regardless of what we decide to call it. Through October 2. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400.

"David Fulton: In and Of" David Fulton's paintings are filled with snaking, overlapping lines that make reference to geography -- the paths of rivers, the edges of coasts, the outlines of lakes. For this exhibition, Fulton has expanded the scale of many of his works. Conversion (2005) is the standout. The translucent white lines of the painting create a narrative, leading you through layered networks of paint into the dark caverns of the ground. Fulton is also experimenting with color over dark backgrounds in some of the works on view, but not all of them are as successful. The gallery lighting may be a factor, but the shiny varnish on the paintings makes some of the works hard to see. The most successful of the colored works is the tall, narrow painting called Immersion, (Red) (2005). In this haunting work, Fulton's crimson lines of pigment glow like hemoglobin. Through October 15 at New Gallery, 2627 Colquitt, 713-520-7053.

"David Simpson: Iridescent -- Interference" Seventy-seven-year-old David Simpson has been painting abstractly since the 1950s and was included in the famed 1964 exhibition "Post Painterly Abstraction" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which was organized by Clement Greenberg, the czar of modernism. One wonders what the anti-minimalist Greenberg would have to say about Simpson's work 40 years on, given that it has become decidedly minimal. In this exhibition, Simpson makes minimalist paintings with a lush, iridescent beauty. Using layers of color and interference pigments that have the ability to refract light, Simpson creates paintings that shimmer like fish scales. Their burnished surfaces glow, and their colors shift according to the light in the room and the position of the viewer. A painting that appears lavender will shift to pink or gray. The works are quietly beautiful. No word on what Greenberg is doing in his grave. Through October 30. Gallery Sonja Roesch, 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424.

"MOM -- New Paintings" The round head of an infant meets the curve of a breast in Francesca Fuchs's new paintings at Texas Gallery. Sometimes when artists become mothers, they seek to reflect that experience in their work. The personal is always tricky to pull off -- even with regard to experiences far less emotional and life-changing than giving birth. Some of the worst-case scenarios of motherhood-inspired art end in womblike raku ceramics. Thankfully, the paintings of Fuchs, mother of two, are a best-case scenario. Her works depict babies nursing, but their stripped-down and abstracted images are about as far as you can get from a La Leche League promotional brochure. Fuchs's six seven- by ten-foot paintings feature images closely cropped and dominated by the head of the infant. The paintings originate from digital photos that Fuchs manipulates; images are cropped and the subjects simplified and pared down into flat shapes in solid colors. The artist paints the heads in tones that range from peachy to rosy pink, their features delineated by hard-edged lines and shapes in muted colors. Their faces are attached to a sliver of reddish nipple and an arc of pale breast. The scene is a universally sentimental one: mother and child. Sentiment is a factor for Fuchs, but her paintings are successful because she also views her subjects objectively -- the images are really about formal issues. The works are a bold endeavor in many ways; painting pictures of nursing babies reeks of oh-so-uncool sentimentality. But by making them huge -- whether they have to be or not -- Fuchs is throwing the work in the face of eye-rollers. Through October 1. 2012 Peden, 713-524-1593.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer