Crawling In Art: A Weekend of Houston's Finest Art Leads Us Through Cruise Sites, Brain Experiments and the Studios of Artists Good and Bad

This weekend Houston was abuzz with art. Each year, Winter Street and (now) Spring Street studios open their collective doors for the Annual Artist Exhibition, which is similar the studios' monthly Second Saturday, but on speed, giving patrons and art lovers the opportunity to see what goes on behind the artists' closed doors. Adding to the weekend's art extravaganza was the opening of the CAMH's exhibition of American artist Donald Moffett. Art Attack attempted to soak up as much of the weekend's paint as we could by going on our own personal art crawl.

Friday night marked the opening of the CAMH's exhibition "Donald Moffett: The Extravagant Vein," which is the first survey exhibition of the artist's two-decade-long collection of works. Not being familiar with Moffett, I viewed the collection head on, with no preconceived notions. Nine different bodies of work were displayed, each distinct in its own right, some more commanding than others. To call Moffett just a "painter" would be like calling a Swiss Army Knife just a pocketknife; the breadth of his mediums are all-encompassing.

The collection's centerpiece, "The Extravagant Vein" series combines painted canvas with video-light projection. The canvas, thick with gobs of paint, gives the illusion that the video you are watching is three-dimensional. The light-loop, as it is called, is of an outdoor setting, an area of Central Park well known for being a homosexual "cruise site." Stare long enough and the trees sway, inviting you in. If not for the fact that you're well aware a video is being projected, the natural surroundings, positioned against the coarseness of the canvas, remind you of an impressionist painting; Monet, but plugged in.

Doing a complete 180 (in terms of his work and placement in the museum) is the "Fleisch" series. Stretched khaki-colored canvases are punctured by randomly sewn holes, zippers and circular splotches of black. It's minimalism at its core, but it also does nothing that hasn't been done before. The series gives way to the more provocative, unzipped portion, for which Moffett literally opens the canvas to expose the monochromatic innards in the "Gutted" pieces.

Another standout was the "Painting In a Hole" series, a video projection piece in which an arm appears from within the canvas, paint brush in hand, methodically painting the same section over and over, without the satisfaction of completion.

Moffett's works range from electrifying to repetitive and back again, hindered mostly by a 1980s feel that hasn't stood the test of time.

Crawlin' Along to...

On Saturday and Sunday, I navigated my way to the Winter/Spring Street Annual Artist Exhibition for some amazing local art, some terrible local art and some free local snacks (READ: wine).

The Winter/Spring Street studios are expansive, and every artist's door was open, inviting patrons in to chat, browse and ultimately purchase their wares. If you've never been to the seasonally named studios, go check out one of their Second Saturday events, which are similar in concept, but not nearly as vast.

As a non-visual artist, I will give props to any person who spends their free time putting pen to paper, brush to canvas or clay to pottery wheel, but I am obliged to say that doesn't mean it's good. Much of the studios are home to what I can only describe as interior decorator-style art. If you are looking to furnish your model home, this is the place you will find silk-screened Chinese characters, mosaics of birds, framed oil paintings of rip tides and "modern" art intended to be hung over large fireplaces to be used as conversational pieces when you hold your next charity dinner. It was perfect for these artists that Houston money was out in full force, looking for their next investment.

This is not to say that there isn't also a breed of artists inhabiting the studios that are exploring new concepts, breaking boundaries and building up the Houston art scene as a force to be reckon with. I encountered a number of such artists that smacked me in the face; here are a few that smacked and left a mark.

On Saturday, the Houston arts refuge Spacetaker hosted the opening of Mark Masterson's "Under Repair: New Works On Paper." Masterson's work needs no repair, unless the manner in which he turns his canvas into incongruous folds of fabric makes you uncomfortable. Purposely done and delightfully off-putting, they make you want to find a hot iron to flatten the creases in order to absorb more of the painting. His work sends you to the 16th century, Canterbury Tales-style - some feature medieval doctors performing atrocious brain experiments, while others depict gluttonous dinner feasts. His most appealing pieces call to mind the work of Hieronymus Bosch, particularly in the lithograph of "The Big Fish Eat the Lil Fish" and "The Man His Money Bag and His Flatterer's"

Photographer-turned-painter Taylor Gahm's "REHUMANIZE collection" took the prize for "work I really want to see more of." The collection intends to not just be a body of work, but a movement, asking patrons to look behind the pornographic nature of the images and find a different point of view. The collection is aggressive in nature. Titillating paintings taken from real advertising pieces are paired with bold statements about what pornography is, asking if it shows too much or too little.

Patrick Palmer's work also struck a chord. He creates grand paintings of overly expressive, non-symmetrical human faces with eyes that follow you wherever you go. In the pieces "Astute I" and "Astute II," the faces literally have multiple eyes, judging your every move.

Other standouts included painter Kelley Devine's massive portraits of heroin-chic models in stunning Oscar-worthy wear; Joan Bohn's "The Importance of Being," a depiction of one little girl's dress in four dissimilar prints; photographer Jackie Leavitt's double-exposed fashion window dressing, set against a cold brick wall; and the strikingly realistic portraits of Kevin Peterson, who paints young children against backdrops of street graffiti.

The amount of art on display at Winter and Spring Street was overwhelming, to say the least, and I'm sure there were masterpieces missed. Good and/or bad, it is testament to the determination of the Houston art scene and that resolve is something the city should be proud of... even if some of its art is really bad.

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