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Discovering -- And Rediscovering -- Geoff Hippenstiel's Oil Paintings

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Geoff Hippenstiel has a most risky process: when he has a perfectly good painting, he intentionally messes it up to create a problem he then has to solve. It's a method that could potentially ruin a work, but lucky for us, it results in paintings that are richly detailed and engaging.

Engaging seems hardly strong enough a word to describe what it's like to process a Hippenstiel. The longer you look at any of the five untitled works currently on display in "Territorial Pissings" at Devin Borden Gallery, the more you see. You're left with a completely different painting than when you first approached.

That's because the abstract works are layered with unexpected colors and markings that are waiting to be discovered, even after you've lived with them. They are thick with impasto, like the end result of some volcanic eruption that's spilled lime green, purple, red, gold and blue across the canvas in spurts. The canvases are massive, too; in a gallery equipped with 14-foot-high ceilings, the 8-foot-tall paintings don't seem all that big, but they are towering works.

As you go clockwise from the left in the gallery, the paintings intentionally become more abstract. The first one you encounter -- a smattering of markings in the shape of a skull -- is a rare work for Hippenstiel, who's known for his impressive, large-scale abstract works and doesn't get this representational. He's making a statement, showing us he has some surprises up his sleeve and making his mark in something other than abstraction (hence the show title, "Territorial Pissings," which is pulled from a Nirvana song title).

While the skull is a clear subject, Hippenstiel conceals his inspiration in his other paintings, burying it under layers of oil and even spray paint. A Goya-shaped award statue is the starting point for at least one painting, the faint outline of a gold-hued face just there under the surface. Other seemingly monochromatic paintings bury colors that slowly reveal themselves to you. A giant gold piece seems pretty straightforward at first glance, but the longer you stay with it, tints of green and orange appear and it suddenly becomes a whole new painting. Magic? Nope, just a hell of a good painter.

"Geoff Hippenstiel: Territorial Pissings" at Devin Borden Gallery, 3917 Main Street, runs through April 27. For more information call 713-529-2700 or visit www.devinborden.com.

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