Gray Contemporary Hosts a Bright, Colorful Show With Aloe Vera

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Gray Contemporary is a new gallery in the Houston Design Center, large, high-ceilinged and beautifully air-conditioned. This exhibition, a group show of ten artists, is the second one in its new premises.

Several paintings are quite bright and colorful, with "Shape Study 8 (Three Sides)" by Christopher Derek Bruno, the most intriguing. Its charm is not captured in the photo, as it has four three-dimensional vertical square pillars, with the front panel of each white, but each side panel colored and different; it is a work intended to be viewed from several angles.

Part of the charm is the asymmetry of the colors, with the far right pillar black and the unseen (in the photo) other side orange, then blue with textured yellow unseen, then yellow with textured green unseen, then at the far left, red with textured green-to-blue unseen. There is, thank heaven, no logical palette development, but instead a cheerful artist at play, a romantic, I would guess. I enjoyed it a lot.

Nathan Westerman is showing three colorful circles, enamel on plywood, consisting of multi-colored horizontal stripes. All three seem similar, but one pops out, "Slat Painting 014.005", which has a yellow stripe in the top half that makes all the difference in the world. Viewing all three is interesting, suggesting that, while the eye welcomes a variety of colors, it still needs an anchor to enter the harbor of the artist.

Dmitri Obergfell has an apparently simple mosaic "Crystal plane (penrose)", which turns out to be complex and fascinating. It has a trompe l'oeil effect, as it is composed of scores of individual metal tiles, each anchored to the wall, but the spaces between, which are in fact open, seem to be the metal framework one would see in a stained-glass window.

From the front, the metal tiles are colored green, tapering toward blue at the top, but when viewed from the left, they become a vibrant violet, and when viewed from the right, purple and blue. The individual tiles form boxes, and create a series of optical illusions. The whole pattern seems to have sprung, unleashed, from a small box, as though the work of a wizard. Perhaps it did, since Obergfell is certainly a magician of sorts, as this magical work documents.

Obergfell also has a sculpture of a cherub whose head is replaced by a plethora of five-sided crystals, and who is seated on a concrete boulder balanced on what seems to be a large red plastic ball, though labeled a bowling ball. This last element adds a note of kitsch, and its disparate nature from the rest of the work suggests that a spoof is underway. I prefer my humor less heavy-handed.

Deborah Zlotsky's "The Artist" is complex, with central greys and peripheral blues and orange, and structurally an interlocking of an irregularly-shaped cube with rectangles, with curves added to soften the impact. There seem to be sketches on a floor, and some of the colors have been abraded to indicate the passage of time. What it lacks in spontaneity, it gains in intelligence and rich composition.

Douglas Witmer has a number of works, with "The Hour Grows Late" the most accessible, with two deep blue broad horizontal stripes against a greyish-white background, seemingly worn on the edges - as though time had passed and a lot had happened. The stripes end at the right-hand edge, truncated, and I found its impact truncated as well. Two other small works are "Untitled (2012 - 5)", and "Untitled (2012 - 3)"; these are black on black, with faint images perceptible with scrutiny. I found them unrewarding.

Myungwon Kim has a large (96x96") two-panel painting, "Untitled 02 (color series)", which provides gradations of black, and even some shards approaching greyish-white, so there is composition, but the effects are so subtle that it verges on solipsistic art, where the communication is between the artist and the canvas (here, mylar) rather than between the artist and the viewer.

"Black mirror: the short session" by Ron Buffington has irregular greyish-white images on black, but with sweeps of broad brush strokes that suggest the milky way, and there are hints of an explosive upward energy. "Lapse (relapse)" by Jeffrey Cortland Jones shows a series of white rectangles, and some deliberate blurring, so that, while minimalist, it is interesting.

"Sleeper" by Mary Bucci McCoy, on the other hand, provides little satisfaction, at least to this viewer. It is uniformly mouse-colored, with some minimal textured variations. It may be that I am the wrong person to evaluate such subtle art, where compositions are slim or hidden, contrasting colors absent, and energy dormant. Call me Philistine, if you wish. Aloe Vera: group show continues through September 15 at Gray Contemporary, 7026 Old Katy Road, Suite 253, open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 713-862-4425, graycontemporary.com.

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