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HJ BOTT's "Scribble Morphings": A Serious Artist With a Sense of Humor

The scribbles over these acrylic on canvas paintings document that HJ Bott has a sense of humor, and refuses to take himself too solemnly, though this in no way questions his seriousness as an artist.

The press release undermines the light-hearted tone, going into considerable detail in claiming that "the "24 Basic Scribbles" [are] the inherent, fundamental marks that are consistently found in the drawings of children, the building blocks that ultimately make up all written and visual languages across every culture." A strong claim indeed, but I have zero interest in luring you into that briar patch, and will deal with these talented paintings on their own visual merits.

There were scribbles on several paintings which might well have stood alone as completed works without them, and where the scribbles seemed to detract, and at least one painting where the scribble seemed necessary for completeness.

Matching Your Drapes employs blue and brown colors in a directly cubistic design, and the scribble seemed to me to interrupt a most successful arrangement. The scribble here is a layer, a transparent curtain that comes between the visual and the viewer. With all respect for the artist and his intention, I still wanted his scribble here to get out of my way.

Mobius Quatro, on the other hand, would look unfinished without the scribble. The bottom right-hand third of the painting would be largely empty, and the scribble compensates for this. Even with the scribble, this work seems more simplistic than the other more highly textured ones.

In Free Zones, the scribble is essential to create the impression of a stained glass window, and does so admirably. It made me want to look through that window, to see the wonders beyond.

In NARRATIVE: Generals, Decorated, the scribble serves a wonderful though deliberately ambiguous purpose - it may either be an endorsement of the military battle ribbons, or a cancellation of them, all against a background showing the earth as viewed from space. Or it may signify the obliteration of the planet through military conflict, all rich choices, indeed.

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The largest and most complex painting, Systems A-GO-GO, is a double panel, tilted at an angle, with checker boards, and yin and yang images. There is a sense of planning, of architecture, and the scribble here helps to get us past the large center of subdued colors, and does so effectively. This could be a sketch for a residence with a double garden, in any case, it is the most complex of Bott's work here, and is fascinating.

In Artisanal REDISTRICTING (No Clean-UP Here) tan and blue horizontal elements are covered with a pink scribble outlined in blue, then white. Despite all the clues in the title, I couldn't fathom it, though the dominant scribble did suggest a roadway.

In OH-GEE the scribble is dominated by an in-your-face black background and greenish large shapes, each somewhat resembling a comma. The work is simple, but strong.

These paintings are all recent, but the gallery has included one large one, 66" by 50", done in 2000, Landscape Rhetoric, which is stunning in its warmth, grace and subtlety. There appears to be a transparent fabric curtain, shielding but not impeding the view of what lies within, unknown, but holy. This painting is wonderful. HJ BOTT: Scribble Morphings continues through November 15, Anya Tish Gallery, 4411 Montrose, open Tuesdays to Fridays, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., 713-524-2299, anyatishgallery.com.

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