The Houston Center for Contemporary Craft's current show is inspired. "Interstitial Spaces" brings together Julia Barello and Beverly Penn in their first collaborative installation, and it's such a natural pairing that makes for a cohesive, rich, full show -- even with only nine pieces.
The two artists make skillful, sculptural wall works. Barello's materials of choice are X-ray and MRI films, which she cuts and dyes to look like delicate flora -- they seem to sprout from the wall, they're so textured and alive. Penn, meanwhile, takes real plants then freezes and casts them in bronze to capture every curl or twist. The resulting pieces have such a lightness to them it's surprising and impressive to find out that it's bronze.
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Each of the artists's works have a sense of wild about them that's still nonetheless contained -- Barello's flowers and trees are neat and trim, while Penn's threads are sprawling like unruly weeds and yet still contained, whether in perfect circles or straight, exact lines. Their sensibilities combine wonderfully in a new collaborative wall installation made just for the center that stretches the length of the main wall. It's massive -- you can't take it all in at once, but have to walk along, taking it in as you move through the space. It's called "Submerged," and the film and bronze do seem to move together fluidly, like water, or, similarly, a wind current. There's an organic flow to it all even among all that manipulation.
What really comes through in "Submerged," and the other exhibition works, are the ways the pieces interact with the spaces they don't occupy. Around each twist of the bronze or film flower, there's emptiness in the form of the white wall. As the name of the show implies, these between, or interstitial, spaces are seen to be as important as the work itself. That might seem ridiculous to say, especially given the level of meticulous craft in each piece, but, of course, it's exactly because of those empty spaces that the works are even able to take form. It's the spots that Barello and Penn didn't fill in that gave life to their final works of art.
"Interstitial Spaces: Julia Barello & Beverly Penn," at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main, now through September 1. For more information, call 713-529-4848 or visit www.crafthouston.org.