Visual Arts

Marfa Ghost Lights Spotted at Hiram Butler Gallery

In his new Paintings exhibit at Hiram Butler Gallery, acrylic artist Brooke Stroud calls upon both the known and unknown, producing rectangular nature-inspired abstracts with saturated gradations of hue, punctuated by blocks of color. Two of his strongest pieces, 2015's Blue Standard and last year's Star Nursery, are perhaps ghostly embodiments of the ghost lights of Marfa.

Larger in size than the others in this collection, Blue Standard might be hard to find in the gallery, but it's worth the hunt. One is drawn to the glowing, ghostly orbs, almost pulsing as they float high in the star-dotted night sky, the misty beams attracting each other like a silent, otherworldly communication. Upwardly vertical strokes of black heat rise from the ground and, in the distance, a small pale blue structure glows pink, as if echoing its response.

All but one of the pieces contains the ubiquitous rectangle; sometimes it's black, anchoring the top of the piece, in others it reveals an under-painting of color or is minimized to a simple adornment rather than the focus.

The artist had a hand in the placement of the works within the gallery, paying careful attention not only to their palettes and sizes (medium, small and extra small), but also the positioning of the color blocks as if to lead the viewer on a journey of hidden codes and meaning.

In addition to outer space, Stroud also seems to be inspired by that other uncharted territory: the deep, blue sea. His Apparation embodies the vertical movement of cobalt blue and teal spikes climbing from aquatic depths; a textured black floor of the deepest, blackest ocean rises up hungrily towards the light in Passage; and an olive and teal reptilian texture has been applied to Another Green World. The sunlight shining down through the water is beautifully rendered in Sea Beams, though the pink color block on this piece seems jarringly unfitting and out of place.

The great expanse of our Texas landscape serves as inspiration for Lonesome Highway, with its peach-colored sky, as well as for The Burn, with its glowing mandarin orange desert melting in the heat. The Calling shows the setting or rising sun against a textured black earth with a monolithic red edifice in the distance.

An exhibition designer by day at The Menil Collection, Stroud is familiar with the business side of art. Less than a week after opening, all but one of his paintings had sold, giving testament not only to their beauty, but also to his practice of pricing the pieces to make them attainable.

For those able to visit Hiram Butler Gallery before March 28, Rirkrit Tiravanija's Untitled (the map of the land of feeling) I-III represents an intricate and meticulous scrolled story of an immigrant's voyage to America, through unfurled passports, labyrinths, mazes, recipes, family photos, collages and written narratives.

Paintings continues through April 25, at Hiram Butler Gallery, 4520 Blossom, open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 713-863-7097 or

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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney