Mark Flood Has Tasted the Red Pill, and It Is Bitter

There is a general unrest that runs through Mark Flood's work. It's an antiestablishment stance that attacks multiple establishments -- the contemporary art scene for one, corporate entities for another (the folks who've been occupying Wall Street and the dozens of cities where the month-long movement has since spread, including Houston's own Hermann Square, would find a friend in the Culturcide founder -- albeit a very sarcastic one).

These sentiments are certainly on display in the eccentric Houston artist's latest show, "The Bitterness of the Red Pill," at Cardoza Fine Art -- part-exhibition space, part-house found just north of downtown. One of the first pieces you encounter is a crude painting that namechecks Facebook -- in one circle is the name of the social networking site, in another the letters CIA, and a line connecting the two in an apparent comment on the Web site's invasive personal information tactics.

Venture into the back room of the house/exhibition space, and you'll get sucked into a wall-length, glow-in-the-dark canvas with the words "Learn more at Starbucks.com" across it in Flood's stencil font. It's a common enough refrain in advertisements that takes on an eerie tone against the glowing, bright toxic green. Flood's own crazy artist statement calls corporations, in many more words, diseases, viral entities that feed off of human hosts in order to survive. Learning more, it goes to assume, only helps to spread the disease.

The same darkened room features two of Flood's trademark "Another Painting" paintings -- they literally just have the words "Another Painting" stenciled across them. You can almost hear those words laughing in the face of the art world. More anti-art scene threads can be found in a piece that plays with the phrase "Visit the Whitney Biennial," purposefully leaving out that vital "t" in Whitney to make something that sounds more like "whiny" -- an artistic flipping off of an exhibition that Flood has been trying to get into for a few years now. Even the way the pieces are displayed goes against any typical art convention -- the paintings hang without any titles or notes, literally nailed to the wall with no attempt to hide the nails because, simply, that's the easiest way to get the art up there.

Among all those statement works, another of Flood's trademarks -- his lace paintings -- stand out rather curiously. They are the most technical, traditional works compared to the rest, and quite pretty. Calling them lace paintings is a bit of a misnomer, as there's no lace involved -- rather, Flood applies paint over old lace and pulls it away, leaving behind an intricate, mesmerizing pattern often accompanied by, of all things, flowers. They are particularly baffling next to his simpler, sarcastic works, leaving viewers wondering if they are just as sarcastic. But they still are lovely to behold, even when they employ a similarly toxic green like the Starbucks painting.

There's little more than a dozen works featured in the show, which makes full use of the available wall space, hanging pieces in the kitchen and hidden rooms. In fact, there's a recent lace painting hanging in a room behind a makeshift door. It's worth finding, though. Adjust your eyes to the dark and you'll find one of Flood's most-evolved lace paintings yet -- raw, rough patches, with none of the blues, pinks and yellows of its predecessors. It's less pretty, but captivating nonetheless. That red pill really is bitter.

"The Bitterness of the Red Pill" at Cardoza Fine Art, 1320 Nance Street near William Street. Running now through November 3, Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 4 pm and by appointment. For info, visit www.cardozaartgallery.com or call 713-386-9708.

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