Visual Arts

"Masks, Monsters and Monoliths" Celebrates Art and Recycling

A viewer can't help but smile upon entering Archway Gallery for the "Masks, Monsters and Monoliths" exhibit and being greeted by Jim Adams' Monster Family. Dad leads the charge, mom brings up the year, with four monster children in between. Ranging in height from 28.5" to 42.5", the five pieces of steel sculpture can be arranged and rearranged at will; the characters are full of motion and life - some reticent, some dancing ahead, all hungry and talking - with broken, snaggled teeth, bulging eyeballs and long legs atop chicken feet.

This sculptor's gift is to transform junk, often gnarly, pitted and twisted, and let the piece tell him what it wants to be. This particular series consists of reclaimed pipe and rail track hardware, brought to life through heat and fire.

Vocal Beings is an iconic piece, consisting of six monolithic tubes of pipe with gaping maws for mouths. Reminiscent of elements from a church pipe organ and drenched in rivulets of rust, they range in height from 50" to 68" and can be arranged freely to show a small, compact choir or a spread out mob of advancing entities.

As the artist cuts away parts from larger pieces, he in turn transforms those remnants into new, smaller pieces. It's hard to imagine horrific creatures ever being called cute, but his minimal monsters are just that. Sitting Pretty, Hans und Fritz and Monster #7 are all heads and long legs, plotting and poised to "see you, chase you and eat you."

A series of masks are evocative of Edvard Munch's The Scream, the eyes and mouths of the rail tie plates brought to life and given character through Adams' acetylene torch. Set in groupings of 1, 2 or 3, mounted on platform bases or protruding from the wall, they are all aptly named: Nerve Gas, Cy, Wednesday's Child and Moe and Joe. Six wall-mounted masks are mesmerizing with their rows of railroad spike hair, wide-set eyes and dangerous, gnashing teeth.

Before leaving, watch out for Deity, a 59" tall monster with a mouthful of spiky teeth and remember that, "not all deities are gentle."

"Masks, Monsters and Monoliths" is a tandem exhibit, featuring two artists who recycle. Painter Sherry Tseng Hill draws upon her architectural background to repurpose shipping boxes into ornate masks through intentional layering and adornment of pen and paint, curled and coiled paper, and shapes of triangles, flaps and rectangles. The result is an explosion of flamboyantly colorful tribal masks, interwoven and interconnected through chains and strips of paper, similar to the plumbing and electrical lines of a construction blueprint.

Of the 10 smaller masks, I was drawn to Avatar, with its insect mouth, wide-set blue eyes with purple pupils and scrollwork tendrils reminiscent of wrought iron. He seems ready to take off in flight. Tseng Hill doesn't name the pieces until they're complete, and their individual personalities are evident: Thunderbird is menacing, Barakoa is a warrior, Party Pretty is a rock star, Samurai is displeased, and Take This exudes confidence.

Upon approaching Tee Hee Hee, one of the 8 larger masks, you'll feel mocked, with its eyes squinted shut into blue slits, big and little pink and purple circles on its face, blue rings connecting nose to ear and 8 rounded teeth in a wide-mouthed grin. The Wall is a stunning, thought-provoking piece, with angled gray column splitting the territory in half and protected by a coil of barbed wire. It is intricately decorated, with black rolled up paper here, curled wisps of paper there, meticulous lines of gold, red and blue at the top, and red, spiky triangles emanating from the un-crossable border.

There are a few nods to Asian culture, including the incorporation of chopsticks, but Tseng Hill has achieved her goal of creating a universal collection for a borderless world. It will be easy for each viewer to project his/her own personal heritage and perception onto each mask.

Masks, Monsters and Monoliths continues through February 5 at Archway Gallery, 2305 Dunlavy, open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., 713-522-2409,

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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