Almost immediately upon descending the stairs at CAMH for its new show, "Perspectives 177," it becomes clear that McArthur Binion has a very distinct way of doing things. The first clue is the repetition of geometric shapes -- triangles, squares and circles -- varying only by color. Upon closer inspection, you also get a sense of his favored technique -- pressing wax crayon onto wood and aluminum panels. It's a very laborious process that results in what the Chicago artist likes to call "Rural Modernism," both a nod to the pieces' heavy texture and his Mississippi upbringing.
The result of all this repetition, however, is once you see one piece, you've seen them all. Whether it's a red triangle, green triangle or purple triangle, there's not much to propel you forward. To be fair, each piece is subtly different, though that's largely indiscernible to the naked eye. That's because barely visible under each layer of crayon are autobiographical elements -- pictures of Binion, his birth house, and parents, as well as lynched men and even racist and stereotypical imagery taken from fruit wrappings. The artist cleverly calls this the "under-consciousness" of the work, though like anything that's under the surface, you have to be told it's there, or otherwise miss it completely.
One piece that did stand out in the artist's museum debut was "Stellucca I: (Rural Geometry)" (side note: the name "Stellucca" is not some made-up planet, but, in another autobiographical element that would otherwise go unrealized, is a combination of Binion's children's names, Stella and Lucca). As middle school geometry has taught me, Binion has made a parallelogram, the only one of its kind in the show. With just a few simple lines -- of the geometric shape, and perpendicular lines contained within it -- Binion manages to create a great tension that really grabs you.
For minimalist works in color that really don't let go, though, I'd much rather just head upstairs to Donald Moffett's show, "The Extravagant Vein." His signature abstract paintings, such as "Gutted" and "Comfort Holes," are worth the trip alone to CAMH, and feel incredibly fresh.
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"Perspectives 177: McArthur Binion" at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose Boulevard, running now through April 1. For more information, call 713-284-8250 or visit the museum's website.