Perry House is all about opposites -- he strives to create images that are beautiful and disturbing, about construction and destruction, that walk the line between "horror and humor," as he says, border realism and abstraction, and are elegant and violent.
The latter, apparently, is the main dynamic in a giant retrospective of his work at the Art Car Museum. Elegance/Violence spans House's 30-plus years of painting. It includes several of his most recognizable series -- the most well-known being his surrealist "Southern Dinner Series," comprised of amoebic, loudly patterned plates that bend around the edges like bedpans and are set against loudly patterned backdrops of fish and flowers.
This series is barely ten years old, but already House has moved way past his distorted fiestaware and returned full circle to an occupation of his earlier in his career -- landscapes -- which are all noted by a mysterious date (2.20.11, 6.3.11 and so on).
These are not the overwrought, wreckage-filled landscapes of his "Aftermath Series," spilling over with twisted pipes and mounds of garbage, but something more abstract -- two-dimensional cityscapes. In an age of 3-D everything, there's something quite disconcerting about their flatness that has you arrested. Though I wouldn't use such strong words as "elegance" and "violence" in describing them; the choppy paintings don't evoke such a strong reaction as the words convey. Rather, they have a 1980s graffiti vibe to them (must be all that neon) and are not so much elegant but disjointed and distorted. Even their grids don't make sense anymore.
Impossibly, House has said he doesn't think too much about color when he paints, but these recent paintings have such a strong sense of pigment that you may easily refer to them as the blue one or the red one. His black-and-white ink drawings, wherein he essentially forgoes a palette altogether, are especially alluring. Now, over the course of a 30-year career, not everything worked. In some of his earlier paintings, there are experiments in style that didn't really go anywhere -- they were too messy and incoherent. But these drawings are immediate, refreshing and forward. Even when plastered onto an art car.
"Perry House: Elegance/Violence," is at Art Car Museum, 140 Heights Boulevard, now through September 2. For more information, call 713-861-5526 or visit the museum's Web site.