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Re-creating Natural Disasters, Archive Style

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Maarten Demmink was born in the Netherlands, honed his craft at art schools in the Netherlands and currently lives in the Netherlands. But the multimedia artist's work is anything but provincial.

In a solo show currently up at Redbud Gallery, the artist, who goes by the name Demiak, makes work that references regions as diverse as New Orleans; Punjab, Pakistan; Lisbon, Portugal; and Breezy Point, New York.

There's a staggering 30 pieces adorning the red walls of the small Heights gallery. They alternate between wooden house models suspended from the walls and paintings. Those who caught the artist this time last year in the "Dutch Invasion" show at Box 13 might recall his unusual wall sculptures, all drawn to scale. They're neat to look at, holding the kind of fascination that big items done on such a small, realistic scale can, though the works that really resonate are oil paintings and watercolor pieces that depict destroyed houses and flooded streets.

These pieces have the look of aged photographs, complete with burned edges, white splotches and yellow coloring. But the trick's on you -- they are neither photographs nor old; they have all been painted by Demiak within the past year or so. They depict the aftermath of hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters around the world -- "the big blow," to borrow the name of the exhibition. Each piece is named after a location and a year, leaving you to guess which historic "big blow" the piece is depicting. The image of a flooded street titled "New Orleans 2005" is naturally Hurricane Katrina, a pile of rubble called "Breezy Point, New York 2012" Hurricane Sandy. (Houston is not spared this treatment, with a watercolor and acrylic on paper named "Houston, Texas 2012" featuring a city skyline and what looks like a flooded bayou, likely a reference to major flooding that occurred early in the year, though it was hardly anything that constituted a natural disaster.)

The paintings are small like archival prints usually are, too. Nothing here is overblown or overwhelms you. Like the wooden houses, everything is on an intimate, knowable scale. There's never the same perspective, either. The works range from street-level close-ups to aerial views, further adding to this archival feel, as if a different person made each document.

Why go through such pains to replicate images of disaster when so many already exist? By giving all of his works this aged quality, it seems as if Demiak is trying to make us pause and contemplate the image and give the type of reverence these archival prints usually receive as historical relics. There is no shortage of images from disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, one after the other depicting destruction and human suffering on an epic scale. But such an overload can be desensitizing. By depicting them differently than you could ever expect to experience them, Demiak makes you take time, to really look at them and see them differently, too.

"Demiak: The Big Blow" at Redbud Gallery, 303 East 11th Street, runs now through December 30. For more information, call 713-862-2532 or visit redbudgallery.com.

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