This past weekend's References to the Real World: An Exhibition of Figurative Art, benefiting the Houston Area Women's Center, turned the Museum District Eye Center into a collection of expressionist paintings, with walls that dripped with nearly every facet of the female experience.
Set at the most distant end of one of the building's corridors -- perhaps to represent the privacy needed from a relationship in turmoil -- the woman in "Untitled," Courtney Palmer's two-piece mixed-media painting, defied her estranged lover's stare by looking away.
On the other hand, the woman in Ian Anderson's "Double Vision" oil-on-canvas piece looked into herself, too many times, possibly as an attempted coming to terms with looks that are precious to everyone but her. Unfortunately, however, the repeating mirrors in the painting turn the obsessive young woman into a funhouse caricature, belying the initial intent of her beauty query.
At the front of the building, the charcoal-smudged woman in Carolyn Garcia's larger-than-life "Untitled" canvas piece looked directly out, daring visitors to look away. Confidence, accusation, neediness, we knew not what, only that neither subject nor viewer would be breaking gaze anytime soon.
Although these three stood alone in their abilities to drag viewers into their worlds, many of the paintings in the show were two-piece efforts. According to abstractionist painter William Isbell, creator of the side-by-side pieces "With My Little Eye" and "Drifting Off," Garcia -- a former lawyer, former judge and currently a student at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Glassell School of Art -- befriended Patrick Palmer, dean of the same. By day, the Museum District Eye Center is a family-run ophthalmologist's office. By night -- actually, three to four times a year -- Garcia and her husband, Dr. Charles Garcia, turn the space into an art gallery named after Carolyn, its exhibitions benefiting local charities.
Not only do proceeds from the exhibition serve to benefit places like the Houston Area Women's Center, it works "double duty," according to Elizabeth Garibe, administrator of the eye center and co-curator of the art gallery (and daughter of Charles and Carolyn), to show off the works of students from the Glassell School of Art.
"This is not your average eye center," said Garibe.
Therefore, Garcia, with her eye center devoted to charity work, and Palmer, with his Glassell School full of artists, sent out an invitation to potential exhibiters to provide two works of art. Of the 27 artists accepted, some had both of their pieces put into the show, some even three.
If you were Palmer, you had the good fortune of seeing 14 pieces on display.
We weren't sure whether the exhibition was meant to feature many artists or if it was a Palmer-themed affair with other, less significant artists playing background to his lead. In any event, Palmer's paintings reigned heavily throughout the showing. His "Grasping for Balance" oil on canvas, a horizontal human head sliced in half to reveal two topsy-turvy ballerinas on top, was the most mesmerizing of them all, in a confusing way.
Not all of Palmer's paintings were specific to the feminine theme of the exhibit. Instead, his pieces were more cerebral. Garibe explained, saying," Everyone gets a little taste."
References to the Real World: An Exhibition of Figurative Art will run until August 31. The Museum District Eye Center/Carolyn Garcia Gallery, 4704 Montrose. For more information, call 713-524-5007.