Stretching the Definition of Printmaking at McClain Gallery

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McClain Gallery's current participation in PrintHouston 2012 -- an ongoing celebration of both traditional and nontraditional printmaking -- will satisfy those seeking either representation of the form thanks to three concurrent exhibitions.

Bo Joseph falls squarely into the nontraditional camp. In "Empire of Spoils," his first solo show at McClain, his paintings are hardly reproducible -- they're made through a complicated method involving layers of oil pastels, water-based tempera and acrylic-based ink on sheet paper that often damages the delicate paper in the process.

He also works in patches, putting the pieces together like a puzzle, so if something does happen to go horribly awry, he can fix it. Still, the resulting works aren't perfect; there are uneven edges and parts that seem like they were cut out with a Zippo knife. More to the point, though, there's evidence of Joseph's handiwork all over them.

It's only fitting that these works challenge and redefine notions of printmaking, as Joseph is all about challenging conventional notions of material, process, context and, foremost, subject matter. Throughout the works in the show, Joseph has appropriated disparate images -- ceremonial masks, birds, children, even rugby players -- found in printed sources such as books and auction catalogs, stenciled them and repeatedly or strategically stamped them onto the paper to the point where they're almost unrecognizable. They're dense, cryptic, abstract works; it feels like if you stare at them long enough, you'll start to make meaning out of them. And finding meaning in them is the point -- Joseph has taken these images out of their original contexts to create new meaning and commonalities.

Running concurrently with Joseph's show is William Betts's "Recognition," which also plays with traditional notions of printmaking. In this new series, Betts has taken images of anonymous people from surveillance cameras, blown them up so that they're more pixelated than they already were, and, using a software-controlled process, applied thousands of acrylic dots onto a canvas to replicate the screenshot in pastel and gray hues. It's a highly mechanized process that's worlds away from Joseph's laborious paper patch making, though both clearly play with the production of prints in unexpected new ways.

For more traditional works on paper, there's "Contemporary Masters," an installation throughout the halls and office walls of McClain featuring original prints by Brice Marden, Cy Twombly, Ellsworth Kelly, Ed Ruscha and others. It's a great little collection worth seeking out, and draws a great contrast to how far Joseph and Betts stretch the definition of printmaking.

"Bo Joseph: Empire of Spoils," "William Betts: Recognition," and "Contemporary Masters" at McClain Gallery, 2242 Richmond Avenue, runs now through June 23. For more information, call 713-520-9988 or visit the gallery's website.

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