Visual Arts

"The Beat'n Trail" Exhibit Contains Some Powerful Work, As Well As Pieces by Chicken George That Will Make You Smile

It's wonderful to enter a gallery and be struck immediately by a powerful work, and to exit a half hour later with a smile on one's lips. Such was my experience with an exhibition of Texas artists titled "The Beat'n Trail", at the Alliance Gallery. The Gallery is part of the not-for-profit Houston Arts Alliance, described as the leading force for the arts in Houston.

The striking visual, a sculpture, is by Katie Pell, and is titled Charming Are Your Unformed Wishes. It is a number of large wooden links, some curled on the floor, with interlocking links rising to the ceiling, to be continued even there. It was inspired by a family heirloom, a locket, and it gains enormously by its size.

The wood is warm, making the links an ornament instead of a chain, and its immensity suggests a generosity of spirit, a dedication to the hard work of construction, and a rich and expansive personality. There is a companion piece, charcoal on paper, that is a sketch of the chain.

George Zupp is widely known in his home town of San Marcos as Chicken George, and in fact he signs his art that way. Each of the numerous fence posts around his studio has a carved chicken at its top. By now you must have guessed that Zupp has a rich sense of humor - he has - and the humor fortunately is carried through into his art.

Zupp has a large wooden sculpture, perhaps 2/3 life size, of a man in a casket, rough-hewn, like life, and open at the top to show his zombie-like face. It is also open below the waist, to permit a large wooden column to protrude upward, unrealistically large, with a hatchet buried in its top.The work is titled "The Last Woody" - Zupp is not one of those artists who shower you with "Untitled" names, and is not above giving you a clue to help with interpretation.

Zupp has the talent to amuse, but this work is more than jocular. It has a primitive strength, similar to folk art, and its size invites the viewer to become involved with it. It is not pornographic, or even prurient, but instead is highly daring and original, two admirable traits.

Zupp has created a continuing character, a chimp, and has a portrait of him here, titled "Jolly Chimp", though the lettering over its head reads "Fail". The chimp seems to be holding clashing cymbals, and has a wide-eyed air of rapt attention, as though trying to figure out a concept beyond its capacity to grasp. I know this feeling, as I saw the exhibition just a few days ago, and, while viewing Zupp on Facebook, discovered that curator Tommy Gregory had, unknown to me, videotaped me observing Zupp's work, and posted the video. It's a strange and wonderful world, filled with surprises.

While not shown here, Zupp has a companion piece of the chimp with the overhead lettering spelling "Winning", even though the chimp's ears and mouth are overstuffed with firecrackers. Zupp has several other works here as well - all are priced modestly. I liked "Wife Takes Her Drunk Husband Home", with the wife driving a goat cart.

Kenny Lantz is showing two works, "Searching" and "Fans", sculptures that combine old and new materials. Steve Neves works with graphite on mylar; his "Still the Same" has echoes of Alice in Wonderland, while his 'Have I Lost My Way: Minotaur" references the mythological monster on the island of Crete.

Other artists showing are Vachu Chilakamarri, who paints large abstracts with overtones of Indian art, and Meredith "Butch" Jack, who works in interesting ways with cast iron. The Beat'n Trail continues through August 29, Houston Art Alliance Gallery, 3201 Allen Parkway, Suite 125, open Wednesday to Friday, 3:30 p.m., to 5:00 p.m., 713-581-6120,

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Jim Tommaney