Visual Arts

The Intense, Understated Works of Jason Yates at Barbara Davis Gallery

Jason Yates has lowered the volume on his art.

Once called a maker of indie rock art, thanks to his psychedelic rock posters, portraits of rock stars like Captain Beefheart, projects for bands like Aerial Pink and Animal Collective, and generally loud, busy ink drawings, in his first Houston solo show at Barbara Davis Gallery, Yates has dialed it down, eliminating almost all color for mostly black and white patterns and creating an environment that's more meditative than in-your-face. There are even black wooden "monk boxes" scattered throughout the gallery that, if you didn't know any better, you'd think were places to sit down and drink in his textural works.

In all, it's a pleasantly cohesive show. Yates has a series of acrylic and ink canvases that consist of intricate crosshatches and pieces of cascading scalloped paper down sections of the canvas. The drawings are incredibly meticulous -- you might easily miss how labor-intensive it all is because the works are almost soothing. They're mostly black and white, varying by pattern, with the occasional loud pink or pale orange thrown in to shake things up, as if Yates teasingly turned the volume up to jolt you awake, then turned it back down once he had your attention.

Though the pieces are really nothing more than ink and paper, there's a refined quality to them, a delicateness. The work that takes this challenge on the most is "Zombie Stella." Even the name has a jokey, lowbrow element to it which fits the crudeness of the work -- essentially, it consists of layered squares of plastic sheeting, with spray paint added for color. It looks like a blown-up garbage-bag version of the scalloped paper on his canvases, with tulle thrown in to dress it all up. Though clearly connected by form and color to the surrounding pieces, it's unlike anything else in the show. It feels like you're watching Yates think this new direction out loud.

You'll be tempted to take a seat on one of the strategically placed monk boxes before "Snake Pit," a painstakingly crafted wall drawing that makes use of the inherent gallery space in an incredibly clever way. The work is all zigzags à la Sol LeWitt and frames an entryway that looks right out onto "Sunset and Sunrise," a wallpaper hanging in the front of the gallery that consists of repeated squares of black and white crosshatches reminiscent of Jasper Johns, but less carefree. As you're standing there, these furious line drawings come together and take on a whole new, enveloping dynamic. Yates doesn't have to be loud to completely have our attention.

"Jason Yates: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything" is at Barbara Davis Gallery, 4411 Montrose, now through June 30. For more information, call 713 520-9200 or visit the gallery's Web site.

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Meredith Deliso
Contact: Meredith Deliso