At East End Studio Gallery Friday night, we mistakenly assumed that "The Many Faces of Nico Whittaker," the artist's first solo show, was a narcissistic grab for attention; to some, the mixed media exhibit based largely on his varied personalities might be. Instead, the work is a profound exploration of his psyche. My Latest BloodTest, an acrylic-on-wood piece of red-blood-cell faces with expressions from glee to misery, was explained by Whittaker as not an artsy copy of his own blood test but a rendition of his many mental sides.
"Everything I do comes from inside my head," said Whittaker, who doubles as a graphic and web designer.
Corporate Nightmare, a mixed-media masterpiece involving a self-portrait of Whittaker, a huge dollar sign, sketches of corporate giants and a pig, is another satisfyingly serious piece, as is "The Witch Doctor," a monochromatic painting of a Hispanic obeah woman.
All is not Freud-like within the Argentinean artist, however. Some of his paintings, like Filling the Emptiness, which we once again mistakenly take for a psychoanalytic self-portrait, is, according to Whittaker, a whimsical attempt to see how he would look "if I were Mexican."
We suppressed the urge to laugh, but then he smiled knowingly. He further explained the red, green and white color combo as a nod to the Mexican flag and a thicker mustache painted on his likeness as a somewhat politically incorrect ode to a Mexican man.
East End Studio Gallery is open by appointment. Email eestudiogallery @ gmail.com to set up a visit.
Diamond in the Rough
On Saturday, we pull up to the Elder Street Gallery, once Jefferson Hospital, now renovated into a multipurpose gallery and dormitory for artists. It is hard to believe that the haunted-looking former hospital surrounded by abandoned buildings and a barely clad gentleman pacing in the streets could house such an intimate, upscale exhibit opening. But it happens.
Inside, Javier Lopez Cantu and a host of others were celebrating the opening "Por Amor al Arte," a juried exhibition of 12 Texas Latin artists.
The Austin-based Cantu was gracious in showing us his "Cityscrape" series of gouache on canvas paintings, and we were drawn to Cityscrape No. 13, a back alley made with rich shades of orange. Cantu made it clear that he does not recreate well-known landmarks, such as the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge or the WillisTower, but instead paints obscure, everyday alleyways and passageways. For him, the paintbrush is political, and he seeks to highlight everyday places that everyday people would frequent, he said.
Lilibeth Andre's side profile of a young Mexican girl is beautiful. "That's it!" Andre shouted the day she painted Nina de Trenza live, explaining that when the girl got distracted and turned to look at something else, the perfect angle presented itself. "It's a representational work with a slight bit of impressionism and a little bit of realism," said Andre of the earth-toned work.
The gallery is small, and it doesn't take too long for the others in the room to realize Art Attack is there. Loxmarie Alvarez seizes her chance, grabs us by the arm and leads us over to her sensual "A mi lado/At My Side" acrylic piece portraying a nipple-baring woman with an owl, as the title suggests, by her side. According to Alvarez, the painting was inspired on a night in which an owl landed on the branch of a tree outside her bedroom window. In her culture, seeing an owl is an omen; yet, instead of taking a negative stance, she chose to embrace the owl's presence.
"She's holding the owl; she's not afraid of it," said Alvarez, paralleling owls and other animals to humans in their both spiritual and fragile natures.
Until September 25. Contact Elder Street Gallery 281-250-4889 for info.
What's Going On?
What was left of daylight had disappeared inside of the Philomena Gabriel Contemporary Gallery, where Tierney Malone, another political painter, was driving the ladies wild talking about his solo exhibit, "Ruminations of a Cluttered Mind."
Malone has a cool radio announcer voice, but what caught our attention most was one of the biggest paintings we've ever seen, a wall-sized patchwork quilt of art. The gigantic conversation piece is made up of smaller interconnected pieces, each doing their part to tell an entire story about "the state of affairs" in the world.
"It is basically my take on Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On?'" said the Alabama-bred, TSU-educated artist. "I'm troubled. I'm disturbed."
Malone's "trouble" lends itself to controversial titles for the puzzle-piece paintings, such as Horton Hears a Palestinian and Drone Warfare.
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In the middle of the massive hanging is a painting of a dart board. "These are the countries that we are at war with," said Malone, pointing to space number five on the board as Afghanistan and number 2 as Palestine. Space 20, right in the middle of the board, is reserved for Libya.
Paradoxically, placed opposite the big piece are several smaller pieces dedicated to characters in The Godfather, said Malone.
Mafiosos and Marvin Gaye. A winning combination.
To October 8. Call Philomena Gabriel Contemporary at 713-523-7424 to learn more.