Art gatherings can take many forms, but few are as dramatic as the annual creation of oversized woodcut prints, this year done at Saint Arnolds Brewery on April 27, 9 to 5, as a two-ton steamroller did the final inking for Steamrolled IV: Balance. The event has been captured on video, for all to enjoy at the current exhibition at Gallery M Squared in the Heights. The exhibition is in conjunction with PrintHouston 2014, a summer-long celebration of original prints, the artists who create them, and the people who collect them.
Rockin' Rollin' Prints selects a theme - this year, it's "Balance" - and 75 artists created woodprints on ¾ inch mdf or wooden boards, from 2x3' to 3x5' in size, the size of the drum of the steamroller. Thirty-four of the prints have been juried into the fourth annual exhibition, sponsored by PrintMatters.
Despite the consistency of theme, the variety in the woodcuts is enormous. Some are beautiful in a traditional, expected sense, such as "Deceived" by Tera Yoshimura, where a naked contemplative Eve looks away from the apple, as a huge serpent coiled around the tree looks on expectantly, enticing her with its tongue. The work at first seems deceptively quiet, but is laced with fascinating tension.
Perhaps the most complex, and subtle, is Marco Guerra's street scene titled "Balance", with echoes of de Chirico. Guerra gives us a forbidding night scene in a dark, narrow alley, with a Saints and Sinners arcade, open 24 hours, in the foreground, and across the street a sign reading "Don't be scared." Overhead a man on an old-fashioned bicycle with a huge front wheel is crossing a high wire, balancing himself with a pole, and in the background another man does the same but travels in the reverse direction, There is no audience for the dangerous net-less daring. The effect is dark, mysterious, and haunting.
I liked another, lighter high-wire scene, titled "Ta-da!", by Mark Masterson and Monica Vidal, where a man essays the crossing on a monocycle, cheered on by a woman who has lost her own balance on the wire. A large orb I took first to be the moon, but then decided was the earth, looks on. The work has high energy and rich humor.
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Black magic was treated with humor and wit by Yannini Taboada in "This ain't nothing", as a male figure I took to be a sorcerer, or his apprentice, holds aloft in his left hand an infant, while he stands on a page in a book of the occult. His left hand is grappling with a man, who in turn is fighting with the infant for some keys, while on the ground is a youth ignoring all this and calmly studying the book of sorcery - there is enough going on here for several wood-cuts.
The thrill of horseback riding is captured with brio and verve in "Buxom" by Julia McLaurin, as a naked Rubenesque woman sits astride an equally Rubenesque steed, energetically prancing, probably on their way to a party. Though naked, the rider is heavily made-up for the jaunt, with eyelashes for miles.
Gallery M Squared is large -it is in the old Heights Theater - as it would have to be to show an exhibition of this size, but it is also very well-designed, with ample bench seating almost everywhere. This added enormously to my enjoyment of the exhibition, as the art is complex and not the kind that can be grasped in a glance, while standing. There's a lot here to savor, and the extended video of the steamroller at work is captivating. It made me wish I'd been there.
Steamrolled IV: Balance continues through June 29, Gallery M Squared, with PrintMatters 2014, 339 West 19th Street, open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 to 6, Sunday, noon to 5. For information call 713-861-6070, or google gallerymsquared.com.