One of my first reactions to seeing the names involved in "Flying Solo," a new group exhibition at Art League Houston featuring Houston artists who aren't represented by a commercial gallery, was surprise that so many of them aren't represented. The seven artists included offer such unique, distinct voices, and, just because they're underrepresented, in a sense, doesn't mean they've been flying under the radar by any means.
Just take Daniel Anguilu. In addition to the Art League show, in just the past few months, the muralist has been included in group shows of Houston artists at the Station Museum and Cardoza Fine Arts and was one of the artists who participated in the repainting of Lawndale Art Center's outside wall. In fact, he's pretty much synonymous with Midtown, thanks to the omnipresence of his distinctive animalistic murals.
The other six free agents in the show, thoughtfully curated by Art League Visual Arts Director Jennie Ash to offer a diversity of mediums, subject matter and techniques, similarly have long resumes, filled with runs at prestigious museums, residencies, and MFA programs. Ann Wood stands out with two visceral pieces -- a collage of two aggressive-looking horses in rapture, literal hearts floating from the charged piece, and her taxidermic pig installation -- it's pretty in pink covered in glitter, but absolutely grotesque at the same time, thanks to some spilled "blood" and broken teeth.
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Lawndale Art Center resident Patrick Turk works on a smaller, more contained scale. His three-dimensional electronic sculptures are illuminated by LED lights and use magnifying glasses like little portholes onto the images of snakes, birds and bugs. The lone photographer, Chuy Benitez turns his lens on Occupy Wall Street with his panoramic visions of protest and prayer. Lovie Olivia is harder to define -- her two totem paintings, one of which intriguingly forgoes any traditional sense of portraiture and focuses exclusively on a tattooed woman's backside, employ a fresco-like technique that consists of layers of plaster, paint and printmaking.
Fernando Ramirez's drawings are more straightforward in design -- acrylic marker and pencil -- but they create dense cities crowded with dynamic faces. Multimedia artist Emily Sloan's contributions are polar opposites and seem born of two different minds - one is a messy, colorful portal, the other a stark steel form -- if they weren't united by their lampshade-esque design. The exhibition starts and ends with Anguilu, from his color mural on Art League's front entrance to three works in the space's hallway consisting of spray paint and grids of wood, as if attempting to domesticate the graffiti.
It's a very fresh show -- all of the work is from this year. That, coupled with the unsigned angle, gives off this finger-on-the-pulse sense of discovery that's exciting. Though ultimately, the show's conceit makes you wonder what the artists' defining collective lack of commercial representation is supposed to mean. Is the show an urgent call to sign these artists now? Or is it a more, "We're doing just fine, thanks but no thanks" snub to the commercial art world? It seems to be a little bit of both, attempting to remain neutral and straddle both lines, which is a little frustrating. Of course, the real indicator will be to see if any of these talented artists fly solo for much longer.
"Flying Solo" at Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose Boulevard, runs now through January 4. For more information, call 713-523-9530 or visit www.artleaguehouston.org.