Visual Arts

Houston Exhibit Transforms Shattered Images of Beaumont Rice Mills Into Hallucinogenic Dreams

Artist Joan Steinman has painted a love letter to her family by returning to her Beaumont roots and reimagining the angles and geometry of the historic Beaumont Rice Mills, a still viable grower, miller and distributor begun by her great-grandfather in 1892.

“The Mill” is her tenth exhibit at Gremillion &Co. Fine Art, Inc. and, while the artist has maintained the vibrant, saturated colors of previous works – which often played with fabrics, florals, kitchen vignettes and landscapes – these new paintings are decidedly more masculine.

She’s played with portal-centric works before, in which the viewer gazes through a doorway only to see further doors inside (more Edward Hopper than Droste effect), and she’s also touched on Cubist fragmentation, but both techniques are amplified in these new works.

The descendants of her great-grandfather, Joseph Eloi Broussard, would often gather at the mills during visits home, but Steinman never considered the venue as a subject until about two years ago, when she zeroed in on its wooden beams, old equipment and exteriors, capturing the angles through photography. Back home in her studio, she broke the images apart and reassembled them in a complex pick-up sticks jumble, sketching the new scenes on her canvas and bringing the shattered paintings to life in a hallucinogenic dream.
The centerpiece of the show is the oversize 60-inch by 72-inch Mill 15 (ST 974), with so much detail it takes a while to take it all in. It's hard to know where to look, from the four-light warning indicator broadcasting imminent danger, to the heavy weight of the ceiling pipes, to the processed bags of rice against the wall. With its air of chaos and small doors near the bottom of the frame, it’s easy to imagine a blue caterpillar smoking a hookah on a mushroom but, just before it falls down a rabbit hole, the composition returns to normalcy as a worker pushes a two-wheeler out the door to “real life” outside.

Mills 3 (ST 962) very strongly resembles a psychedelic take on the childhood game of Chutes and Ladders, with its Miami-inspired colors of mint, purple, aqua, yellow and pink tinting the ladders to nowhere and turning the pipes and beams into slides.

In a deviation from the formula, rounded edges make an appearance in Mill 4 (ST 963), in the form of a paddle wheel, fans and pulleys. The bay door is open and the reflection of a tree outside appears on the floor, drawing the eye toward two men leaving the mill – one wearing a plaid shirt and shorts and holding a camera, and the other in jeans. They seem familiar, leaning towards each other in discussion, as they pass ready-for-market bags of a day’s labor as they make their exit.

There’s a simpler work near the entrance, where a warped and fragmented doorway opens to a blue staircase and, as the eye travels up, it rests on the lime-colored glow of a window midway. It’s a nice way to begin and end the exhibit, and very appealing.

Don’t miss the looped time-lapse video of Steinman painting one of the works, from her beginning sketch to the last stroke. She would turn the camera on at the beginning of each workday, and it’s mesmerizing to watch; on the second or third watching, the viewer begins to notice other aspects, such as her changing plaid shirts and the fact that the film only slows down at the end, as she stops to declare the painting finished, and adds her signature.

“The Mill” continues through June 18 at Gremillion &Co., Fine Art, Inc., 2501 Sunset, open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 713-522-2701, Free.