Wednesday, April 27, 2011

She Speaks...Darkly at War'Hous

by Dean Liscum

On Saturday, 4/16/11, War'Hous gallery held the opening for She Speaks..., a show that featured artists : Anna Sprage, Claire Richards, and Kelley Devine.

War'Hous is at 4715 Main Street, Houston, TX 77002, which if you're driving north on U.S. 59 and take the Main Street exit but fail to stop because you're either texting someone for directions or googling it, you'll end up in the main gallery. A nice photo-essay of the opening was shot by Candace Garcia and can be viewed here. The folks at War'Hous did the opening up right with Wendy Colonna singing blues and this sign to welcome visitors.

White wine and sparking water are served only at "He Speaks" (read woosy) venues.
Let me be clear. Two free plastic tumblers of scotch later or not, Anna Sprage's work freaks me out a little. Maybe it's the lugubrious palette. May be it's the specter figures. May be it's the shallow picture plane. Maybe it's the eyes. (Who am I kidding? It's the eyes.) Her work is an aesthetic blend of Anime-Manga in the way that she represents the human form and  Egon Schiele, in the way her subjects occupy the canvas and confront the audience.There's little room in the picture space for anything else other than the "Hey you! I'm looking at you!" of the subjects. Whatever the reason, she succeeds at the shocking, dark-eyed stare whether she's riffing on Picasso or invoking Greek myths.

Anna Sprage, Pandora (left) and The Old Guitarist (right)
(photo by Candace Garcia)
She's definitely got a signature style. It just spooks me.

Claire Richards included some of her abstract expressionist works. (She also creates sculpture and paintings in other styles. See the "Currently Working On" section of her website.) For me, abstract expressionist works succeed or fail based on the work's palette, gestural marks/forms, composition, and the baggage that the viewer brings. Of course, one's aesthetic judgments on color and form have more to do with personal experience (a stain resembling the translucence of a bruise, a brushstroke resembling the curve of scar or the arch of a fall or the curl of an menacing smile) than anything like an objective evaluation.

The audience's role being acknowledged, these works are darker than some of Richard's previous work but not overwhelmingly oppressive. One work references water lilies in the title, which made me re-examine the composition of all the works in the show. In doing so, I got the sense that some of the painting could have been reworkings or paintings over some of Monet's works in the way they were structured. For example, waterlilies gone darker and more expressionistic.

Claire Richards, Thunder and Moss
acrylic on canvas
(photo by Candace Garcia)
However, the pieces have their Turner moments complete with crosses.

Claire Richards, Searching the Lillies
acrylic on canvas

(photo by Candace Garcia)
And here I'm seeing Motherwell. However, for the life of me I can't defend that association other than to accept the fact that I may have unresolved Motherwell issues.

Claire Richards, Desert in a Boom Box
acrylic on canvas

Suitcase in Alabama is my favorite. I'm not sure if its the chaotic mandala or the title or something subconscious. Of course that's one of the benefits of abstract expressionism. You may never "know" why you like a particular piece. You just do.

Claire Richards Suitcase in Alabama
acrylic on canvas
Kelley Devine's contribution makes up a smaller (by sheer square footage) but no less significant contribution to this show, and it's no less darker. She showed some older pieces most notably from her series Dangerous Game. She also showed a new series, "This Isn't Real."

I'd categorize Devine's work as psychological-symbolism. Through her art, she works through personal, emotional, social (read relationship), and gender issues. Her adeptness with many different styles (Expressionism, Surrealism, Realism) and mediums (drawing, painting, sculpture) keeps the work edgy and multi-dimensional. In reality, sometimes a cigar may be just a cigar, but in Devine's work a beautiful woman is never just a beautiful woman.

The following two pieces are typical of the new series. In the first one, the title and the nude figure in fanciful galoshes are nice bait, but the the refinery looming in the background should serve as a warning. As a whole the painting feels like an apocalyptic one-night stand. Those galoshes will light you up. (I'm not sure if the boots fuel the refinery/powerplant or it fuels the boots.) Regardless, everything is connected and if you know nothing else about this painting, you know that only one person is gonna walk away from the proposed tryst. Guess who?
Kelly Devine, This is it.  (for a good time call 832.XXX.XXX9)
Got family? Then you've probably got family issues. The staging of  The Contributors with the family standing both behind and over her is simple symbolism but dramatically effective. Even though it's a picture, it's not hard to imagine the figure performing, all top-hat and tail, for her looming audience. I'm not exactly sure what they contribute to the performance but something tells me it's neither encouragement nor support.

Kelly Devine, The Contributors

I come from the camp that believes that not all publicity is good publicity and not all nudity is good (or at least erotic\titillating) nudity. The protagonist in this new series is nude, but she wears her skin like armor. Though the works resemble pretty little pictures or cute collages, they're anything but. They're polished and sharp. Based on the series and individual works' titles, they are half of a dialog, part of a reproof. Admire them in the same way you would a neon-pink glock: delight at the cute colors, appreciate the craft-womanship, but respect its compact power. It can do some damage.

If you missed the opening, War'Hous is having a closing reception for this show on April 28th from 7 to 9 pm.



  1. Correction on the date of the closing. It is the 28th 7-9pm.

  2. Thanks. I have corrected it in the text.