Monday, September 20, 2021

The Houston Fall Art Season, part II

 Robert Boyd

In my first installment, I visited four exhibitions. In this one I shall discuss seven! This was Saturday, September 11--an auspicious anniversary. 20 years ago, 2977 people died of a terrorist attack. Now we get 1400 or so dying every day of a mostly preventable disease. And it is this disease that kept most of us collectively from going out to see art for a year and a half. But now that many of us are vaccinated and masked in public, we can venture some public art viewing. On September 11, I first went to the UH Downtown faculty art exhibit, at the O'Kane Art Gallery on campus. I've seen dozens of great exhibits here over the years, but it has a low profile amongst Houston art spaces.

 
Floyd Newsum, Row Houses in Red, 2018, gouache on paper

It takes a second to see the row houses in Floyd Newsum's gouache drawing, Row Houses in Red.

 Patricia Hernandez, Pink Edge, 2021, acrylic and oil on clay board

 Patricia Hernandez got one of the worst reviews I ever wrote on this blog, back in 2011. But I love these paintings. Slashing and disturbing, with their toothy, partially open mouths.

Patricia Hernandez and I both studied art and art history at Rice, and she subsequently founded Studio One Archive Resource, devoted to preserving local art history, which is of great interest to me. Alas, Studio One Archive Resource is now defunct.

Patricia Hernandez, Untitled #3, 2021, Acrylic and oil on clay board

 
Mark Cervenka, Past Grievances Recede Before Immeasurable Distance, 2020, oil on canvas

I don't really know Mark Cervenka or his art, but he is the director of the O'Kane Gallery at UHD. I liked this picture because of the silent watcher standing in the ruins of a recently destroyed city. It reminded me of images of Stalingrad, but, alas, there are so many destroyed cities that Cervenka could
have used as a model. (I wonder if he is related to Exene Cervenka.) 

 
Mason Rankin, The Mint Open, 2021, found objects, automotive

Mason Rankin is another artist about whom I know nothing, but looking at his work online, this crushed car is very atypical. His website shows him to be a photographer and teacher of photography. But let artists work outside their comfort zones!. I am curious--did he crush the car himself (like John Chamberlain might have done), or did he find it this way?

 
Beth Secor, Exoduster, Kansas, (sometime in the 1870s), 2008, embroidery on textile

Last of all, let's look at one of the pieces Beth Secor exhibited in the show. It's an old piece from 2008, which struck me as a little odd. But one can see her new work now at a solo exhibit at Inman Gallery.

After UH Downtown, I went to a place that is in my neighborhood that I had never visited before (although I've walked by it many times). The African American Library at the Gregory School is part of the Houston Public Library System. What specifically interested me was a small exhibit they were having of artwork from the John L. Nau III Collection of Texas Art. One interesting thing they did here was to show self-taught artists alongside more academically trained artists. In other words, the insiders and the outsiders shared wall space for once. This seems especially necessary when showing the work of African-American artists since for so long, many of the greatest African-American artists were denied the training their white peers got. They weren't outsiders by choice.

Kermit Oliver, Sunday Morning, n.d., acrylic on board

Sunday Morning is one of two beautiful Kermit Oliver paintings in the show. 

 
John Biggers, Upper Room, 1984, lithograph

And there are several choice John Biggers pieces. A few more recent pieces are part of the collection, as well.

 
Bert Long, Chalice, 1975, lithograph

 

James Bettison, Domestic Bliss, 1988, lithograph

But as I mentioned earlier, what makes this exhibit really special is the inclusion of so-called "outsider" artists as the equals of the trained artists.

Rev. Johnnie Swearingen, Cotton Picking, 1976, oil on masonite

The Reverend Johnnie Swearingen was born in Brehnam. Texas, in 1908 and became interested in painting around 1950. The way these things work is that after some time working totally outside the knowledge of the "art world", and artist like Swearingen gets discovered. These discovery stories are often quite fascinating, but what they suggest is that many Johnnie Swearingens of the world never got discovered and their work remains unknown.

Frank Albert Jones, Grandpa's Devil House, 1952, colored pencil on paper

Frank Albert Jones was a prisoner in the Texas State Prison system. He saw ghost, devils and "haints" that he drew as confined in devil houses. I wonder if that reflected the circumstance he found himself in, where criminals were confined in their cells. Here is a detail from the drawing above:

Frank Albert Jones, Grandpa's Devil House detail, 1952, colored pencil on paper

Next I went over to the galleries on Colquitt, which seem to be slowly disappearing. Soon the beautiful Achitectonica building that has long housed art galleries will be the home of nothing but fancy marble floor-covering stores (which would be a case of replacing one type of high-end bourgeois retail establish with another, I guess.) First I went to Heidi Vaughan Fine Art for a solo show by Patrick McGrath Muniz. No one can deny his skill as a painter, but I was unmoved by them.

Patrick McGrath Muniz, Diasporamus, 2018, oil on canvas

Diasporamus, painted soon after Hurricane Harvey, may stir a few terrifying memories for Houstonians. 

Across the alleyway from Heidi Vaughn Fine Art is Gray Contemporary, which was showing two exhibits; a solo exhibit by Matthew Woodward and a small group exhibit in the back gallery. Matthew Woodward's work was some of my favorite that I saw this weekend.

 
Matthew Woodward, Edgecomb Boulevard, 2018, pencil, paint on paper

His work has a kind of simple idea. Find some attractive, old-fashioned architectural detail and draw it very large on paper. But because he'd drawing it white on slashing black-painted underpainting, on rough brown paper that is often torn, it makes the idea of a ruin stand out. As artworks, they remind me a little of English "Follies", gardens from the 17th and 18th century that were designed to look like ruins. I can't say exactly what I liked so much about these, but I was moved by them.

 
 Jen Rose, Tiny Monster Under Your Bed, 2021, porcelain and nylon cord

 
Monique Lacey, Hyperbole Unus, 2021, bronze

The back gallery at Gray was filled with tiny sculptures, each one a only a few inches in any dimension. It was a nice little collection. 

A quick stroll down the street and I was at Moody Gallery, where one of their best known artists James Drake was exhibiting a huge drawing (along with a lot of preparatory drawings).


James Drake, Can We Know the Sound of Forgiveness, 2021, charcoal on paper mounted on canvas

I've greatly enjoyed James Drake's artwork for years, but this one doesn't really move me.

In the back room, they had a small group show up. 

Terry Allen, Rage, 1995, etching, aquatint, collage

Melissa Miller, Forest Fire, 2019, oil on canvas

I couldn't photograph either of these pictures head on because gallerist Betty Moody was in the middle of the room on a ladder adjusting the track lighting.

I next went to Hooks-Epstein Gallery. One of the biggest changes of the COVID times was the death of Geri Hooks. She cofounded the gallery in 1969, making it one of the longest lived galleries in Houston. (Texas Gallery and Moody Gallery are both up there in longevity, but I don't know which of the three is the oldest)> Hooks died in June, and I have been wondering what the future holds for the gallery. I don't know who owns it now. But it is still in business. 

The currently have a small group show up. A bunch of old favorites of mine have their work on display.

 
Mark Greenwalt, I Spot Eye Spot, 2021, graphite, acrylic on panel

Mark Greenwalt was the subject of a post in the first year of The Great God Pan Is Dead, just over 12 years ago.


Mayuko Ono Gray, Pulsating Still Life--Composition in Green, 2021, graphite on paper

I appreciate the irony of naming a graphite drawing "Composition in Green." It was also intersting to see a Mayuko Ono Gray piece without Japanese characters woven into the composition. Here she goes for a Dutch still-life with bubbles added.

Clara Hoag, Sailor, 2021, ceramic

Clara Hoag was in the gallery that day. I asked her about the black coloring on the feet, whether it was a glaze applied before firing or paint applied afterwards. The answer was neither. The piece was apparently fired more than once and the pigment around the toes was applied between firings. (All of which is to say that I am ignorant of the techniques of ceramics.)

 
Ann Johnson, Buck, 2021, transfer print, embossing, found objects

I've always loved Ann Johnson's practice of printing photographic images on surfaces that normall aren't used to print photographs.

From there, I went over to McClain Gallery where Shane Tolbert was having an opening. I haven't seen Tolbert in years, because he moved away. He currently lives in New Mexico. But he was in Houston for his opening.

 
Shane Tolbert discussing his work, standing in front of Blood Harmony, 2021, acrylic on canvas

My memory of Tolbert's work when he was still in Houston was that is was much more pale than the work on display at McClain. This show was full of bold, brightly colored work.

Shane Tolbert, Rope Thrower, 2021, acrylic on canvas

 
Shane Tolbert, Electric Netting, 2021, acrylic on canvas

It was great to talk to Tolbert, and I was happy to see, for the second time that weekend, Tudor Mitroi.

 
Tudor Mitroi (left) and Shane Tolbert (right)

My last stop of the day was the concrete cube at 4411 Montrose, which houses several galleries. Two of the galleries there have been there as long as I have been writing about at in Houston. One location, David Shelton, has been there for a few years, and the other two locations are like cursed restaurant locations. No gallery seems to last long in them. One of these is currently vacant, the other is the location of Foto Relevance. Foto Relevance is a bizarre name for a gallery--the word "relevance" seems particularly out-of-place, all the moreso for the surreal exhibition on display now. 

Pelle Cass, Volleyball at Northwestern University, Close, 2018, inkjet print on heavy matte rag paper

Pelle Cass sets up his camera over a playing field of one kind or another, takes 100s of fotos, then layers the figures and balls over one another using Photoshop. 

Pelle Cass, Dartmouth Softball, 2019, inkjet print on heavy matte rag paper

Next was Anna Mavromatis at Barbara Davis Gallery. I don't know Mavromatis, even though she is based in Houston, as far as I can determine. For this show, she made monoprints of dresses or even made dresses themselves that were hung from the ceiling.



Anna Mavromatis, Daybreak, 2021, old dictionary pages folded and stitched to form the bodice of a young girl's dress, cyanotypes on coffee filters

The blue and grey come from the means of making this object. The images have to do with the early 20th century struggle to gain the right to vote for women.

Benjamin Edmiston had a solo exhibit at David Shelton Gallery. 


Benjamin Edmiston, Sundown, 2021, oil, flashe and wax on linen

What I liked about Benjamin Edmiston's paintings of crooked groups of parallel lines was the way they reminded me of badly stacked books--because that is the environment I live in. These would be good paintings for book-lovers. The paintings are completely abstract, but we humans like to find patterns in randomness. It's why we see images when we look at clouds.

The last gallery I'll mention is Anya Tish, and the show she had was perhaps my favorite of the weekend. It was an exhibit of new pieces by Gabriel Martinez.



Gabriel Martinez, Untitled, 2019, found fabric

As you can see, this is a piece made of fabric scraps assembled and quilted. I have to confess that I own one of Martinez's quilted fabric pieces--the most recent piece of art that I've acquired. Back in January, he sent out an email that he was raffling off a piece of art to raise money for the Houston Food Bank. I decided to take a chance and bought my $50 raffle ticket. And I won! It's a small piece, hanging on my wall right now. And it was nice to see the body of work that this small piece was a part of.


Gabriel Martinez, Channel, 2021, found fabric

This was the second rug-like piece I saw that weekend (the other being Snake by Matt Messinger). If I had either one of them, I would never walk on them.





















 

 

Gabriel Martinez, Untitled, 2019, found fabric

Martinez was at the opening and we were able to have a good discussion about this body of work. When they are described at "found fabric", that is a literal description of Martinez' process. All the pieces of cloth he used were from pieces of clothing he found discarded on the street. It's weird, but if you walk around inside the city, you are almost certain to find a variety of discarded clothes. And every piece has a story that you will never know. Martinez would pick them up, bring them home, and launder them. Then he cuts them up into scraps and produces these quilts.

We talked at first about assemblage art: Robert Rauschenberg, Wallace Berman, and George Herms. Martinez had been at a residency with Herms and the two bonded. Herms is 86 years old now, and his assemblage work was produced using detritus. So Martinez is a contemporary exemplar of assemblage. But Martinez made a point to emphasize the quilting part of the work. He told me that there is a tradition of quilting in his family. Martinez is not just continuing a hundred year old artistic tradition, he is also continuing a family craft tradition. 

I found these works beautiful and moving. I like them because of how they look, but also because they have a good story.

That was my Fall 2021 art season weekend.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Book Report: I Shock Myself by Beatrice Wood

 Robert Boyd


Today I report on I Shock Myself, a memoir by American ceramicist Beatrice Wood. I'm primarily interested in her for her early friendship with Marcel Duchamp and other early dadaists who made their way to New York during the World War I.

The Houston Fall Art Season, part 1

 Robert Boyd

The world of art galleries is divided into seasons. I don’t say “the art world” because I consider the gallery world to be a small subset of the art world. But traditionally, we have a fall season that starts just after Labor Day and a spring season that starts just after New Year. Summer is traditionally a dead season. (The bookselling world is divided the same way, as are school years.) I think this comes out of the New York City art gallery world, although I may be wrong. The idea was that everyone was on vacation during the summer, so it made no sense to open your big shows after Labor Day. Why this should be as true in Houston as it is in New York, I don’t know. But for a long time, we got “fall collections” of warm clothes utterly inappropriate for the volcanic heat of Houston—we take our cues from New York, whether it makes sense to do so or not.

I started my personal fall art season by visiting Foltz Fine Art, the Menil Museum, the Art League, and ARC House on Friday. Let’s go through them one by one. There will be a lot of photos in this post and not much criticism. First, let’s look at the large group show at Foltz, The Show is called Texas Emerging: Volume II and featured a lot of work by six artists: Erika Alonso, Dylan Conner, Laura Garwood, Peter Healy, Matt Messinger, and Meribeth Privett. Of these six artists, I was only really familiar with Conner and Messinger, both of whom I have pieces by in my personal collection.

Connor’s work is sculptural, made with salvaged metal and creamy white polymer gypsum. The salvaged metal often has a patina or layer of rust.

I know from experience that the works are quite heavy, but what I like about them is their elegance and almost biological.

Dylan Conner, Wasteland Coral, 2019, steel from pipe with natural patina, polymer gypsum, reclaimed foundry equipment with refractory residue, partially charred hardwood timbers from pallet, and steel hardware

These pieces are like pieces of random metal with abstract polyps growing out of them. And I was astonished to see them in Foltz Fine Art, since I have always thought of it as a gallery that specializes in midcentury Texas artists (like Richard Stout and Stella Sullivan, whose retrospective show I reviewed in Glasstire in 2018) and landscape art. But looking at their recent exhibits, I see that more and more of the shows have featured contemporary artists. I hope that they don’t lose their focus on early Texas modernists because they are the only commercial gallery that makes an effort to remember our regional art history. But I approve of them showing younger artists.

I missed Texas Emerging: Volume I, which going by what is on the Foltz website must have been fantastic and perhaps even more daring than this iteration of the show. Most of the artists this time around are painters (Conner being the major exception, though several of the artists have at least some three-dimensional works). I have nothing against painters, of course, and I don’t expect Foltz to start showing installation art or video art anytime soon.

One of the artists I had never heard of was Meribeth Privett, who does these large, gestural abstractions. I’m always a little surprised when I see an artist in 2021 doing abstract expressionist painting, a style that reached its zenith 60 odd years ago. But while we are mostly well and truly over post-modernism, one thing that it gifted us was to tell is that the entire history of art was ours for the plundering. If what you want to express is best expressed with a more-or-less defunct art style, go for it!

I know nothing about Privett, so I went to her website. In addition to painting, she offers up her services as a “creativity coach”. OK, I’m not exactly sure what that is. Which probably means I could use some creativity coaching.

Laura Garwood, left: Untitled (burgundy, red yellow, white), 2019, right: Untitled (Dark purple, Yellow, Pink Stripes), 2018, both are oil and acrylic on canvas

Barnett Newman called and wants his sublimity back. Laura Garwood is another artist I’ve never heard of. I used to have at least an inkling of pretty much every artist in Houston, but as time (and isolation) goes on, I know fewer and fewer of them. One great thing about going to all these openings was that I got a chance to reconnect with a bunch of them.

Peter Healy is another artist I don’t know personally, but I think I’ve seen his work around. As far as I can tell from various crumbs online that I’ve found, he is based in Houston but is from Northern Ireland. All of his pieces in this show were fun and attractive. Assemblage #1 is made of “found wood”, but despite that, it looks quite slick and polished compared to other assemblage artists (I’m thinking of Wallace Berman, George Herms or, here in Houston, Patrick Renner). I prefer my assemblage to feel a little more rough-hewn, a little more “street”, but Healy’s assemblages are attractive.

Healy is also a painter, producing jaunty abstractions.

These have the feel of midcentury illustration in a way.

Community #2 is like a model sheet for little abstract figures for an animation.

Having seen the model sheet, I want to see the story that they star in.

This piece made with found wood has that rough hewn quality that I like.

Matt Messinger is an artist I know personally. From where I sit, I can look at a painting/collage that he made. I remember first seeing his work at the 2011 Big Show at Lawndale. He has been around in the Houston art scene but has never gotten the recognition that I think he deserves. For this exhibit, Foltz Fine Art gave him his own room within the gallery.

Messnger uses all the space in this little room to show his art. Imagine having the Serpent Rug on the floor of your home. Would you ever walk on it?

The first work I saw by Messinger seemed to reference quite old pop culture (the piece I own is a silhouette of a Fleischer Brothers’ Popeye, a cartoon series that was produced in the 1930s). But nowadays, Messinger seems to produce mostly animals and mythological beasts, in a way that suggests totemic use.

OK, I suspect that Theodore is not a totemic spirit animal. I’m guessing he is just a house cat. \

In addition to these works on paper and paintings, Messinger also produces three-dimensional work, often assemblage based.

After I visited Foltz Fine Art, I went over to the Menil Museum to check out Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s. Niki de Saint Phalle was one of the artists in Nouveau réalisme movement in France that started in 1960 which included such artists as Yves Klein, Arman, César, Mimmo Rotella, and Christo. It is often seen as the French version of Pop Art, though with Yves Klein and Christo, it doesn’t feel all that Pop. And really, the work by Niki de Saint Phalle in this show seems, at best, tangentially related to Pop.

One thing that was in the air at the time all over the Western World was assemblage. I was reminded of Robert Rauschenberg looking at Tu est moi.

One series of works she did in the early 60s were called Tirs. “Tir” is French for “shot”. Saint Phalle would build plaster constructions with bags of paint on them then shoot them with a rifle wo let the paint run down over the painting. She often invited other artists to participate in the shooting part. In this example, she takes one of the most famous images that Jasper Johns painted repeatedly, the target, and used it as an actual target. She made four bullseyes as well as a large number of bad shots. The lightbulb and can with paintbrushes directly refer to specific works by Johns. It seems perfect that Saint Phalle took Johns idea of a target for its intended purpose. Johns took something that had no aesthetic value—a target—and turned it into art. Saint Phalle returns it to the world by shooting it.

Lili ou Tony is an examples of Saint Phalle’s series of giant, colorful female figures called “Nanas.” She started doing Nanas in the mid 1960s. Perhaps the most famous Nana was Hon, created in 1966 in the Moderna Museet de Stockholm. Here the Nana was gigantic, on her back, with her legs spread, and an entrance at Hon’s vagina that visitors could enter. I’m curious to know what was inside Hon. Unfortunately, they did not attempt to reproduce Hon for this exhibit.

Vicki Meek is the 2021 Texas Artist of the Year at the Art League Houston. Every year they pick an artist (or a collective, as when Havel & Ruck were honored in 2009) for the honor. I don’t know all that much about Meeks. I saw an exhibit she curated at Project Row Houses a few years ago, Life Path 5: Action/Restlessness, back in 2009.  But “curated” is the wrong word. Meek collaborated with all the artists on their installations. But aside from that one exhibit, I haven’t seen much of her installation-based artwork. One cool thing about the Texas Artist of the Year exhibits is that the Art League publishes a small monograph about the selected artist. So now I have a book about Meek to catch up on her work. For the exhibit, there are several large works, some of which are wall art but closer to installation in their polyvalence. For instance, Elizabeth Catlett Political Prints & Sculptures Reimagined features not only a central image of a stretched out American flag, it features also African sculptures on two small shelves on either side of the flag, with reimagined political posters above and below the flag.

And what makes it even more installation-like is that it faces an almost identical piece on the opposite wall. Identical in format, but the surrounding political prints are different.

There are more large installations in the front gallery.

This is a recreation of an older piece. Standing in the background are artists Jake Margolin (left) and Nick Vaughan (right), who were out with their extremely energetic baby. One of the reasons I like these openings is that I get to catch up with old friends. The last time I saw either of these two artists was before COVID, before they had a son to drag along to exhibits.

From the Art League, I drove over to ARC House for a small Catherine Colangelo show. ARC House is a private house built on stilts after Harvey to be relatively flood resistant. They have been hosting art exhibits for several years now.

This exhibit showed mainly older works by Colangelo. A week later, a show of her new work opened at Front Gallery.

And as with many of the exhibits, I got to speak with artists I hadn’t seen in over a year. I saw Catherine Colangelo, of course, but also Tudor Mitroi, who has had an exhibit at ARC House early in 2020, before COVID shut everything down.

Those were the exhibits I visited on Friday, September 10. In Part 2, I look at what was happening on Saturday.