"Mokha Laget: Chromatic Constructs" Provides Delightful Moments

Categories: Visual Arts

Photo by Adrienne Meyers
Ponte Vecchio by Mokha Laget
My first praise for Mokha Laget is to compliment her on breaking free of what I term
"the tyranny of the rectangle", a straightjacket which many artists seem condemned to wear. Her shapes are her own, and they are refreshingly different.

Laget's work has elements of architecture - while the paintings are two-dimensional, the images portray boxes, pathways, edifices that entice one to enter to explore their interiors - would that you could - and combinations that suggest mazes.

Laget uses vivid, striking colors, including an effective use of black, which seem to jostle each other - perhaps fighting for territory? The contrasts delight and the combinations entertain. Laget uses clay-based pigments on canvas, with the central theme of her work that each color field is an entity to itself - there is no blending, no softening, no blurring, just a color seeking - no, demanding! - its place in the sun.

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"Unfolding: Lucrecia Waggoner" Where Open Spaces Are as Important as the Art Elements

Categories: Visual Arts

Photo courtesy of the gallery
Unfolding by Lucrecia Waggoner at Laura Rathe Fine Art
The open spaces in some of Lucrecia Waggoner's art are as important as the art elements themselves. Two major works in this elegant and graceful exhibition are comprised of numerous, very numerous, individual ceramic plate-like "vessels", so how they are arranged is paramount.

290 in the Spring has 98 vessels arrayed in an elongated shape, lower on the left, higher on the right, to give the impression of soaring upward. The spaces between the vessels are sufficiently large to create an open, airy feeling, without breaking the sense of a unified whole.

The totality is beautiful, and each individual plate is beautiful in itself. The plates are deep blue, glazed porcelain, with palladium-leaf centers, and vary in size, though none is large enough to dominate. The entire effect is eminently successful.

Unfolding has 112 vessels, white ceramic, with small gold-leaf centers. The shape is asymmetrical, elongated, like an Olympian god's beginning sketch of a dinosaur. The space between the plates is used wisely, and the complex structure here also retains an airy, open feeling.

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"Pepe Mar: Parco dei Mostri (Park of Monsters)" -- a Trip Down Memory Lane

Categories: Visual Arts

Photo courtesy of the artist, David Castillo Gallery and DiverseWorks; Photo by Lynn Lane
A framed shirt by Versace worn by the artist Pepe Mar

The Miami-based artist Pepe Mar has created a highly personal exhibition, one that I had to visit a second time to grasp. I haven't written "fully understand" as that still remains beyond me.

This is a personal show, a trip down memory lane for the artist. It has three elements: a large richly textured window box collage, a wall-size bookcase filled with objects which fascinate Mar, some of which he made, and some of which are found art, and, surprisingly, four framed shirts which Mar has worn, three by Versace.

The title of the exhibition refers to the "Park of Monsters", a 16th century outdoor sculpture "garden" in Bomarzo in northern Italy, composed of many larger than life-size sculptures, some of wood, some of bedrock, including one of Hannibal's elephants mangling a Roman soldier, and a giant who brutally shreds a character. The sculptures are scattered about the mountainside "Garden," apparently at random.

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"Kelley Devine: Unwhole" Offers an Intriguing Look at Body Parts

Categories: Visual Arts

Courtesy of the artist
Connected and Disengaged Mixed media body cast with wires and books

In entering the Nicole Longnecker Gallery for this exhibition -- "Kelley Devine: Unwhole" -- a viewer is exposed to a panoply of cyborgs, part human, part machine. That the human element here is a body fragment , not a complete body, perhaps makes it all the more ominous.

And yet enticing, for these sculptures have their own grace, their own elegance. Many of the machine parts are simply bicycle chains, but they take on a power of their own -perhaps the Tour de France should sponsor Devine, for the links here portray not speed but power, and the gripping uncertainty of the unknown.

There are so many sculptures that one is overwhelmed, and might wish for less, but I couldn't find any that I wouldn't miss - well, perhaps one, a collaboration involving a heart that seemed too literal, and out-of-character for Devine.

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"45 Days: Explore the Arts in Houston" Initiative About Halfway Through Its Run

Photo courtesy of Houston Arts Alliance
Houston Cinema Arts Festival
More than two weeks into this year's "45 Days:Explore the Arts in Houston" initiative, Jonathon Glus, president and CEO of the Houston Arts Alliance, says the campaign "to drive cultural tourism and to drive people who already partial to the arts to do something new " is working well.

"The response has been great. More than 50 organizations are participating.," Glus says. They've been encouraging an Instagram program through social media, asking people to send in their photos of themselves having fun at arts events.

The program's efforts seem to be working, Glus says and the crossover factor -- where someone interested in one type of arts attends others -- is especially high in Houston. And he and his office later provided statistics to back that up:

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"Texas Before the Boom": Texas Art Before the Turn of the Century and Before Clichés Set In

Categories: Visual Arts

Courtesy of the Pearl Fincher Art Musuem
A photo of the artist's wife by Louis Grenet.
The exhibition "Texas Before the Boom, 1850-1900: Selections from the Bobbie and John L. Nau Collection," currently on view at the Pearl Fincher Art Museum in Spring, consists of 40 or so paintings and drawings made in Texas or by Texans, mostly before 1900. Since most people, when they think of Texas art -- especially the old stuff -- probably think first of bluebonnets, cowboys and longhorn cattle, this show might just as aptly be titled Texas Art Before the Clichés. There's not a single blue-bonnet or cowboy, and only one longhorn, in the show.

To be fair, there's nothing inherently wrong with any of those subjects, all of which came along big time for Texas artists after the turn of the 20th century. Even bluebonnet paintings can be good -- it's all in the execution, and those illusive qualities that transform a painting into art. But the works in this show are especially intriguing in part because the subjects are so different from those conventional ideas of what makes a work "Texas art."

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"Earl Staley: Reconstructions" Mixes Greco-Roman Myths With More Modern Techniques

Categories: Visual Arts

Photo courtesy of the artist and Jung Center
Earl Staley's Awakening portrays the growth in nature
The first thing a person notices in entering the Jung Center gallery rooms is that there is a strangeness to the paintings. Not strange in the sense of inappropriate, but strange in the sense that they are highly unusual and distinctive. The explanation lies in the duality of the art.

The artist Earl Staley, who did a series of paintings of Greco-Roman mythology 30 years ago, has now cut each of these works into strips of canvas, repainted over them with brush strokes and dots, and reattached the strips to a new canvas. The result is a double image resonating of both the past and the present.

In some paintings, the original image has almost entirely disappeared; in others it is still dominant. It is most visible in Polyphemus and Galatea, portraying the Cyclops Polyphemus forcing his attentions on the nymph Galatea. The overpainting seems to screen the sensuality, but curiously, it actually heightens it.

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Literary Inspirations: The Art of Carl Köhler

Categories: Visual Arts

Photo courtesy of Henry Köhler
Portrait of the playwright Antonin Artaud
Carl Köhler (1919- 2006) was a portrait painter who never met his subjects, at least in person, though he came to know them intimately through reading their books if they were writers, or learning about their lives, if they were politicians or celebrities. Köhler varied his artistic style to match the subject - for example, the portrait of the French poet, playwright and critic Guillaume Apollinaire was superimposed upon a newspaper.

While Köhler usually drew heads only, for Antonin Artaud, playwright, theater director and author of The Theatre of Cruelty, Köhler included his torso and hands as well . . . perhaps to permit applause?

There is an intellectual and emotional power in these portraits that is compelling. Köhler's subjects tended to be intellectuals, iconoclasts who challenged the rules of conventionality, and often lived outside these rules. For authors such as Henry Miller, Günter Grass and Franz Kafka, Köhler used woodcuts where the heavy dark ink suggested a seriousness of purpose.

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The Left Bank on the Bayou: Avant-garde Art & Theater in 1930s Houston

Categories: Visual Arts

Photo courtesy of O'Kane Gallery
Nione Carlson's untitled portrait is believed to be of Edith Sitwell
Houston became the largest city in Texas in population in 1939, ending the decade with 400,000 residents, before World War II caused a further rapid expansion. Major events in that decade were the University of Houston becoming a four-year institution in 1934, and later moving to its present location. Braniff Airways and Eastern Air Lines came in 1935 and 1936.

Underneath the growth was a burgeoning art scene, fueled by Margo Jones, dynamic producer and director who founded and directed the Houston Community Players in 1936, and almost single-handedly began the decentralization of American theater. The opening of The Little Gallery on Branard Street provided local artists with an opportunity to exhibit their works, including some that were (gasp!) abstract.

And now that era can be re-visited, thanks to a fascinating exhibition at the O'Kane Gallery curated with wisdom and enthusiasm by its director Mark Cervenka. One of the most striking works is a portrait by Nione Carlson, believed to be of the poetess Edith Sitwell, almost certainly a correct attribution when compared to other portraits of her. We see instantly the power of a commanding personality, and also sense the theatrical self-presentation for which the 6-foot Sitwell was famed, in addition to her luminous poetry. I heard Sitwell speak at Yale University in the early '50s, where she caused a tempest in a teapot by receiving the post-lecture accolades from Yale's distinguished academics while she remained seated and condescending.

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Just Ink 4 Had Something for Everyone, and They Could Buy It Right Off the Wall

Categories: Visual Arts

Photos by Robin Baker
Some of the work of Julie Zarate.
Talk about an art sale: Robin Baker curates an annual event in which artists hang their art, sometimes as many as 60 pieces per artist, and the exhibition lasts just one night! The East End Gallery, managed by Liz Ortiz, hosted this event, "Just Ink 4", on Friday, August 22, and 39 artists participated.

The art is hugely varied, and often amazingly good; there is something here for all artistic tastes. And it was a pleasure to see some of the 300 patrons - yes, 300! - who attended walk out with art under their arms; when sold, it comes off the wall.

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