Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Femininity: Many Reflections (Salli Babbitt)
LIT. FIG. (L. Brandon Krall)
Deborah Colton Gallery
through June 30

Deborah Colton’s austere third-floor gallery vibrates with energy this month as two artists take on femininity and language with a highly subjective eye. As more art businesses open in the warehouse on Summer Street, Colton has become the axis of a growing center next to David Addicks’ foundry. The two artists featured here demonstrate in turn a commitment to Houston’s talent, and projecting influence on the community with international artists relevant to our local trajectory.

Salli Babbitt has focused her sculpture on the flashpoint image of the Barbie doll for years, literalizing an American bipolar relationship with the action figure that has lasted through three generations. Her mutilations, humiliations and disfigurement don’t quite take the extra step of being gory, softening her critique of the forlorn idol. In rows across a canvas or wrapped around a cone in an ad-hoc altar Barbie’s are alternately red, gray or glittery, gold and other colors creep onto other paintings as well. Wall sconces are a favorite of the artist; The Three Graces, Pompeian Orgy and others occupy the well-lit gallery overlooking David Addicks’ gigantic Beatles statues in the parking lot next door. Too awkward to be Pop, too minimal to be teenage angst, Babbitt charts her own awkward course working with molded plastic females. Babbitt has also included disjointed abstract paintings, some with scrawled handwritten letters scratched into wet paint. Owing much to her charitable work with Multiple Sclerosis patients and physically disadvantaged persons, these works are a labor of love for the artist but take away from the show overall.

Half of an all-out assault on Houston by New Yorker L. Brandon Krall, LIT. FIG. dovetails with QUA, concurrently at G Gallery on 11th Street in the Heights. Krall has been in town working with Deborah Colton many times, including the significant exhibit WORD last September. Her solo work this time around also demonstrates the artist’s interest in the enigmas of wordplay. Opening with a series of short videos from several dinner parties Krall threw in her apartment, artists act out popular idioms with everyday items; walking on eggshells, writing “IT” on someone’s face and wearing too many hats. These videos are part of an ongoing series improvised in many locations. The straightforward camerawork makes for a screen test atmosphere- like Warhol’s but a bit more fun for the audience. Among others, sculptor William Stone, literary critic Fillipo LaPorta and Valeria D’Andrea sit in front of a fixed spot while a party goes on all around them. Mostly known by the din on the soundtrack or a figure darting in and out, the relaxed atmosphere transferred well to the video, and the context for the rest of the exhibit is laid. After a short physical demonstration the riddle is spelled out on the screen; “starting with a blank slate”; “poring over a book”. Props are displayed around the room, absurd collections and juxtapositions. As part of the collection GLYPT, from the Greek for ‘carve’, a glass vitrine contains metal readymades engraved in a delicate script with the artist’s figurative literalities in Latin and English. Working with The Art Guys, Jack and Mike, Krall ambitiously constructed a large wheel to take for a hike- an old wagon wheel pivoting on two Live Oak branches. The version here, Wheel for Walking in Texas, is the sixth in a series. The artist has made and used several of these contraptions to occupy herself on walks through the city; a smaller one is included in QUA, where the wheel’s relation to the I-Ching is more pronounced. As distinct halves of an artist’s output the two exhibits are coherent alone, but they are more illustrative of a creative process when taken together.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Red Velvet

an excerpt from a draft for the catalogue of RED VELVET: Making a case for domestic tranquility.

The first and last portions are from the essay, but the central parts about Bill, Kelly and Donna are from the original draft- longer and a little disjointed but I really wanted to compare Davenport to a Lord of the Rings character and put it out somewhere. It seemed too good!

Opening Friday June 23, 6 - 8pm and on view June 24 through August 18, 2007 at Vine Street Studios.

Featuring Matthew Bourbon, Thedra Culler-Ledford, Bill Davenport, John Hartley, Donna Huanca, Kelly Klaasmeyer, Nancy Lamb, Nancy O'Connor, Whitney Riley, Tim Stokes, Anderson Wrangle and organized and curated by the kids at Rudolph Projects Artscan Gallery.

The blood red of a velvet cloth is an accomplice to arousal, never an inert companion to one waiting, watching or wanting. Red Velvet embodies a reevaluation of tranquility from a notoriously fleeting state into an internal harmony in the face of superficial strife. We are not afraid of sex and violence, loneliness and fear. Our most familiar and universal environment- the home- brings a vibrant reality to these paintings and installations while maintaining a façade of populism, and comfortable with it. Fragmented everyday references are expressed through images and materials; the inverse of Blue Velvet, which sought to insert a new, horrific image into the world of the white picket fence. The 1986 film by David Lynch takes the cleanliness of the American dream as nothing but a cover for violence and vulgar eroticism. He breaks down his characters, emotionally and physically beaten into submission. No one here desires to lay themselves naked; they are in complete control of their opportunities as artists.


Feeling the disparity of post-modernism’s flaws deeply, several artists in Red Velvet attack the tradition of materials and images at once, simulating the real world and the art world. Houston’s Tom Bombadil, Bill Davenport has focused his conceptual work of late upon fake stone and wood. In installations referencing the Disneyfication of our environment Davenport constructs interior spaces out of foamcore, these contrived walls, supports and structures juxtaposing the cleanliness of the white gallery with a clean imitation of dirty, gritty, authentic reality. As J.R.R. Tolkien said of his characterization of Tom, “if you have… renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the questions of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless…” The same lightness of being resides in Davenport’s sporting take on life and art.

A new mother and artist and writer to boot, Kelly Klaasmeyer’s proximity to the materiel of childcare has intensely altered her view on the world. She presents Huggies and Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, hand painted oversized cardboard boxes of consumer products. Klaasmeyer dryly twists humor out of these amusing titled and images; the transformative process of rearing a child compliments the artist’s Pop sensibilities with easy targets for manipulation. [...] Klaasmeyer dryly invokes a surreal twist on the overwhelming accoutrements of modern life, referencing both famous hand-painted Brillo boxes and feminist documentation of a woman’s trials and tribulations.

Working with felt, fabric and found objects, Donna Huanca can hardly step back from her collage murals without stepping back from her own life; she balances her creations between family portraits and characters of her own imagination. Her scenes of familial bliss are so jarring to the viewer these fractured figures are nearly abstract, save for detailed and recognizable faces. Their personal meanings cohabitate with her father’s role in the Bolivian military pursuing Che Guevara through the Andes and Huanca’s identification with the heroic struggle between the two contextualized in the epic search for meaning in the 20 century. These narratives and the scraps of culture that become live materials in her hands are proper fuel for her rash, bursting compositions.


The case for domestic tranquility’s existence is a precarious one, as these and many other artists demonstrate, perhaps the solution is in the admittance of discord into the expected solution. The artists exhibiting here at Vine Street are aware of their distance from reality; they find worth in their materials and images regardless of their purity in morality and tradition. Reversing a comment about Blue Velvet, perhaps here in Red Velvet we have a pragmatic reconciliation; harmony without quiet, serenity sans silence. “This is not American darkness; --- this is lightness without a happy ending.”