The Houston Chronicle
July 15, 2000
by Patricia C. Johnson
Many of this year’s ArtHouston offerings are disheartening eye candy. From the joopy, highly stylized paintings on paper by Nina Boyasso at Inman Gallery to Karen Beall’s delectable but meaningless jellyfish at Moody Gallery, there’s little to sink one’s mental teeth into.
Style seems to dominate. Jeremy Red, a young painter and former student of North Texas art guru Vernon Fisher, shows disjointed paintings at McMurtrey Gallery. His compositions are like collages with paint blocks of primary color, cute line drawings reminiscent of a coloring book and works in a child’s handwriting. A deliberate casualness of execution supplants expressive honesty.
The photographs by Elizabeth Dondis at Hooks-Epstein would seem more at home in the pages of Martha Stewart Living. The glossy color photographs by Dan Wainberg, a passionate collector and traveler exhibiting at Robert McClain & Co are at heart high-resolution pictures perfect for a travel magazine and less perfect for a gallery of fine art. In these examples, the boundary between art and commerce, which has always been vague, appears unequivocably crossed. If such demarcating seem old fashioned. They are important nonetheless; for if everything is art, nothing is art.
However, two photography exhibits among the 14 ArtHouston shows sampled last week hold the mind’s eye and save the day.
Steardi Gallery specializes in works by Latin American artists currently photographs by Victor Vazquez from Puerto Rico and Eusiaquio Neves of Brazil. Like his contemporaries Luis Gonzalez Palm and Mario Crave Neo, Vazquez, makes portraits that suggest a reality beyond the one caught in the frame.
Sometimes he combines media as in the fetishistic Eyes, Tongue, Ears, (1998). This three-part work consists of photographs of each body part, repeated four or five times and framed inside a rough-hewn wooden box, like a reliquary. They are complemented by lengths of twine, feathers and beads in an allusive mix of Santeria and aesthetics. In a large untitled silver gelatin print hand-colored in burnt caramel tones, Vazquez presents a classic, sensual odalisque, albeit one whose world is defined by a reality beyond the physical. She lies on her side, her back to us and her form a curving solid, like a landscape, carved from the dark impenetrable background. Single feathers have been taped to a shoulder and shoulder blade, along the spine, on the rise of a hip and sown a calf. She is unnamed. She may be a witch or a sacrifice, she’s a metaphysical figure in either case.
For Neyes (born in 1955), the presumed subject is labor. Images from the series Professions in Extinction are black and white silver gelatin prints manipulated to create effects such as crosshatching and blurred edges. The intervention redefines the space and the artifacts, such as scavenged aluminum cans, adding texture and transforming the atmosphere his subjects inhale and exhale.
At John Cleary Gallery, the focus is on elegant compositions by David Fokos. His black-and-white images are crystalline, formal compositions of unexceptional views made remarkable though craft and angle of vision. Fokos’ long exposures, ranging from 20 seconds to 10 minutes, filter everything but the underlying forms and patterns. Missing Rail and Wooley Reservoir exemplify the photographer’s visual distillation. The first is a panorama of a distant horizon where a glassy ocean meets a silken sky. The photograph places us in the lower left corner, on the small piece of terrace or bridge where the photographer stood to shoot. From here we see not only the liquid space in front but the tubular railing of the title. It cuts across at an angle in front of us, its clean, curving lines as graphic as ink on paper.
In Wooley Reservoir, a sharp horizon divides an ample field of short grasses from a flat sky. The monotonal expanse is rent by sculptural copse of trees, a dark and dense silhouette right of center. It offers, like the railing in Missing Rail, a doorway into a calm, meditative dimension.