Lee and Liza Littlefield
Husband-wife artist duo present works in conversation
By DOUGLAS BRITT Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle
June 11, 2010
Artist Lee Littlefield is known for installing his colorful
“Pop-Ups” — painted bayou-inspired sculptures made from natural materials like vines, bald cypress
wood and bamboo — alongside Houston highways, first on a renegade basis, then with the permission of
the Texas Department of Transportation and Harris County Flood Control.
His approach made
him a natural for last summer's No Zoning: Artists Engage Houstonn at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.
Littlefield's New World Bamboo Flowers and Rings on Bissonnet helped spruce up the CAMH grounds and proved his wild
art thrives in captivity — more so than many of the other do-it-yourself public art projects, which
felt tamed by the institutional setting. [Read more...]
Seth Mittag: Gun Play
Poissant gallery February 10- March
by Bill Davenport
Despite the sculpture, the video, the radio controlled car, the diorama, and the coloring
book, Seth Mittag's Gun Play at Poissant Gallery is a drawing show with trimmings. That's good: the
best thing about the show is Mittag's dab hand with a mouse. It's rare to see computer drawings this fluid
and precise, capturing nuances with miraculous wit.
The drawings are
cropped like snapshot photographs, scenes from the homey, everyday world of animal slaughter. Time and again, with
only a couple of deft strokes, Mittag gets just the right little shape to suggest the eager but awkward
squint of a toddler sighting a rifle or the complex curve of a truck wheel well. The drawing is still clunky,
encumbered with all the tell-tale gaucheries of computer paint programs, yet Mittag uses the computer's
harsh, flat style with the mechanical forthrightness one might admire in a big rig, and it's perfectly
suited to portray the stumbling, rough-edged love of beer, guns, trucks, and barbeque.
The drawings are presented two ways:
as poster-sized digital prints and collected in a coloring book. It's as if pages from the book have been
blown up, hand-colored with crayons, and pinned to the walls. Mittag colors in a businesslike but not over-fussy
Whenever you show guns in art, you've got to take a stand. Mittag
portrays a rural, masculine, blue-collar hunting culture with tolerant irony. He's against it, but he's sympathetic.
There's the initial blood-and-guts shock of seeing pictures of dead, gutted animals, but it's just a reflex,
quickly replaced by envy. Wouldn't it be great fun to rove the countryside in a big truck, hunting down
tricky, beautiful animals, then washing them down with cold longnecks at the backyard grill? If only it weren't
for the load of citified guilt you'd have to deal with afterwards.
Beer works the same way. A shirtless man holds an infant on his knee, offering it a can of beer
for a taste, like a hillbilly Madonna. It's shocking first,
then funny, then touching. The guy wants to share his pleasures with his son. The reflexive oh, no! reaction
is quickly replaced with humor and sympathy. Who's he hurting, anyway?
The show is all about teaching boys to hunt and shoot, drive
big trucks, cook outdoors, and drink in divey bars; in short to become socialized into a culture with
ethically problematic elements. In the best drawings Mittag presents the good with the bad, creating thought-provoking
dilemmas. InJavalina , a shy boy poses with proprietary pride next to a dead pig which slumps
like a sack of feed corn over the tailgate of a pickup. In Learn'n to Shoot a toddler
and a balding man share a monent of quality time as they sight a rifle together.
Two life-sized stuffed animals, or rather plush toy versions of dead animal carcasses, are clever and
well made, but less thought provoking. The javelina has convincingly variegated fake fur, leatherette
hoofs and a satiny polyester pool of blood pouring from its stomach. The hanging deer carcass unzips to spill out
pearly satin intestines. But contrasting plush toys and gutted animals is like clubbing a baby seal. It
misses the nuanced irony of the drawings.
A child-sized barbeque grill
and hunting blind show the innocent side of hunting culture. They
are playground equipment, training kids for a life outdoors. Hide in a camo-covered treehouse, shoot at
the jumping deer on the video; it seems wholesome compared with contemporary videogames.
The floor of the rear room
is occupied by Hunt'n , a miniature dirt track with a radio-controlled hunting truck and plastic
game animals. The dirt track tableau has a forlorn, make-believe quality; using piles of bare sand as
hills and dead twigs for trees. The plastic animals are all different scales, making the rabbit nearly as big as
the hog. It's set up a child might make in a sandbox, it might have been fun to play with (no batteries),
but not much to look at.
There's a mouse-sized doorway in the gallery wall nearby.
By crouching down you can see the inside of a cute dollhouse-scale bar, a windowless hideout with dark
plywood paneling, posters of busty girls with beers and a miniature pool table. Playing at hunting and
playing at drinking are two sides of the same cultural coin.
Bill Davenport is an artist and writer and was one of the first contributors to Glasstire.
Images courtesy Poissant Gallery
William Steen shot portraits of Houston-based artist Rachel
Cook, left, and Nan Rosenthal of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in their own environments.
: COURTESY PHOTO
Dec. 4, 2005, 7:56AM
BEHIND THE LENS
Images through an evolving door
Exhibits show how photography has become art
By PATRICIA C. JOHNSON
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
Photography is unique. Other
media, such as painting and drawing, are divvied up in curatorial departments by age or culture (medieval, contemporary,
European, etc.) and exhibited alongside sculpture and prints. But photography, which came into being less than 200 years
ago, stands by itself in institutions, art fairs and festivals.
How it has come into its own in the Bayou City ! is a story
partly told in an exhibit organized by Houston FotoFest. (The fact that there is such an organization, now in its second
decade, is only part of it.)
Professional photographers had been composing formal portraits in their studios and shooting images for Houston papers
and magazines throughout the 20th century. But in the arena of "art photography" there was little to behold
until 1970. That year, Geoff Winningham opened Latent Image Gallery to exhibit work by photographers such as Harry Callahan
and Aaron Siskind.
closed the gallery in 1971, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, acquired four photographs for the permanent
collection. The tentative beginning snowballed: The museum established a department of photography and named Anne Wilkes
Tucker its curator in 1976; almost simultaneously, two commercial galleries, Cronin and Mancini, picked up the ball and
ran with it. (Both have long since closed.)
That's the background for Photography in Houston Galleries, which spotlights work
by 41 artists represented by a dozen contemporary galleries. Three galleries specialize in the medium — John Cleary,
DeSantos and Watermark. Nine others — Deborah Colton, Harris, McMurtrey, McClain, Moody, Poissant, Rudolph Projects,
Sicardi and Anya Tish — exhibit photography regularly.
The roster of photographers is mostly familiar, as are many of the images — MANUAL's
composites from the On the Edge series so prominently displayed in 2004 at the MFAH; George! Krause's Stairs,
Columbia, S.C. (1961) of a young girl seen from behind walking up the stairs; Peter Brown's straightforward portraits
in color of rural America and its citizens; Keith Carter's gauzy black-and-white interiors.
Techniques range from classic gelatin silver
to C-prints and digital manipulation. Images, too, range from classic landscapes to "modern" abstractions.
But it's disappointing overall.
The exhibit is installed on both floors of the huge Vine Street Studios building where HFF has its offices, with works
clustered according to the gallery that shows them. Though that organization makes sense given the theme of the show, it
makes for spotty looking. A silver gelatin landscape, intimate in scale and tonal subtlety, makes large C-prints look
like billboards by comparison.
Issues of presentation could be dismissed if the images contained were powerful. Few are — Anderson Wrangle's
black-and-white landscapes and Kate Breakey's giant hand-toned carnation, for instance. Our eyes are so overloaded with
pictures every day, it is difficult to capture something fresh. A! nd sometimes, freshness of appearance — Katsuhiro
Saiki's Place #7, a C-print-on-Plexiglas view of a huge sky that is shown flat on the floor — is all
William Steen portraits
At Poissant Gallery, meanwhile, William Steen shows his series of photographic portraits. All but one (James
Reaban, who died in 1988) are dated 2005; all but one, taken in Princeton, have a Houston or New York dateline.
The subjects are artists and writers — from painter Agnes Martin and sculptor Richard! Serra to art historian Leo
Steinberg, and 28 others both younger and "local" — Rachel Cook, a former Core Fellow, and sculptor Ben
Woitena, writer Richard Howard, art conservation star Carol Mancusi-Ungaro and art historian William Camfield.
The format is traditional
head and shoulders. However, Steen shot his sitters in available light and in their own environment. Most are squarely in
the center, and only a few look directly back. A few are exceptional: Painter Robert Goodnough appears on the lower left
corner against a diffused background that appears like shimmering water but is, in fact, a section of one of his paintings.
Steinberg's head is in near profile, filling the entire frame, his eyes downcast and totally lost ! in thought. Sassy
Rachel Cook wears a Gilley's T-shirt and stands almost defiant, hands on hips and facing front. Houston sculptor
Gertrude Barnstone leans forward a bit and looks squarely back at us, seemingly intent on hearing what we may have to
All are interesting,
both because of who the subjects are and also, and critically, for how the individual presents him- or herself and is thus
Randall Reid [Read the original source]
Randall Reid is both an accomplished
and productive working artist. With his first accolades won in 1978, he has since swept prizes and cash awards as well
as given many solo and group shows each year. Across the country and internationally, this artist is heralded as both seasoned
and contemporary. He earned his Master’s degree in painting, but his interesting choice of media is what sets his
work apart: most of his pieces are comprised using paint on wood and steel. The construction of the paintings lends itself
more to the strength and endurance of a sculpture, but thickness and resonance is what this artist’s subject is
all about—a connection with the elements and symptoms of the Earth. This depth and the muted color palette is all
about the regeneration, renewal, and timelessness of the Earth’s features.
With an eye for
antiquity in a world of industrial materials, Reid makes the steel of his palette warm as he layers paint and wood, leaving
a small cut-out window, usually layered transparent papers or inlaid copper, brass, or steel, as the only portal into
the meaning of his ambiguous titles.
While most of his subject matter is obscure and intangible in
title, with neatly shaped cut-outs and constructionist canvases called things like, Subdivisons, and Past Time,
other works are mainly concrete. For instance, inRed Sea, the image of the Red Sea parting is represented as a
tiny square within which stands a white steel bar separated by two red rectangles on either side. The steel is built up
with planks of wood painted a dark desert brown. This same nearly literal sentiment is taken away from Shifted
Sands, in which an off-center window reveals steel bars of yellow in a sea of olive-yellow paint. And what would
a show entitled Of the Earth be without the sentiment of seasonality? Works like Thru Winter’s
Snow relate the purest form of weather on the cold of a metallic background, reflective of water, snow, crystal
and other earthly geographic concoctions. Think Cy Twombley without the canvas—the trees, the bark, all brought
to shimmering life on the background of neatly hand-cut steel.
As a painting instructor, Reid equips
a new generation of artists with the tools and the permission to seek out new ways of using some of the oldest materials
known to mankind. Living in Austin, his work tends to take on a Southwestern feel, especially with the Spanish titles he
chooses for many beautiful interpretations, such as La Luz de la Vida and La Luz Del Dia.
Reid describes his own vision as an attempt to “establish windows or portholes of time.” Indeed,
each painting within a painting makes itself a tiny peep-hole into the subject matter of his carefully chosen title, that
of the decay and the strength of the features of la tierra.
– Sarah Gajkowski-Hill
Through June 24th, 5102 Center Street, 713.868.9337, www.poissantgallery.com.