Installation view: Susan Plum’s “Soul Retrieval,” which was at Deborah Colton Gallery, shows the artist’s embrace of diverse media including her signature material, flame-worked glass. (Photo Pablo Gimenez Zapiola)
Forrest Prince’s “Pepsi,” 1984, serves up a damning critic of America’s soft drink industry. (Photo by Os Galindo; Collection Dr. Georgia W. Hitchcock)
Susan Plum’s “Soul Retrieval” at Deborah Colton Gallery. (Photo by Savannah Stait)
Brother Forrest Prince’s “The Life You Live Conceals the Light You Are,” 2012-2013, serves up a potent message. (Photo by Os Galindo; Collection Elizabeth and Dene Oliver)
“Praise God,” 1997, is emblematic of Art League Houston’s Lifetime Achievement honoree Forrest Prince’s life and work. (Photo Os Galindo; Collection Ana Lisa and Tommy Cloud)
Susan Plum’s “World Tree: Technology of a New Era,” 2006, hints at the reverence for the lost wisdom of the Mayan culture that informs her practice. (Photo by Pablo Gimenez Zapiola)
Two exhibitions this fall exist refreshingly free from the art marketplace. Both are by Houston senior masters whose works address ideas of activism and investigations of the divine. One closed on October 31; the other lingers until Saturday, November 7. Each exhibit offers perfect meditations of where we are today, and where we could and should be headed.
Susan Plum’s “Soul Retrieval” — which was at Deborah Colton Gallery thorough this past weekend — signaled both a return and a new exploration of the cosmos. The return was represented by the artist’s ongoing interest in the wisdom of the ancients, specifically Mayan cosmology, as exemplified by World Tree: Technology of a New Era (2006), sensitively installed at the gallery in its own chamber surrounded by a bed of turmeric and flickering votive candles. This was about as mystical as you can get — an apt mirror during this season of reflection.
In contrast, Plum’s newest paintings, emanation of her “Strange Nature” series, resembled nebula and channel the unearthly secrets of deep space. In a third body of work, this one reminiscent of Joseph Cornell, a series of mixed medias on board combined elements from nature with gilding or pigmented fields of celestial blue to invoke day and night. The overall effect of “Soul Retrieval” created a sense of wonder and dialed up portals to other worlds of time and place — a distant galaxy or a fable epoch, far, far away. See Plum’s work whenever you can. It’s worthy of rumination.
A fellow pilgrim on a world quest, Forrest Prince, literally shines at Art League Houston. His show is mounted in conjunction with his Lifetime Achievement Award and concurrently with Houston photographer Amy Blakemore’s Texas Artist of the Year exhibition. (Check out her idiosyncratic take on American life, informed by a search for beauty in the mundane and in the lens of the artist’s trademark plastic vintage Diana cameras.)
Prince’s title, “The Greatest of All Is Love,” hints at the utopian aspirations realized by this nearly 50-year retrospective. Seminal works encompass the mirrored Praise God (1997), the beautiful reflective heart that gives the exhibition its title (1993-1994, in the collection of the Menil), and the more recent The Life You Live Conceals the Light You Are (2012-2013, in the collection of River Oaks District’s Dene Oliver and wife, Elizabeth).
In contrast to this ethereal tract, Prince’s political-activist work takes a strong stance for being aware and engaged in current events (especially rallying against the GOP’s conflation of religion and elected office). It also questions America’s monolithic food corporations — above all, the meat industry and the soda pop kings — while espousing the benefits of conscious vegetarianism.
Prince is as close to a mystic as any human we’ve ever encountered. As anyone acquainted with the artist knows, this is the life he himself leads. He even dedicates proceeds from his art sales to a nonprofit he co-founded, the Praise God Foundation, which ministers to those in nursing homes and other places of need.