Arts / Galleries

Houston Professor Artist Finally Gets a Champion — and a Tootsies Showcase

Deborah Colton and Fashion Giant Team Up to Honor the Work of the Late Perry House

BY // 10.16.19

Mention the name Perry House (1943 – 2019) and any Houston artist born before 1960 will instantly be able to provide an anecdote or an accolade for a talent whose mad genius, visible and constant struggles enacted on the canvas between elegance and violence, and effortless glide between imagery informed by the American dream and the American nightmare remain prophetic and relevant, no more perhaps than today.

A professor for more than 30 years at Houston Community College, House no doubt influenced generations of students, in and out of the art world. Yet by going through dealer after dealer in his lifetime, his legacy somehow has been uncertain without a champion to promote him.

Recently, Deborah Colton Gallery – who has been resurrecting senior Texas masters based in Houston, and giving them and the times they ruled a fresh look – has presented a series of Foundations exhibitions. House figured in those, and when he passed away this summer, Colton stepped up and hosted a memorial exhibition that also doubled as a rowdy wake for sharing of House tales and a gathering of comrades.

Gallery assistant director Lauren Arocha contemplates Perry House’s work at the artist’s tribute exhibition, August 2019 at Deborah Colton Gallery. (Photo by CDA)
Gallery assistant director Lauren Arocha contemplates Perry House’s work at the artist’s tribute exhibition, August 17, 2019 at Deborah Colton Gallery. (Photo by CDA)

What emerged, reflected upon the slide show above, was that House was a very, very good painter — the equal of two who are considered titans — Dorothy Hood who continues to get her due, and the less known nationally, but unmistakably talented Dick Wray, Mr. Houston Ab Ex. And of course, Bert Long Jr. would fall in this group, although his practice was more socially charged and performative, in addition to his skill with a paint brush.

To this trio, Perry House must be added to the pantheon of 20th-century Texas painting greats.

Welcome to Perryville

Five years ago, I wrote the following lines for a catalog essay published in House’s monograph concurrent with a career-retrospective exhibition at Dan Allison‘s D.M. Allison Contemporary Gallery:

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“Arguably Houston’s most prolific, elusive, and gifted living painter, Perry House is slippery – in a good way. He effortlessly glides among styles and subjects, one minute a realist of convincing illusion; the next, a conjurer of Dadaist surreal dreams and schemes; another moment a dabbler in ab ex and almost color field. Then even creating an ode to the pattern-and-decoration movement, informed perhaps by a whiff of op art. Occasionally, a bit of Pop may creep in.

“There’s also a literary element at play here. I defy you to see House’s canvases from the “Southern Dinner” series and not be struck by images of the small-town and vernacular, a la Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, Peter Taylor, and other keen observers of the American South.

‘Then there are the series that loosely conjure the demise of the housing market and the big market crash of 2008: “Happyville,” “Helter Skelter,” and “Aftermath,” all predict or comment on the rapid slide of the mortgage crisis and cataclysmic tumble of structures that moments before must have appeared stable.

“Enter the hypnotic imagination of House, who piles on recognizable imagery of compelling strangeness, glimpsed and understood by the viewer as one would recall a dream or nightmare – an imploded cake, a life raft leaking air, snaking entrails, a heraldic brooch straight from King Arthur’s court, a pool area filling with debris, and homes hurling through space like the tornado scene from The Wizard of Oz. It’s all here on the utterly original, slightly mad, yet insanely captivating surface of House’s paintings. We dare you to decipher them, because you’d need a pretty powerful Rosetta Stone.”

See the painter’s studio in this video clip of our visit in 2014.

The prolific Perry House — whose art could not be defined by a single ‘ism — lived to paint. (Photo courtesy Deborah Colton Gallery)
The prolific Perry House — whose art could not be defined by a single ‘ism — lived to paint. (Photo courtesy Deborah Colton Gallery)

Tootsies as Temple of Perry House Art

Deborah Colton Gallery founder Deborah Colton, who has been organizing ongoing presentations of contemporary art for Tootsies at the bequest of the iconic Texas retailer’s creative director Fady Armanious, curates House’s work for this new iteration.

Three powerful works on paper, each 46 x 46 inches, formed by brush and ink on paper, conjure the painter’s “Happyville Series” from 2010.

In the pristine, elegant, and fashion-forward environment of Tootsies, Perry House’s trio of three “Happyville” works assume a grandeur and presence that is every bit the equal of the globally known designers they dialogue with including Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, and Monique Lhuillier.

One knows for sure, House — who also worked on graphics for early TV programs like Channel 13’s Kitirik kid’s show, and print advertising clients — would be very, very pleased to be in the echelons of high fashion.

Perry House’s works are on view at Tootsies Houston, 2800 Westheimer, through November 30, 2019. House’s estate is represented by Deborah Colton Gallery. See more of the artist’s paintings in our slideshow above and here.

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