Arts / Museums

A Rare Real Look at the Port of Houston

Arresting Photos From a Late Artist Channel Monet

BY // 04.02.16

Move over, Monet and Giverny. The late Texas artist Casey Williams found inspiration in an unlikely body of water not known for its beauty — the Port of Houston.

For almost a decade, the nation’s second busiest port was Williams’ muse. The resulting images begin with photography but resemble painting both in scale, color play and sense of abstraction. Now a current show, “Back to the Port” — hurry, it closes Saturday, April 2 — at Art Palace in Houston, presents some unknown works completed towards the last year of the artist’s life, when travel was more difficult due to declining health, and when Homeland Security put a kibosh on unfettered photography adjoining big ships filled with chemical cargo.

Glimpsing this work makes one forget it’s photography (and part of FotoFest). And don’t expect a completely elegiac show, either. The 17 acrylic on inkjet prints on view feel extraordinarily fresh, as if a smart grad student invented a new language of painting.

They are both formally beautiful as well as mysterious. There are faint allusions to Gerhard Richter, yet Williams’ throughout asserts his own language, a subtle, self-assured hybridization of abstraction and dreamy reality. Occasionally the watery environs reveal themselves; other times, these works feel like a distillation of the light and shadow flickering across the surface of the tankers bobbing upon the surrounding Gulf. Windows and metaphoric portals are evoked.

The best of this series is really about adroit painting, and a voyage to reductive minimalism, establishing a nice dialogue between geometry and line. A few of the painted photographs even echo a fashion moment in a gentlemanly plaid.

As a bonus, step into the gallery’s back room, which is hosting the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft competition. Canadian-educated, now Houston-based Charlie Satterlee subverts the natural order of ceramics, serving up a wry take on British Columbia’s ongoing housing disaster in a cheeky series entitled “Vessels for Leaky Condos.”

Both exhibitions on view at Art Palace, Houston, through Saturday, April 2.

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