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Art & Culture

Artists’ Response to Hurricane Harvey on Display at Glade Gallery March 27

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THE WOODLANDS, TX – Glade Arts Foundation in The Woodlands is excited to debut an emotionally charged new show: 51.88”, Art of Resilience: Four Artists Responding to Hurricane Harvey, featuring four distinctly diverse artists working in various media. From the most detrimental storm to ever affect the Gulf Coast, the number 51.88” is significant. It represents one of the highest recorded flood levels during the peak of the storm. 51.88”, The Art of Resilience, follows the personal artistic journey of four locally-based artists: painter and sculptor Cindee Klement of Houston, Abstract Expressionist Geraldine Wise of Houston, Poet Laureate of Houston Deborah Mouton, and Archeologist and Professor Mary Castagna of The Woodlands.

From the exhibit’s conception, and in keeping with the large geographic dispersal of the storm, four artists, living in different areas of Houston were chosen to visually and verbally respond to the widespread tragedy. And what a diverse group of artists they are, especially in the context of their Harvey-themed work.

Klement, with her ethereal, monochromatic works on paper (“Harvey Heroes” Series), produces eerily stunning work. The drenched figures, both literally on the wet paper and representationally as storm rescuers, almost dissolve before our eyes, still standing strong and delivering on the promise that no man, or animal for that matter (see “Bringing Home the Bacon” sculpture), be left behind. Her work is the perfect visual representation of memory, or like something out of dream, like a fleeting thought, often hazy and fragmented, the edges blurred. Klement’s expert application of soft focus invites the audience to look closely so they can see far.

Klement’s work is as ornate as the art of the Rococo, or the art historical period that preceded the French Revolution (think the Palace of Versailles, with all its intricacy). In line with the Rococo’s ornate stylistic opposition to the threat of death presented by the art of the Revolution, as well as the Revolution itself, the ornateness in Klement’s Bringing Home the Bacon work tackles this opposition to the threat of death in a different way: her sculpture reads as an energetic, frenzied, all the while ornate in scale and conception, refusal to let death separate us from life. It’s frantic, trying to save a precious animal from drowning. Comparing the Rococo to Klement’s work is like comparing fireworks to rocket ships: one, seemingly bound for great heights, the Rococo, fizzled out and died in a haze of glitz and glamour, and the other, Klement’s Bringing Home the Bacon, space-bound, defies any preconceived notion about the heroic limitations of the human spirit, with all its grit, tenacity and innovation.

 

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In stark contrast, Geraldina Wise works in an Abstract Expressionist style: think the all-over compositional wholeness of Jackson Pollock or Willem De Kooning as a reference. But unlike traditional Abstract Expressionists, who often prioritized the importance of formal elements (line, shape, color, form, etc.), over a narrative structure or subject matter, Wise’s brand of Abstract Expressionism, at least in regards to her Harvey-themed work, incorporates an added level of narrative depth.

Wise believes that water connects us as humans, both in present day as well as in the past. Every drop of water that exists today has existed for millennia, recycled and moved about the Earth in an intricate pattern of weather. As a result of this thorough and thoughtful methodology, Wise chose to use Harvey rainwater as her medium, mixing it with aesthetically pleasing pigment. In a true Abstract Expressionist gestural style, Wise used the collected rainwater to flood her canvas, and the result is stunning. Part of Wise’s background as an architect led her to place a series of deconstructed, stylized representations of simplified home floor-plans across her canvas, floor-plans meant to be flooded with the tinted water; a literal reworking of Harvey’s trauma reenacted on a canvas. Just imagine one of Wise’s paintings adorning the walls of a home damaged by Harvey, a powerful thought indeed.

 

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Wise’s water paintings take on a whole new meaning when viewed both micro and macroscopically. Microscopically through the specific rainwater’s biological and chemical footprint, each individually differing slightly in its relative level of contamination, dirt, sand, grit, and literal biological mass, like amoeba, protozoans, etc. All combined, and when viewed through a microscope, microscopic water itself becomes a work of art, prismatic in composition and color variation. Viewed macroscopically, the storm dealt tremendous damage through increasingly rising water, spread across a vast distance, and impacting many places in the exact same way, a shared experience made even more powerful when viewed on a macroscopic, geographic scale.

Additionally, the death and destruction inflicted by Harvey on the city of Houston and surrounding areas is poetically and profoundly recited in Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton’s poem, “For Those Harvey Left.” A video of Mouton reciting the poem will be projected throughout the duration of the exhibit, acting as an installation piece. The storm had no bias. It inflicted “biblical floods” equally and without judgement. Her riveting tribute to the city of Houston equalizes its diverse body of residents and beckons for a brighter future; a city, that while wounded, would emerge stronger and more resilient than ever.

 

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Finally, the centerpiece of the show is a visually metaphorical representation of life boat, created by Woodlands resident Mary Catagna, entitled “Taming the Beast.” Castagna crafted a metaphorical lifeboat out of debris from the storm. The result is powerful and optimistic. It reminds us about the fragility we felt during the storm, with its delicate floor of palm fronds poetically and optimistically angled towards the sky, symbolizing a retreat from water in favor of reaching higher ground. Castagna’s “Taming the Beast” reminds us of the brave rescuers who left their homes vulnerable in sacrifice to help others. “Taming the Beast” is powerful visual metaphor contemplating life and loss, both physical and material.

Even in 2019, for the residents of the Texan Gulf Coast, Hurricane Harvey is still fresh in our minds. Directly following the storms, all the represented artists quickly began work on Harvey-related artwork; after all, fresh memories strengthen visceral responses.

Because of exhibit’s tremendously diverse representation of different artistic styles, audience members are certain to find something that speaks to them both emotionally and practically. And because this exhibit’s theme holds a near and dear place in the hearts of so many South-Texas residents, this exhibit evokes empathy, or understanding mediated through a shared experience; the audience member is simultaneously seeing the storm through someone else’s eyes while forming their own unique, and personally relevant opinions. And hopefully, once this exhibit is installed, exhibited, and subsequently interpreted, audience members will form their own person connections with the artworks. A great and lasting conclusion to any museum experience.

51.88”, The Art of Resilience will be on view starting Wednesday, March 27th at the Glade Arts Foundation in the Woodlands and will continue throughout the end of May. Join us for the opening reception on Wednesday, March 27th from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. For more information please visit gladeartsfoundation.org.

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