Saturday Night's Dragon Street Openings: A Remedy For Artistic Blue Balls

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Saturday night's Dragon Street openings were loaded deep with fresh talent both from artists and new-arrival galleries such as Red Arrow, which specializes in work by street artists Banksy and Futura and Los Angeles master printer Richard Duardo, among others. Circuit 12 Contemporary (which will be screening this season's Art 21 series) popped up and gave us a hip new take on dreamscapes as told through installation, paint and neon. And our favorite long-stays didn't disappoint, offering up new works by Blayre Stiller, Theo Wujcik, Nick Barbee and William Betts. Let's take a look at the artists who really blew the doors off the place, shall we?

Blayre Stiller's collection at Cohn Drennan was a fun, refreshing examination of the human form told through charcoal (See our full review of Stiller's show here). She celebrates body shapes with unconventionally lovely characteristics, like rippling fat ridges around the hips and pendulous triceps, then poses them sparingly within the canvas, creating a large-world use of space. Whether playing with the folding and bending parallels between women and trash wrappers in the movement-rich, horizontal long-form story "Girls with Wrappers" or presenting her ability to manipulate two-dimensional human flesh in "Grabby Hands," this University of North Texas MFA candidate's talent is undeniable. She brings charcoal to life, and does so with a refreshing degree of wit.

Galleri Urbane, Dallas: The first thing you notice about Theo Wujcik is that he is not of Asian descent. In fact, he's an older white fella from Tampa who does not own a computer and corresponds with Galleri Urbane in Dallas through handwritten letters, which the gallery keeps on display. (It's a sort of an, "awe, isn't that adorable" maneuver that strangely works quite well.) The next thing you notice about Theo Wujcik is that he's magnificently talented, also that you wish that you could abscond with every last painting on display, strapped right on top of your Hyundai. One piece, a comic-centric mural titled "Asian in my Soup" uses a bowl and chopsticks abstractly, and fills the concave base with an overflowing collage of cartoon imagery. The fist of something resembling the Toxic Avenger plunges out of the liquid middle holding the head of a nameless Chinese comic book character in his grip. In the background, dragons scream.

He toys with the overlapping of American and Chinese culture in every painting at Urbane, with shape inspiration stemming from discarded french fry containers, early model frozen dinner packaging and other iconic objects that strike his fancy. Categories like "pop art" and "contemporary" are often used to describe Wujcik's work, which are held in permanent collections at the MOMA, Whitney, Carnegie Institute and more, but those words feel too vague. His explosive color pallete and quirky pairing of old and new leave Theo Wujcik in a category all his own. Feel free to ask him what it's called; your answer will be mailed to you in a few weeks.

One of the night's greatest surprises came from the William Betts exhibition at Holly Johnson Gallery. This Houston-based photographer takes his photos, blows them into single piece, or segmented murals and then runs them through a C&C machine along the backs of mirrors. The lines are then pixelated through tiny dill bits and separately filled with white, acrylic paint, creating a photo-negative image of woods or magnificent interior archways and arbors. The end result is stunning: a mirror that appears to have white, round-headed tacks plugged in from the back, defining the stretch of the photograph. It left me wanting to see the whole of his work, like his previous collection that used surveillance camera footage rather than traditionally beautiful images.

Down at Plush Gallery Rice University educator Nick Barbee got down and finite with measurable shapes. His series of platonic solids, one made of paper, the other three cast out of varying media, were identifiable, controlled units of length, though each bulged or puckered miniscule amounts based on the material used. They had a foil in his second sculptural series that began as a set of items he created as a sketch assignment for his class.

A set of bricks and concrete slathered with masonry material sat in a row -- these shapes were indistinguishable, unquantifiable and immeasurable. It was a sharp, interesting look at art as a metric tool and he left it completely up to the viewer to assess. That wasn't the case in a show he'd had a couple years back, Barbee explained. In that exhibition he added signs around the room that resembled those seen in museums where a phone number is given for additional information. Unlike museums, however, Barbee's signs did not guide the viewer to a pre-recorded series of prompts giving background details, they went directly to his cell phone. "People would call and I'd just ask them what they wanted to know," said Barbee, who then admitted the plan eventually became skewed when lonely custodial staff would simply call him to chat late at night. There were no information signs posted at Saturday's opening.

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