Trans rights, melting glaciers, evil-thwarting shields: just another Houston gallery-hop, just another January in America

February 9th, 2017  |  Published in January/February 2017

In a month when most of us are struggling to find a concise slogan for our protest signs, Houston’s inner loop as usual is a nest of artistic treasures. This month, I couldn’t bring myself to pay to see Edgar Degas painting at the MFAH (if it’s really “more than ballerinas,” why are you still using ballerinas in all your marketing, MFAH?!), so I sought shows that address three of many, many things we need in 2017. Start the year off right, you know?

These artists don’t broadcast political affiliations in their statements or marketing. But anyone who says that viewers aren’t looking for some kind of emotional response to art, or that they expect reviewers to be clinical, are fooling themselves. Art exists for reaction, comfort, whatever the viewer brings.

This short list is by no means inclusive of all the movements and voices we need this year, and all years, but it’s a start.

  1. Gary Watson: Dear Lieutenant Governor, “We’re Just People.”

Texans are constantly fighting to protect reproductive, non-Christian and immigrant rights, and the current legislative session is no exception. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has recently introduced a bill similar to North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” that dictates a person must use the bathroom according to the gender on their birth certificates.

This is the climate in which we receive Gary Watson’s portraits of Alexis—a Harley Davidson mechanic, guitarist for the metal band Project Armageddon, and transgender woman—at TANK Space on the first floor of Spring Street Studios. Actual essay snippets accompany the black and white portraits, chronicling the everyday Alexis. Gary Watson’s photography is lovely as always—he has much more throughout the studio, as well as his individual workspace—but the real draw is Alexis’ own words, displayed as long captions.

Those words are casual and uncalculated. While the essay does include aspects of her transformation and life afterward, it is not a power play or condemnation of others. The most touching moment is perhaps when she recalls the first time her mother introduced her to someone as her daughter, and how unexpectedly wonderful it was. She mentions only one instance of bigotry, when a diner in a small Texas town refused to serve her. She notes that as a member of a band, she has visibility that other trans people don’t, so she tries to make people feel not alone when she can—but she’s not a spokesperson.

“Alexis #15,” photograph by Gary Watson


So, not very exciting, one might think. But that’s exactly the point. One of Alexis’ captions has the common sense saying that people with sense know: “We just want to use the bathroom, not assault anyone.”

If a conservative bathroom-obsessive were to visit Spring Street studios in search of a more benign exhibit (Watson also has some pretty flower photography up), I’m not sure if it would change their minds. For someone who already believes trans people deserve human rights, the photos are at least lovely to behold. This corner of Spring Street Studios is worth the trip if it gets you there—there are so many artists to appreciate beyond the TANK Space.

  1. Adela Andea: Glacial Parallax

“Ice Flare” by Adela Andea

When I interviewed Adela Andea in 2015, she recounted the process of starting off as a painter, slowly moving to sculpture, and ultimately realizing that her preferred medium is light itself. Glacial Parallax sprang from a recent trip to Alaska, in which she noted the changing landscape. “Climate change” doesn’t appear on the gallery’s website (this show is at Anya Tish Gallery), but knowing the inspiration brings a new meaning to these works.

Left to right: “Ice Grain II” and “Ice Grain I” by Adela Andea

Andea’s work is luminous and fun, growing from the walls and changing shape as the viewer circles it. Uncomplicated materials, bold colors and strategic lighting make her work come alive. Glacial Parallax almost invokes a fairy winter wonderland, and the colorful shadows “melting” down the walls suggest its disappearance.

“A.57” by Adela Andea (via

The six-foot orb “A.57” also dominates this small exhibit, and isn’t part of the Glacial Parallax series: it is a collection of Andea’s materials used on past installations and light sculptures. Almost a sort of radical conservation project in itself, or ethereal self-portrait. Come for the climate change, stay for the bright lights.

  1. Catherine Colangelo: Talismanic

“Large Green Shield” by Catherine Colangelo

Across from Anya Tish Gallery is Cindy Lisica Gallery and “Talismanic,” Catherine Colangelo’s illustrations on muslin over canvas. I know that “talismanic” is a real word, but I can’t help thinking of it as a form of “talisman mania.” We need to ward off evil from all sides: we need talismania, we need to get talismanic! In seriouslness: the “-ic” gives Colangelo the freedom to draw from myriad source materials without dishonoring any one ancient tradition.

Left to right: “Forget-Me-Not Shield” and “Filigree Shield” by Catherin Colangelo

These “shields” are inspired by illuminated manuscripts, textiles, and Indian and Islamic miniatures, which take on the role of talismans to ward off evil. These seemingly simple patterns reveal a deceptive amount of personality—perhaps not of the artist, but of movement. Despite the initial appearance of symmetry, the shapes are not uniform, and each piece has a throbbing individuality that makes it terribly interesting to look at. If you have to have a piece of art shield you, you will want something that is not only solid, but vibrant and alive.

“249-Eyed Shield” by Catherin Colangelo

And so though our slogans are insufficient, perhaps — put together — they can form a shield as vibrant and alive as the people they protect, who are marching, however slowly, forward.

—Joelle Jameson is a writer living in Houston, Texas.

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