December 30, 2007

Remembering Robin Utterback

"Remembering Robin Utterback," curated by Clint Willour. Galveston Arts Center, Galveston, TX. Through Jan. 5.

On March 30, 2007, well-known Houston painter Robin Utterback was pronounced dead after being pulled from a fire at his studio. Later police learned that Utterback had actually died from multiple stab wounds inflicted by his partner, Cliff Gaylord, who threw himself under a train later that same day. "Remembering Robin Utterback" is a tribute to this legendary Houston painter. In the Houston Chronicle, Lisa Gray reports that "the exhibition tries bravely to wipe out the particulars of Utterback's death, to make people forget the lurid tragedy and remember the brainy art. Clint Willour hung the show chronologically, with several works representing each of Utterback's different periods. You see the big fields of color, the focus on lines, the period when he deconstructed the canvas and painted on strange twisty shapes with holes, so that wall behind them shows through. There are no new works from the estate — Willour didn't want the show to seem like a sales pitch — so the show ends with the Strasbourg faces from 2004 and 2005. For the show's catalog, to be published later, Houston Museum of Fine Arts curator Alison de Lima Greene has been wrestling with those faces' meaning: What was it that moved Utterback to recognizable shapes? She can't be sure, but she believes she understands them now. Plague ravaged Strasbourg in the 1300s, and the city's art is full of demons that signify disease. She thinks Utterback may have seen those works as a metaphor for AIDS, the plague that in the 1980s and '90s decimated his own circle of friends. More specifically, she thinks Utterback must have seen Strasbourg's old wheat-grinding mills, where flour chutes were decorated with grotesque masks. Those floury, ghostly faces were supposed to ward off disease and scare evil away." Read more.

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