By Joe Nolan
January’s First Saturday events landed on January 2 this year. While most of the downtown galleries went ahead with their Art Crawl, Zeitgeist was the only Wedgewood/Houston space to participate, opening Alicia Henry’s startling The Walk as well as a show of works on paper by San Francisco-based painter Karen Barbour.
Barbour is an award-winning children’s book illustrator, and her deceptively simple renderings here might seem a bit underwhelming at first glance. When I saw the digital images attached to the show’s press release I had nearly no interest in the work, and that’s why I think this show is so strong: it sneaks up on you like a disturbing dream. In fact, many of the images in Barbour’s work come from her dreams. Pair the oddball content with the revealing juxtapositions created by
the installation’s salon-style arrangements of grouped images and all of Barbour’s silly turns strange. Her cute gets slightly creepy, and something deep and mythic begins to emanate from these jumbles of birds, cats, horses, sleeping women, vases full of flowers, dogs, bears, and any number of hunchbacked figures who all seem to be looking for something they’ve lost.
The installation is a mostly gray affair with the sudden pop of red or burst of blue setting off one work against another. The palette here reminded me that it’s common for people to dream in both black and white as well as color. Studies have confirmed that most people dream in color most of the time and that people with good recall of color nearly always report that dreams are indeed in color. But the gray here implies a murky fumbling through the subconscious, and that’s part of how Barbour gets the spook in this show. Like Grimms’ fairy tales or Ring Around the Rosie, these images aren’t just kids’ stuff.
Karen Barbour’s How May I Help You? is on view at Zeitgeist through February 27. For more information, visit www.zeitgeist-art.com.