Houston

Derek Boshier

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

“Derek Boshier: The Texas Years” was an extensive survey of Boshier’s paintings and graphic works produced between 1980, the year of his arrival in Houston from Britain, and 1995. Although he was an early participant in British Pop art, a combination of his political interests and esthetic restlessness led him to give up painting in favor of film and more conceptual work by the end of the ’60s. That he selected the then-current neo-Expressionist style when he took up painting again indicates both a certain distance from his medium and a certain consistency of intention. Like the “fashion victims” in several of his pictures, the “stylishness” of style seems to hold more importance for Boshier than the particular style in itself.

Boshier directed a cool gaze against such regional stock characters as Klansmen and cowboys, often painting them nude, always rendering them in a wickedly overwrought neo-Expressionist impasto. The goopy paint and comical dancelike poses of the figures lend an archness, a blatant artificiality to these pictures: he is clearly a cultural voyeur who never quite connects with his subject but is content to spy and comment on some social value. In part this psychic distance issues from his point of view as a European among Texans. For example, Boshier’s renderings of masked figures celebrating the Day of the Dead (an often-hackneyed Tex-Mex theme) benefit enormously from his ability to reference Ensor and Goya in a manner that links his work more to European art history than to New World subject matter.

However, Boshier’s alienation extends beyond regional identities. In the reflexive imagery of Exhibition, 1984, a nude “knave” figure (another of his stock characters) assumed an agitated pose in a gray room filled with Dan Flavin fluorescent constructions. The disjunction between gallery refinement and naked dunce, exacerbated by several comical little lights and candles and by the slathered-on paint, produced a conflicted rhetoric of styles. In much the same way, the flowing white gown of the eponymous figure in The Bride, 1987, contrasted with the severe geometry of the scarlet abstraction she con-templates. Since she is seen from behind, she constitutes a surrogate viewer and so suggests a broadly satirical emblem of lost innocence in the seductive presence of high stylishness.

In more recent images the geometric forms in Boshier’s paintings have migrated to the surface, with polygons and circles superimposed across the figural ground. The effect here, though, seems to be more a chastisement of “pure” geometric abstraction than a censoring of the figural. For example, in Order, 1991, a mass of tiny people, all turned away from us and rendered in grisaille, is largely obscured by a floating, retro-Modern arrangement of reduced, brightly colored shapes. The most recent painting in the show, Night Houston, 1995, pushes the indictment of geometry to a simple extreme. A big blue rectangle set slightly left of center obliterates all but two buildings of the nocturnal cityscape. The purity of his lovely blue form is manifestly at odds with its subject matter.

Michael Odom