Ceramics and Abstracts with Fiona Waterstreet and Dorothy Hood at the McClain Gallery

Fiona Waterstreet’s prickly “black and white bowl” might have been inspired by a seed pod – perhaps a sweet gum ball or one of the globes left behind by a datura flower.

The bowl piqued my interest as it is a menacing and alluring outlier in Waterstreet’s first exhibition at the McClain Gallery. The room seems both inviting to the touch and dangerous to handle.

The artist also carved out black-glazed curly totem poles, but most of the works on display are classic vase shapes, quirky vessels, and bulbous, whimsical bird sculptures in lighter tones that seem genuinely cheerful.

In addition to sculpting clay, Waterstreet works with porcelain, combining hand and wheel fabrication techniques as she explores sgrafitto and organic patterns. Some pieces are embellished with the sparkle of Luster gold.

Waterstreet, who is British, started making ceramics just 10 years ago. Since she is married to a famous artist, he had to use good judgment to start sharing his work.

Fans of John Alexander will recognize certain affinities they share: the bird heads that emerge from some of his sculptures resemble ironic figures in his paintings and prints. The vines that wrap around Waterstreet’s ships can also interact with her husband’s dense landscapes and plants.

An impressive contingent of personalities from the Houston arts community and friends of the couple attended the opening and a festive dinner afterwards, hosted by the gallery.

Before everyone scurried off to the restaurant, I visited McClain’s larger adjoining gallery for a late look at “Illuminated Earth,” an exhibition of dramatic abstract paintings by the late Dorothy Hood. I had that space pretty much to myself.

After Waterstreet’s earthy and fun ceramic experience, Hood’s canvases looked like a lonely flying dream. His canvases silently stood out, appearing epic and lush with his signature decal and washes, often rendered in unsettling and mysterious color combinations.

Inspired by images of the earth from the sky, Hood was confident and unwavering in her vision, but struggled throughout her life to gain the recognition she felt she deserved. The exhibition brochure acknowledges his comment, “I paint for a time I’ll never see.”

The opening of the Hood show, a month before Waterstreet, probably attracted a crowd as well. But as I walked back to the gallery rooms, I couldn’t help but read one more thing from “Black and White Bowl”: Fame can be a thorny business.

“Fiona Waterstreet: New Ceramics” and “Dorothy Hood: Illuminated Earth” are both on display until December 21 at the McClain Gallery, 2242 Richmond; 713-520-9988, mcclaingallery.com.

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