The Return of the Prodigal Son

by Catherine D. Anspon

Downtown is making a strong showing as an alternative viewing venue. Witness this upcoming weekend's "Art Crawl `97." Besides the myriad of studios that dot Houston's warehouse district, galleries such as Lawing and Ocotillo, neighbors in the former DiverseWorks space on Travis, add interest to the equation. And three openings in the downtown nexus within the past ten days further reflect the flavor of this scene.

Dion Laurent at Winter Street

The 32 year old, Houston raised, A & M educated Dion Laurent returns to his childhood home after an Odysseus-like voyage that spanned seven years and included 23 countries. The artistic fruits of this trek are now on display at the cavernous, light-filled space of Winter Street Art Center. Laurent's ambitious offerings comprise hundreds of paintings, drawings, mixed media, and found objects which present a compelling vision of significant global issues presented through the eyes of someone who has been there. This panorama is entitled "Zen," reflecting the influence of the Far East in Laurent's deeply felt philosophy.

Laurent's viewpoint is that of an American, but one who is a returning messenger after literally traveling to the ends of the earth. From a remote Japanese island in the Pacific to the mountains of China, Laurent takes his subject as the infringement of Western society, particularly that of the U.S., on foreign and often Third World lands.

Specific themes range from the imperialism of American oil companies to the poisonous grasp of the tobacco industry. Laurent's timing on these issues, rendered in complex cycles of paintings and mixed media that the artist plans to execute through the year 2000, appears exceptionally prophetic. (I was particularly struck by his theme of the unresolved Persian Gulf War, so malevolently present in this month's headline news.)

This is a significant, consistent, and passionate body of work that will open the eyes of even the most jaded gallery goer. Some images are simply unforgettable, such as his vast painting of the world map, rendered in buoyant yellow, greens, and blues that has been sliced into strips of a barcode. This Untitled work fits nicely into the artist's Travel Series, compulsive yet fascinating renderings of a landscape, gas pump and bulldozer for each of the 23 countries through which the artist has backpacked.

Refreshingly, Laurent also offers a hopeful message. This powerful body of work points to an answer to our environmental destruction -- the artist's epic cycles convey the message that our salvation lies in the hands of those wealthy enough to develop alternative fuels and restore the planet. Ironically, the very oil companies and mega-industries that contributed to this complex global devastation may be forced to contribute to its resurrection.

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