Visual Art

Bringing Out The Dead—Through Art

Houston illustrator Michael Bise pencils in poignant family vignettes in Born Again.

By William Geoffrey Wood January 15, 2016

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"Four Women"

Image: Moody Gallery

“I had a heart transplant about four years ago that saved my life,” says Houston illustrator Michael Bise, discussing his latest exhibition, Born Again, premiering Jan 16 at Moody Gallery. Bise continues his poignant takes on family life with rich religious undertones, employing autobiographical themes from his distant and "newborn" past. 

The title is throbbing with symbolic connotation. Four years ago, Bise, a University of Houston graduate and Hunting Art Prize winner, received a new heart that saved his life and essentially allowed him to be reborn and continue creating. The dense delivery of ideas through his artwork speaks of his journey through illness and the acceptance of mortality. “I have this preoccupation with death,” says Bise. “I basically had to accept the idea of dying.” Some of his previous works depict warped emergency room scenes, empty hospital beds and a young man hooked up to life support. All of these presentations are consistent within the vein of his personal understanding of mental conflict and impending fatality.

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Image: Moody Gallery

Raised in Flagstaff, Arizona, Bise was exposed to charismatic Pentecostalism, a religious sect associated with speaking in tongues and holy rolling. Growing up around the age of the televangelist, his early-life experience and religious exposure bleeds into his sketches. A consistent depiction within his works is an elderly person or couple placed in a typical, southern Americana-style room decorated with religious symbols. “The subjects in my drawings are real people from my past, my family members and occasionally myself…” he notes. Many of his sketches in Born Again are reminiscent of a family photo book from the '70s and '80s with a chilling alteration; the architecture is sometimes crooked giving the scene the tension of a nightmare.

Graphite on paper is Michael Bise’s tool of choice when he constructs his art pieces. Bise pulls inspiration from two main sources: The early renaissance artists of the 1500s and 1600s and the great 19th century sketch experts. One of the most distinctive parts of his craft is the way that he depicts human facial features. What would seem like a normal scene is changed dramatically by the slight altering of facial gesture and formation. There are other small abstractions within his pieces that leave the viewer wondering the cause of the perceived stress. According to Bise, he developed his artistic voice “by just absorbing bits and pieces over time.” The elementary artistic device of pencil and paper, fused with the weighty context of his sketches, creates a palpable and captivating dichotomy.

Opening reception Saturday, Jan 16 at 2. Runs through Feb 20. Moody Gallery, 2815 Colquitt St. 713-526-9911.

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