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Houston artist fashions domesticity from urban refuse

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
'As the Ache Swells in Me' by Kathy Kelley is on display at Women & Their Work.

Before you even see them, you catch a whiff of Kathy Kelley's remnant tire tube assemblages when you step inside the Women & Their Work gallery: That unmistakable odorous rubber smell hangs slightly in the air.

Black, deflated and mostly cleaned of the grunge accumulated after they were discarded, the super-size inner tubes are limp carcasses of the once mighty tires that propelled trucks and other heavy equipment.

But Kelley tames the once-industrial flabby black rubber, wrestles it into sensuous forms, stitches it together with baling wire and combines it with other urban refuse (weathered wood doors, paint-chipped window frames, leftover home lumber) to fashion large-scale metaphors for domesticity. Tweaking scale, the Houston-based artist transforms the familiar into the almost unfamiliar.

Three of Kelley's enormous, evocative sculptures hold sway in the gallery, a bit dimly lighted which only gives them a more other-worldly presence.

It could be an enormous wig, the rounded mound of curling, rust-stained inner tube strips which Kelly titles `I Breathe.' (The trio of pieces on display actually have titular poems.) Then again that door that's tucked into one side could lead to a secret hiding spot and the ladder that leans into the sensuous rubber locks perhaps leads to a private mound-top perch. Girl power? Perhaps.

Nothing screams 'Home Sweet Home' in Kelley's aesthetic - perhaps theatrical? - vocabulary like `As the Ache.'

Go ahead, climb the steps at the ends of the ersatz house which sports a distended stream of black rubber that seems to blast out of a weathered front door and out onto a front porch carrying empty pictures frames (where are the home's residents?) in its elastic grasp.

But Kelley's home is not to be feared. Stitched and nailed and stapled together from whatever our over-consuming industrial culture has left behind, this home sweet home reads as an allegory to a new more truthful kind of personal homemaking - one that eschews the expectations of others.

From unappealing detritus, Kelley fashions a stage for a much more gnarly but ultimately more truthful kind of existence.

'Treading Where No One Hears the Echo of Her Foot Fall'

When: through April 15

Where: Women & Their Work, 1710 Lavaca St.

Cost: Free

Information: 477-1064, www.womenandtheirwork.org