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Capsule Art Reviews: "Anodyne," "The Cowboy Spirit: Faces of the American West," "Layers," "Neurotic," "Pictures and Words," "Round 36," "Space Zombie Mayan Apocalyptic Human Sacrifice Uplift Mofo Party Plan Spring Break 2012"

"Anodyne" It's difficult to label Joe Mancuso's work by any traditional means. Is it sculpture? Painting? Installation? All of the above seem appropriate in the Houston artist's latest show at Barbara Davis Gallery. These art vocabulary-defying conundrums begin with the piece Bouquet. It's a careful arrangement of polywood, with flower pieces layered on top of each other in a methodical process — Mancuso's even left his pencil marks noting which piece goes where on the work. This bouquet is all about the texture — there's no color here, just white on white, as the piece is attached to the gallery wall for a pleasing effect. The petal motif continues throughout the exhibition. Precious Field is comprised of row upon row of hand-cast porcelain in the same flower shape as Bouquet, but cleaner and on a much, much smaller scale. Hundreds of these flowers (it's too dizzying to count precisely) were identically made by machine and then laid by hand on the linen canvas, making for an unexpected domestic quality and clever contrast between these mechanical and human touches. Two related works — Culture (waterlillies) and Waterlillies — are comprised of circles of white latex of varying sizes dropped across the surface of the canvas. In Culture, the latex is dropped onto newspaper, making for one of the most colorful pieces in the show, even if it's still dominated by white. "Anodyne" is a modest show — there are only nine works — but it's plenty. Each piece needs room to breathe, there's so much detail to take in and appreciate (in Precious Field, for instance, each flower cleverly has screws in the middle where the pollen would be). The relevant spring-like feel and overwhelming use of white add a likable lightness to the show, too. "Anodyne" does mean inoffensive, after all. Through May 5. Barbara Davis Gallery, 4411 Montrose #600, 713-520-9200. — MD

"The Cowboy Spirit: Faces of the American West" Robb Kendrick's show at William Reaves Fine Art Gallery features photographs dedicated to the American West. Each of the multitude of images tells a story; most are profiles of cowboys, with various scenic shots of ranch life sprinkled in. The portraits are nothing less than stunning. You may find yourself staring into the eyes of a young boy in a beat-up ten-gallon hat for more time than feels comfortable, but it is too difficult to turn away from him. A wiry old cowboy with a thick mustache conjures feelings of a lost generation, desperate to remain relevant. The wrinkles under his eyes are deep and cracked from years of living an SPF-free lifestyle. What is so remarkable about these photos, aside from the captured images themselves, is the manner in which Kendrick has shot and produced them. He uses an antiquated process called tintype, which dates back to the mid-1800s. The process is complicated and difficult, but its result is magnificent. The images come out somewhat underexposed, with unequal amounts of light distribution and a grainy, tan pigment. If you have ever taken one of those "old timey" photos that are so prevalent along boardwalks and amusement parks, you can conjure up an image, but Kendrick's photos are the real deal. Through April 21. 2313 Brun St., 713-521-7500. — AK

"Layers" There's an incredible amount of depth and movement to discover in the works by three artists now on display at Gallery Sonja Roesch. Swiss artist Julia Steiner steals the show with her seemingly simple works in gouache and paper. Her two pieces, Shift and Fragment (animal space), are both abstract landscapes in black and white. There's an immediate flatness in the work — it's just paint on paper — that makes you wonder why they belong in a show called "Layers," but there's a richness in these charcoal-like designs. The works are full of movement and activity that are intensely compelling and draw you in. New York artist Gabriele Evertz's works — Blue and the Spectrum and Red and the Spectrum — are just row upon row of blinding color. There's a precise method at play — thick blue; then thin red; then thin, light blue; then thick blue — that's the result of taping, painting, re-taping, painting and so on to get these perfectly straight, architectural lines. It runs the risk of becoming too methodical and impersonal, but when you step back, the works pulsate. There's a dizzying 3-D effect that overwhelms and resonates with you. Russian artist Lev Khesin works mostly in silicone, alternating between Plexiglas, wood, MDF and mirror-glass as a base. Though he works primarily with one main material, the eight works on display here are highly varied, thanks to the different thickness, viscosity, glossiness and transparency of the silicone, as well as the use of color and stroke. They all look like little terrains on some distant planet — some have a smooth, iridescent quality, others are more textured and rough, all are eerily beautiful. Khesin may have the most satisfying example of layers at work — especially in the works that have a thick layer of silicone over the color, creating this effect as if you're looking to the bottom of a pond. But joined by Evertz and Steiner, your conceptions of what that can mean are pleasantly challenged. Through April 28. 2309 Caroline St., 713-659-5424. — MD

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