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Capsule Art Reviews: "Anodyne," "Between Heaven and Home," "CTRL group two," "Elixir," "Pressing News," "Prints"

"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

"Between Heaven and Home" For a while, Christopher French was known as the guy who made conceptual pieces out of Braille paper. But there's nary an inch of it in his exhibition of new art at Devin Borden Gallery. The six works on display are all united in materials — oil and acrylic on linen — as well as their healthy population of circles. Black, white, pink or yellow dots line abstract flowers, reference pools of ivy and, when connected by lines, resemble molecules or, to go significantly bigger, constellations, such as in the seemingly aptly titled piece Between Heaven and Home. These sharp circles are comprised of oil mixed with different materials, including marble dust, making for subtle differences in texture and shine. French's use of color seems to be simplified compared to previous works, but also bolder and more purposeful, as in Touchy-Feely, a work of black-and-white dots over a teal background. Gone are the isolated grids of circles in his earlier works, replaced by circles that are nearly on top of each other, coming together to form a new, amoeba-like shape. There is a variation on his grid with The Day Before Yesterday, The Day After Tomorrow. The spirographic curves of the painting resemble a flower, their 3-D effect making for the richest, fullest piece in the show. The black dots circling the edge of this grid are so black, they look like hole punches cutting into the universe, orbiting. The blue, red and yellow of this piece are particularly jarring when compared to the cohesive pastels of the other works. There is room to experiment yet. Through May 8. 3917 Main, 713-529-2700. — MD

"CTRL group two" Collage photography is having a bit of a moment right now in Houston, thanks to a major exhibition up at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston called "Utopia/Dystopia." For a much smaller show that still manages to cover a lot of ground, there's also "CTRL group two" at Bryan Miller Gallery, which displays an impressive variety among its seven artists. Among them, Javier Piñon's works stands out the most. It's no coincidence that one of his three collages (The Pact) is the first you see upon entering the gallery. It is a dense nature scene that contains its own mythology. A pale, naked woman is stretched out over rocks, a dagger in her hand, while a dead rabbit lies beside her. A fox stumbles across the scene, as a skull floats in a nearby river. It's oddly compelling, and will leave you puzzling over what it all means. Heimir Björgúlfsson also works with nature themes, juxtaposing unlikely elements in conventional scenery shots. In This ain't the first rodeo, a snowy, tree-lined slope is overlaid with out-of-proportion planks of weathered wood and a patch of rocks. His nature shots don't seem so natural after all. All the works display a degree of intimacy, though none more so than Matthew Stone's — in a more literal sense of the word. His Polymorphic Love Diagram Unfolds features sculptural photo-collages of intertwined bodies on wood, which bends and contorts like the bodies do. The prints look like classical paintings, with the naked men and women warmly yet sharply lit against black backgrounds. They are quite beautiful. Through May 19. 3907 Main, 713-523-2875. — MD

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