"Liz Ward: Cryosphere" In 1897, the Swedish explorer Salomon August Andrée and two companions attempted to travel over the North Pole by hot air balloon. They never made it. In fact, two days after taking off from Norway, they crashed onto Arctic ice, where they faced inevitable death. Their hot air balloon, and what was left of them and their camp, weren't discovered for another 30 years. It's a fascinating, but also horrifying, tale, and one that speaks to the allure of the North Pole at the time — an attraction that cost many men their lives. Liz Ward understands this appeal. The Texas artist is captivated by the North and the histories captured in its ice cores, which provide the subject matter of her new watercolors and silverpoint drawings currently up at Moody Gallery. In light watercolors and silverpoint, Ward depicts the ice cores, which are like the rings in tree trunks, except they record climate conditions over thousands of years via accumulations of snow and ice. Given its age, Arctic ice has unfathomable history and depth, and Ward's watercolors seem chock full of both, especially in her large-scale watercolors. In torrents of gorgeously vivid blues, reds, yellows and more blues, she manages to capture an inherent, raw energy, all the more aided by the subtle sparkle of the mica in her watercolors. In addition to these large-scale works, which the artist calls "glacial ghosts" in a further reference to climate change, Ward has two watercolor pieces positioned directly across from each other in the gallery titled Ice Balloon. They're minutely detailed blue circles that directly reference Andrée's doomed expedition. Even if you didn't know the morbid history, you couldn't look at these icy blue watercolors and not shiver. Through November 21. 2815 Colquitt St., 713-526-9911. — MD

"Ruth Shouval: Settle," "Andrea Bianconi: Romance" and "Anthony Thompson Shumate: Sweetly Broken" The current show at Barbara Davis Gallery is actually three, as three different artists present their own exhibitions, to mixed results. Ruth Shouval's unique relief prints in "Settle" fill up the whole front room with a series of new prints that contrast a straightforward grid of a house with its deconstructed counterpart. She builds on the idea by presenting three pieces that have a labyrinth within the home's frames. The straightforward Meditation, which features an undisturbed vision of this home, is flanked by Lost?, two deconstructed versions of that print depicting the home disheveled and bent out of shape. It's an obvious symbol of home and place — and lacking a home and place — but resonates strongly. Mixed-media artist Andrea Bianconi focuses on matters of the heart in his show "Romance," which presents a mix of sculpture and drawings that meditate on love. But despite the name, it's not very romantic, at least not in the typical saccharine sense. The main focal point is two vases, one black, the other white, that consist of flowers covered in glue and enamel. They are wilting in this mess, frozen in their decay. As another symbol, this one of love, they're fascinating, beautiful pieces. Anthony Thompson Shumate presents a series of textual pieces in "Sweetly Broken." In four works, enamel is hand-painted onto birch plywood to spell out what are essentially still lifes. "Two half-filled goblets obscured by an unruly, counterfeit ivy on a windowsill," reads one. "A ripe, swollen, nibbled peach rests alone, bleeding on a fresh table linen," reads another. Shumate could have drawn these compositions for us in the traditional sense, but instead he chooses to dictate them most ironically in overly artistic language. In an intriguing move, the text, and the image created by that text, are more important than the reproduction of the still life itself. Through November 9. 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200. — MD

"Translucent Trajectories" Both Orna Feinstein and Carlos Zerpabzueta are multimedia artists who traffic in works that are optically playful and vibrantly colorful, making this show a dizzyingly fun experience. Each uses materials that are very plasticky — Feinstein with her plexi, Zerpabzueta with his co-polyester. These materials can be very cold, disengaging and, sometimes in the case of Zerpabzueta's work, muddy, but once you get past that, they are highly interactive thanks to their three-dimensional qualities.Feinstein creates an almost "Magic Eye" effect with her Tree Dynamics series — layered pieces of fabric, paper and monoprint on plexi radiate orbs meant to represent the concentric circles of tree rings. There's a lot of tension in the works, between the natural and synthetic, as well as her use of a traditional printmaking medium in such a contemporary way. Feinstein continues to play with that dynamic in her Morel series, inspired by the structure of a plant or fungus when observed under a microscope. These sculptural works feature sheets of monoprint on plexi that seem to move and pulsate as you walk around them. Zerpabzueta studied architecture at one point, and his minutely constructed works here do take on a strong architectural quality. There are boxes and monitor-like structures filled with layers of acrylic on co-polyester that take the form of patterns or text. They seem like little puzzles, pieces that need to be decoded. That's especially the case with Codigo de Marcas, a mounted piece that looks like an open book layered with letters in yellow, black, red and blue. Despite the familiar letters, these textual elements don't reveal anything (at least not to the solely English-fluent viewer). The more you look at it, the less sense it makes, but you can't help but continue to stare. Anya Tish Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-524-2299. — MD

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