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"Jonathan Faber: Surface" Looking at Jonathan Faber's new work up at David Shelton Gallery, I see faces looking back at me. As with some Rorschach test that replaces black and white for neon colors and blots for primal geometric shapes, I can't help but see faces. In Surface, there are sleepy, swollen eyes, a light black stroke for a nose and a thin zigzag for a mouth. In Broadcast, the image of a face is less apparent, but there appear to be the makings of a green skull with jagged lines for teeth. Whether or not you see faces, you'll surely be striving to find something familiar in these abstract pieces. (Is that a sail in Blanket?) The Austin artist has a history of creating works that are intentionally ambiguous, based off of slippery memories of boating trips, his childhood home, Vermont stays and whatever else is buried there. Several of the works, in fact, seem indicative of a place. Wake looks like some sort of marshland, inhabited by an ominous aqua-blue specter waiting in the reeds. Segment is surprisingly restrained compared to Faber's busier works. There's what appears to be a sewage pipe spouting toxic water, and black blobs that look like scrambled Mickey Mouse ears. The painting has an unfinished quality, with black marks floating off into the distance. It's open-ended. The majority of these works are oil paintings, though Faber also has little studies in pastels. These seem less indicative of a certain place or landscape, as in Bouquet. As the name promises, there are images of flowers, however faint. They are floating, delicate imprints surrounded by harsh, crude lines of stripes and triangles. The bouquet is almost an afterthought. With this latest work, Faber continues to toe the line between figurative and abstract art, though it's one that's increasingly getting blurred. There's more guesswork involved and not knowing. That can be challenging, but Faber leaves just enough clues to keep you in the game. Through January 5. 3909 Main. 832-538-0924. — MD

"Joseph Havel: Hope and Desire" In his solo show at Hiram Butler Gallery, Houston artist and Glassell School of Art director Joseph Havel has just two pieces in the gallery's main room. The more prominent, and colorful, even in its monochromatism, is Hope and Desire, which also gives the show its name. It consists of ten Plexiglas boxes densely stuffed with carefully arranged shirt labels embroidered with the words "hope" and "desire." There are upwards of 30,000 of them to each box, with each box alternately consisting of shirt labels labeled "hope" and "desire." Thanks to the white edges of the labels, the labels form blue lines that run up and down, across and diagonally, like some Sol LeWitt line drawing done in fabric. Havel has worked with shirt labels and Plexiglas boxes like this before, but the ten used here make it the largest of this scale yet. It's visually striking, too. The labels read like blue and white paint until you get up close to confront it and the illusion is gone. The messages in the labels are also mostly hidden, save for some that are revealed along the edges of the clear frame or are out of place in the line, like a happy accident. The second piece in the show is Architecture, a tower of cast resin that replicates the collected papers of Sigmund Freud. The stack consists of seven casts of the set of books, as well as the original model, now destroyed, making it 5'7" tall — which by some lucky math was also the height of Freud himself. The cast leaves the imprint of the books' volumes and author like a ghostly shadow, which is quite fitting since it's meant to be referential. By using Freud, Havel is speaking to the influence of the thinker on Modernism. Hope and Desire is also said to be inspired by The Dream Songs by John Berryman, a work that expresses Freudian concepts. There's much art historical, cultural and personal information to read here, but even if it all doesn't come across, both works are still really satisfying formally to look at. Through January 26, 2013. 4520 Blossom St. 713-863-7097. — MD

"Shane Tolbert: Talk of Montauk" Even before he spent a residency this summer out in Montauk, at the tip of Long Island's South Fork, Houston artist Shane Tolbert was already drawing comparisons to one of its most famous former residents — Jackson Pollock. The father of the Abstract Expressionist movement could be seen in the splashes of Tolbert's earlier work and his large canvases. And while in a solo show now up at Bill's Junk in the Heights, Tolbert has traded big, sprawling canvases for ones that would easily fit in a suitcase, the shadow of Pollock is even more evident. From the 19 total works he created during his residency at the Edward Albee Foundation in Montauk, Tolbert has six up on display here in the show, titled "Talk of Montauk," as well as an additional three not on the walls but available for looking. They are a colorful lot, from the dotty Pastels Found at Dusk, which looks like the clean pixels of a bright light, to an untitled piece that verges on resembling an artist's palette, a mix of peach and sky blue and forest green and black. Two Columns Understanding Their Own History is even more splattered and carefree, while still maintaining a sense of deliberateness in each patch of color. Tolbert also goes beyond messy splotches and incorporates shapes into his small canvases. There are the triangles of Picture 13: Currents, which look like rows of orderly sailboats on swift ocean currents. The sails are a parade of calming colors beyond the standard white, painted against a less orderly, almost violent background of blood red and black. In Montauk at Night, one of the paintings not up on display, Tolbert depicts what I assume are stars done as yellow squares against a stunning blue and black sky. If the sky really did look like this, I wouldn't complain. Through December 22. 1125 E. 11th St. 713 863-7112. — MD

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