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Capsule Art Reviews: "Flying Solo," "Gilad Efrat: Negev," "Jonathan Faber: Surface," "Peat Duggins: Wreaths"

"Flying Solo" One of my first reactions to seeing the names involved in "Flying Solo," a new group exhibition at Art League Houston featuring Houston artists who aren't represented by a commercial gallery, was surprise that so many of them aren't represented. The seven artists included offer such unique, distinct voices, and, just because they're underrepresented, in a sense, doesn't mean they've been flying under the radar by any means. Just take Daniel Anguilu. In addition to the Art League show, in just the past few months, the muralist has been included in group shows of Houston artists at the Station Museum and Cardoza Fine Arts and was one of the artists who participated in the repainting of Lawndale Art Center's outside wall. In fact, he's pretty much synonymous with Midtown, thanks to the omnipresence of his distinctive animalistic murals. The other six free agents in the show, thoughtfully curated by Art League Visual Arts Director Jennie Ash to offer a diversity of mediums, subject matter and techniques, similarly have long résumés filled with runs at prestigious museums, residencies and MFA programs. Ann Wood stands out with two visceral pieces — a collage of two aggressive-looking horses in rapture, literal hearts floating from the charged piece, and her taxidermic pig installation — it's pretty in pink covered in glitter, but absolutely grotesque at the same time, thanks to some spilled "blood" and broken teeth. Lawndale Art Center resident Patrick Turk works on a smaller, more contained scale. His three-dimensional electronic sculptures are illuminated by LED lights and use magnifying glasses like little portholes onto the images of snakes, birds and bugs. The lone photographer, Chuy Benitez, turns his lens on Occupy Wall Street with his panoramic visions of protest and prayer. Lovie Olivia is harder to define — her two totem paintings, one of which intriguingly forgoes any traditional sense of portraiture and focuses exclusively on a tattooed woman's backside, employ a fresco-like technique that consists of layers of plaster, paint and printmaking. Fernando Ramirez's drawings are more straightforward in design — acrylic marker and pencil — but they create dense cities crowded with dynamic faces. Multimedia artist Emily Sloan's contributions are polar opposites and would seem born of two different minds — one is a messy, colorful portal, the other a stark steel form — if they weren't united by their lampshade-esque design. The exhibition starts and ends with Anguilu, from his color mural on Art League's front entrance to three works in the space's hallway consisting of spray paint and grids of wood, as if attempting to domesticate the graffiti. It's a very fresh show — all of the work is from this year. That, coupled with the unsigned angle, gives off this finger-on-the-pulse sense of discovery that's exciting. Ultimately, though, the show's conceit makes you wonder what the artists' defining collective lack of commercial representation is supposed to mean. Is the show an urgent call to sign these artists now? Or is it more a "We're doing just fine, thanks but no thanks" snub of the commercial art world? It seems to be a little bit of both, attempting to remain neutral and straddle both lines, which is a little frustrating. Of course, the real indicator will be whether any of these talented artists fly solo for much longer. Through January 4. 1953 Montrose. 713-523-9530. — MD

"Gilad Efrat: Negev" Gilad Efrat has a tendency to become fixated on a subject matter, as evidenced by previous shows dominated by monkey portraits or paintings of European cities destroyed by bombings. In his third exhibition at Inman Gallery, the Tel Aviv artist returns to a subject matter he has visited several times previously in his work — Negev. In his earlier works, Efrat depicted the rocky Israeli desert through renderings of aerial views of archeological sites, as well as paintings of the Ansar detention camp located out in the desert, which is home to, as the artist describes it, "everything [the state] doesn't want near its more populous centers — trash, prisons, military, and energy installations." The reason for his fascination is deeply rooted — it is his homeland. Efrat was born in Beersheba, the Negev's largest city. The desert, which covers more than half of Israel, also provides much painterly inspiration, from the Bedouin settlements to the vast, flat desert views to the tamarisk — a bush tree that provides protection from the sun and wind. All are subject matter here in the Inman show. Regardless of topic over the past two decades, Efrat's technique has remained the same. Working from photographs, he paints oil on linen and then rubs away at the paint, a subtraction technique he's perfected that makes for thick, surprisingly dramatic works. The paintings of the tamarisk, for instance, are thick, wild, tangled messes with shocks of yellow lighting them up. His desert views are moody, contemplative pieces. You can feel the vastness of the inhospitable terrain. There are three paintings in the show that are rendered in a similar fashion, but instead of the desert, they depict the surface of the moon. These feel as unfamiliar and bare as you'd expect the moon to be — there are no tamarisk growing wild up here, but only dark shadows and frozen craters. Though for all its foreignness, this land, which is less inhabitable than the driest, rockiest of deserts, is still not unknowable. Efrat's paintings are proof of that. Through January 5, 2013. 3901 Main. 713-526-7800. — MD

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