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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

"Peat Duggins: Wreaths" Wreaths are ubiquitous this time of year, but the wreaths in Peat Duggins's fourth solo show at Art Palace have nothing to do with evergreens or season's greetings. In one piece, there's a perfect circle of wasps, forming a ring out of what seems like a hole in the wall. In the next, a snake subtly lurks in a lovely bouquet of azaleas. In another careful arrangement, this one of lilies, ants crawl about on the pink and white petals, quietly going about their business. These works are full of life, though there's a sense of control and order to it. The wasps are never out of line; the ants keep to their petals. The most things threaten to fall apart is in Untitled (Roaches), wherein the icky bugs are drawn to scale and take over nearly the entire frame, keeping an improbable square formation except for the bottom right, where they start to break away. Or maybe they're getting into their proper place. These are works about order and disorder, a reaction to our attempt to tame what has always been wild. Each of these pieces is done in watercolor and ink that is so exact and straightforward in its drawing of roaches, wasps and other bugs, you wouldn't be surprised to find them as illustrations in a children's book (and Duggins is no stranger to children's books, having illustrated one called Grendel Gander the Sinister Goose, published earlier this year). In addition to making these usually unpleasant subjects palatable, the watercolors are intended to be taken at face value, stripped of any symbolism; there's no Freudian meaning in those ants. It's a concept that takes some getting used to, as it's hard to imagine there isn't any implied meaning somewhere in a watercolor like Untitled (Eagle/Snake), wherein a snake battles an eagle on a bed of green leaves. But in the end, that's just what it is, and that's pretty refreshing. Through January 5, 2013. 3912 Main. 281-501-2964. — MD

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