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"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

"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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