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"Rosa Loy: Souvenir" In describing Rosa Loy's work, artist Helmut Klarner writes that "the seemingly representational fails to explain itself." That does so well to describe the experience of looking at Loy's paintings that I couldn't help quoting it here. Nearly 30 recent paintings and drawings by the German artist are on display at McClain Gallery in "Souvenir," her first exhibition in Texas. Loy's work is often accompanied by the adjective "feminine," and it's easy to see why. The subjects of her paintings are all women — long-haired women, short-haired women, dreaming women, mischievous women playing with fire, levitating women. Loy also often puts her women in domestic settings — houses appear frequently, including on the top of two flying women's shoulders in "Saat des Schweigenssaat." Clearly, these are no ordinary women and no ordinary paintings. They seem to reference a specific folklore, each painting like a page out of a book, but it's one of Loy's own creation. She mischievously leaves us trying to craft our own meaning and narratives from these mysterious images and their names (titles like "Humility" and "Comfort" provide contextual clues). It feels as if you're visually reading a book, one that's sometimes in a different language. More important to Loy than the meaning of these narratives, however, is the form — the color and composition of her paintings. And however strange, curious or befuddling they are, they are still a pleasure to look at. Loy paints with the rarely used casein, a water-soluble paint derived from milk that gives her canvases a surprisingly traditional look. The colors are muted and soft while at the same time incredibly rich. They are quite stunning to behold. Through March 2. 2242 Richmond. 713-520-9988. — MD

"Wilo Vargas: Hierophany and Pareidolia" What makes an image of a man no longer just a man, but Buddha? How do people see the visage of Jesus on bread or in a tree, and why is it such a big deal when they do? When does an elephant stop being an ordinary elephant, but a totem? These are some of the questions explored in Wilo Vargas's current show up at G Gallery, which also marks the Peruvian artist's Houston debut. The title, "Hierophany and Pareidolia," refers to two psychological states — one being the manifestation of the sacred in objects (hierophany), wherein objects are given significance or sacred meaning, the other being the act of unconsciously recognizing these objects (pareidolia) — for example, seeing Christ's face on a slice of toast. Vargas plays with these notions by using iconography in his paintings. There are images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Buddha and Christ, as well as totemic animals like elephants, eagles and lions. But the catch is that their likenesses aren't all that apparent at first. Like a gigantic "Magic Eye," you have to pull away from the paintings for these hidden images to become clear. It's an unnerving, exhilarating effect; just when you think you've seen all that you can, you're able to see the paintings in a whole new light that gives them a completely new meaning and resonance. These images within images are actually better seen through photograph of the paintings, funny enough. That's when they are best defined. Though of course these paintings are meant to be seen not through an iPhone screen but close up. Only then can you get a sense of the immense work Vargas puts into each of his massive paintings. The obsessive layering of his neon doodles, like a controlled, psychedelic Pollock, becomes almost textured. It's a technique apparently inspired by hallucinations the artist had following a spider bite. There were no spiders present in the paintings as far as I could tell, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. These works take time and patience to fully reveal themselves. Through February 24. 301 East 11th St., 713-869-4770. —MD

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