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"Maurice" Keith J. Varadi's oil paintings have something you can't quite put your finger on. They seem unexpectedly muted and soft. Even the boldest colors have a quiet quality to them. That's because these oil paintings are copies of oil paintings, the original discarded in favor of this second life. It's a whole process that the Brooklyn artist developed to make the centuries-old act of painting fresh and surprising to him. He starts off by making a painting on a stretched canvas. He then stretches a raw canvas over that painting while the paint is still wet and pushes the paint through the raw canvas without using a paint brush. Sometimes he leaves the end result alone; other times he may add paint to the stain, again without using a brush. Painting without a paintbrush? That's almost a cliché, but it makes for some beautiful results. Fifteen canvases made through this experimental, limited method are on display at David Shelton Gallery in the exhibition "Maurice." Most are a little larger than a notebook, at 12 by 9 inches. They're small, highly contained works. Some even have a thin border of paint around the edges that seems to keep it all in. Overall, they are mostly multicolored paintings full of deliberate marks, busy with abstract splotches and indiscernible forms. Is that a man in Crux Tug? A key? Who can say for sure. These works have depth to them, a sense of history. Others are slightly reminiscent of patterns, such as the camo-like effect of Berms. In several works, the artist doesn't fill the whole canvas, despite its already small size. Toner and Hawking, hung in tandem, are deliberately left bare in places on the canvas, as if half-finished, or half-started. At the same time, the canvas is as much a part of the painting and the materiality as the paint itself. Varadi even likes to say that these paintings aren't oil on canvas — they're oil and canvas. It's an important distinction. Through June 15. 3909 Main, 832-538-0924. —MD

"No Paint" The premise of Gallery Sonja Roesch's new exhibition is simple enough: artists who make painterly objects without using any paint. But the results are much more diverse and creative than you could imagine. The six artists in "No Paint" use materials ranging from Plexiglas and steel to lasers and even river sediments. August Muth brings the lasers in his series of holographic squares. They might remind you of holograms by another light artist — James Turrell — and in fact, the New Mexico artist has been making Turrell's holograms since 1994. For his own work, Muth makes visual references to the solar system — Mars and the sun specifically — in several small, intimate pieces. They're two brilliant, beautiful subjects that would be difficult to convey in any medium but that come through in his dazzling holograms. Texas artist Hills Snyder looks to a more basic object for inspiration — the ladder — in Ambassador. Despite the subject matter's ordinariness, this is no run-of-the-mill ladder; composed of a sky-blue, reflective acrylic sheet over birch, it makes for a shiny art object that's comically dysfunctional and out of place, yet pleasing to look at. The juxtaposition of resin and wood creates an intriguing combination in German artist Harald Schmitz-Schmelzer's pieces. In a largely monochromatic show, these stand out for their clean lines of color, like a neater Rothko, made by submerging pigment into resin. They're very calculated, intentional works in everything from the colors used to the space between the lines of resin and wood. German artist Mario Reis, on the other hand, takes a much more improvisational approach in his practice. His two works are each made up of nine canvases and displayed dramatically in tandem against the back wall. One is a dusty reddish brown, the other a dark forest green. The differences in color are owed to their origins — one is composed of sediment captured from a river in Boys Ranch, Texas, the other a river in Castile Rock, British Columbia. What makes for the differences in color, though, and why these two rivers? What significance do they hold for the artist? The pieces evoke many questions, which makes them so engaging. Not all the works in the show are as captivating. German artist Regine Schumann's minimal Plexiglas half-circles are awkwardly shaped and don't do much on the wall. Aldo Chaparro's Steel — a crumbled piece of steel — may also be too minimalist for some. But I liked the physicality of the work, which the Peru-born, Mexico City-based artist constructed by crumbling the material with his body. The piece also constantly changes depending on how you look at it, reflecting color and light off its mangled surface. Overall, by pulling together artists from various parts of the globe working in completely different mediums and art-historical conversations, "No Paint" makes good on its promise to expand the definition of paint, while challenging your expectations of what painting can be. Not bad for a modest group exhibit. Through June 29. 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5454. —MD

"Salt House" When artists take over the seven row houses from 2505-2521 Holman Street in the Third Ward, there's usually the desire to be busy. Sculpture hangs from the ceilings, drawings are done right on the white paint or each wall is painted a different color entirely. So what's so remarkable about Sean Shim-Boyle's art project currently in one of Project Row Houses' historic shotgun houses is its simplicity. The walls are painted white, the floor a light gray. Nothing hangs from the vaulted ceiling, which is accented by dark crossbeams thanks to the natural architecture of the house. An off-center red-brick chimney, also original to the home, remains untouched except for a couple of lines of white paint, possibly markings left behind by a previous artist. The most significant change Shim-Boyle makes is adding a second red-brick chimney of sorts to the single-room house, extending from one corner across the space to the opposite wall by the door. Because it matches the original chimney as much as the artist can muster and is as solid as can be, it seems like a natural addition — except of course for the awkward angle that'll force most visitors to limbo under it. With the beams across the ceiling and the vertical chimney cutting through it, it's a striking visual. Shim-Boyle has quite the eye. The artist isn't quite done, though. He's made a second, more minor alteration to the house, adding a thin line of fluorescent lights on the floor beneath his slanted chimney. In a room that's already brilliantly well-lit, with sun shining in through the bare windows, it seems like an unnecessary touch. But parallel to the brick addition, it helps to further emphasize this breathtaking presence in the house. Through June 23. 2513 Holman, 713-526-7662. —MD

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