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"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

"Playback" When you first walk into Fresh Arts and survey the TV screens scattered around the darkened gallery, a quick glance might give you the impression that the screens are stuck on frames of couples embracing or kissing. But on closer inspection, it steadily becomes apparent that these are not frames but actors holding these poses, in all their awkward glory. This ingenious concept is part of Britt Ragsdale's "Duets" series. The Houston artist has her video work up at Fresh Arts in "Playback," a show curated by Paul Middendorf of galleryHOMELAND. In four screens, Ragsdale pulls inspiration from familiar scenes in classic films like An Affair to Remember and Giant — couples gazing longingly into each others' eyes, about to kiss, in a dramatic embrace. The videos are even in black and white, some softened to give them that dated, classic look. Ragsdale uses real couples to copy these poses — fleeting moments that the artist has stretched out into six, seven, eight, even 12 minutes. What's meant to be a romantic gesture soon becomes less than intimate, even pained, due to what Ragsdale describes as "intense scrutiny." This scrutiny reveals more about human relationships than any film trope can. During the extended shots, one couple rocks slightly back and forth, while another starts to pull slightly away. A man jokingly puckers his lips, while another swallows hard, his Adam's apple prominent. At the end of one video, a woman cracks her knuckles, as if relieved that the task at hand is over. Hand-holding is sweet and all, but everyone has his limits. Ragsdale scrutinizes another film trope in her "Run-Through" series. In The Chase, an actress runs towards the camera — so close you can see her smudged eye makeup — gasps dramatically, then calmly walks back to her starting point, only to do it all over again. It goes on like that for 20 minutes. The repetition makes the act funny, bizarre and ultimately meaningless, emphasizing how generic this familiar scene is. It's like a horror movie supercut, but more effective. There is a third video, called Don't Talk to Strangers — a two-and-a-half-minute piece that pulls from random archives with brief shots of things like couples dancing, a cat playing with a string and women getting their hair done. Though significantly busier than the others, it's not as engaging. It's worth it to invest your time in the others. You'll never look at classic films the same way again. Through July 12. 2101 Winter, 713-868-1839. —MD

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