"Ellen Orseck: Storms, Sumos and Sweets" Ellen Orseck's paintings of sumo wrestlers and cupcakes, as well as tornadoes, are nestled snugly in the warm, intimate gallery of UH Downtown. In energetic paintings culled from photographs, the small plastic sumo wrestler parades and pantomimes on a dining room table with cupcakes and sweets. He's caught devouring frosting, eyeing his next bite and placidly staring as the cake itself takes the artist's attention. Orseck's brush strokes are thicker than usual here, making for evocative cakes and pies, but the strokes aren't quite as creamy as butter cream. In another work of stop-motion animation, the soft-toy protagonist is repeatedly frozen in a block of ice and thawed out, his smiling face none the worse for wear. Orseck's tiny watercolor paintings of tornadoes, a separate body of work, repeat their subject in simple color variations that hold little of a real storm's power. The intimate veins of bleeding ink lend movement to the twisters, but their standardized composition — each threatens a solitary house — doesn't help them as a group. Through October 11. O'Kane Gallery, One Main, 713-221-8042. — SC
"Nexus Texas" This exhibition's title stresses the simple, focused connection on display: Texas inspires exceptional artists. Some of the only ostensibly Texas-inspired work (there's very little) comes from Houston's El Franco Lee II. His paintings freeze explosive, mostly infamous, moments in sports and urban culture. Rudy T. Vs. Kermit Washington captures "The Punch" that reverberated through the sports world on December 9, 1977. Technology looms large in Texas, so it's no wonder artists choose to explore it. Paul Slocum's performative objects combine antique electronic devices with pop music and digital imagery. For Combat, Slocum hacked a 1977 Atari 2600 console and the game it came packed with (Combat) to create a loopy, self-deconstructing cyberpunk symphony. Music is a major element of Justin Boyd's eerie sculpture/installation. On the floor, an old reel-to-reel tape recorder plays a droning recording of a female voice — kind of a long, wavering moan. Impressively, the tape spools have been attached to wooden pyramid frames which flank the recorder and elevate the spools; the tape itself is effectively fed into the air, creating a huge, stretched-out triangle. Amy Blakemore's striking photos convey an inexplicable sadness. Most melancholy is Dad, a photo of Blakemore's father in his hospital bed just minutes after he died. Elegantly composed, it almost comes across as a painting. And not to be missed is Roberto Bellini's video Landscape Theory, depicting birds and a sunset in a parking lot outside Austin — and a conversation with a security guard who advises Bellini to turn off his camera and leave. The discussion is amiable, but it reveals paranoia. Through October 21. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250. — TS
"Ellen Orseck: Storms, Sumos and Sweets," "Nexus Texas," "Practice Makes Perfect," "Sawing Logs: Lisa Marie Godfrey"
"Practice Makes Perfect" Curator Jeff Ward has tamed work by the wildly varying artists at the Glassell School into a linear, illuminating exhibit about repetition and reproduction. Amy Lorino's photographs echo each other in form; she concentrates on symmetrical compositions, often focusing on school halls and doorways. Judith Freedman's small bust sculptures vary slightly in each incarnation, lending them underlying personality. Lillian Warren has shown extensively in town while taking classes at the Glassell; her paintings recording familiar views along feeder roads are solid, repetitive and insistent. From the opposite end of the spectrum comes Bobbye Bennett, whose watercolor paintings evoke aboriginal patterning and emotional organic life. But the most exciting project featured is the collaborative Stranger Drawings, realized by Emily Grenader and dozens of Houstonians. Grenader solicited anonymous photographs from people on the street and on Web site Craig's List, then distributed them to artists to create their own versions of the photos. The result is a cacophony of styles as diverse as the people involved, and at the opening the air was buzzing with excitement as the photograph donors first saw what their personal images had become in the hands of artists like David Ubias and Seneca Garcia. Finally, if you missed your opportunity to see the documentary Hot Town, Cool City, take a few minutes and stop by the Glassell to check out Maureen McNamara's documentary on Houston's art scene. Through November 2. 5101 Montrose, 713-639-7500. — SC
"Sawing Logs: Lisa Marie Godfrey" For Lisa Marie Godfrey's installation at Domy, she created one of her large wall paintings but mixed in household objects and smaller paintings on paper. On the wall, there are smiling clouds, weeping women, soft pink men, transparent sleeping figures emitting flowing lines of intestines, clouds crying diamonds and geysers spouting human organs. Some of these images may sound horrifying, but there's a levity to the work. Attached to the walls are painted saws, a series of tree limb slices and a sleeping mask, along with paintings no bigger than notebook paper and modified antique photographs — all named works in themselves. A Sweet Dream (one of the saws) and other pieces in the show are endowed with a painted patterning of stars and tears that's a new element in Godfrey's work. Two antique photographs of women, each named Dream Guide, are painted over with new sparkling hairdos and veils. The small, powerful works show an insight into everyday life and the little things that make it great. Also available at the exhibition is a small-run artist book with the cover colored in by someone who loves drawing them very much. Through October 12. 1709 Westheimer, 713-523-3669. — SC