"Apparition of a Deer" In this show, Melanie Loew's paintings come across as highly symbolic and associative. She paints women in the nude, bringing to mind vulnerability, femininity and truth. They're often depicted with deer or just their antlers, which could connote goddess mythology and power. And they're painted in strong color schemes — green or purple or blue — that then take on their own meaning through the work. Uniting all of these works, in addition to the deer imagery, are her patterned backgrounds. The works are highly personal — Loew has even used her friends as subjects — but when added all together, they just didn't pull me in. The message is muddled among all those elements, and I couldn't connect with them. There are also some inclusions in the show that don't quite mesh with the rest. King of Swords and Queen of Fire, which depict the faces and hands of two circus freaks, so to speak, are out of place among the clear cohesion of the rest of Loew's body of work here. Similarly, Ginormous, a self-portrait of the artist painted on a wooden door, shares some elements with the other works, including a richly patterned background and nudity, but is ultimately out of place in terms of shape and subject matter. Regardless, I was glad for its inclusion, since it's one of the stronger pieces in the show. The painting hits you head on, with the door hung low so that you're eye-level with the subject. And it's painted with greater realism than the more surreal works, from the tattoos on her naked body to the contours of her stomach and thighs. Nothing's shrouded in symbolism here; it's just honest. Through July 14. Darke Gallery, 320 Detering St., 713-542-3802. — MD
"David Aylsworth: The Reverses Wiped Away" This new show at Inman Gallery displays artist David Aylsworth's geometric abstractions, with titles geekily borrowed from show-tune lyrics. The paintings are predominantly stark white planes and hard edges. In the works that do employ color, the white takes on an erasing quality, overtaking the canvas. These plays between color and form make for great depth and tension as the angular shapes interact with each other. In Vaguely Discontented, three triangle-like pieces convene on the left side of the canvas, floating. In Doors Slamming Left and Right, a triangle holds court in the middle of the canvas, almost swallowed whole by the enveloping white. Indubitably is like a natural progression of this painting, a comically small patch of color barely present at the intersection of Aylsworth's hard lines on a rough white canvas. It's like a portal to someplace where there's free rein of color. Though there is a lot of white, it isn't all the same unadulterated color. Alysworth's method is to apply white paint over layers of color paint, creating off-kilter, angular shapes with each layer. In the process, the white mixes with the underlying colors, taking on pinkish, purplish or greenish hues while seemingly trying to obliterate the original color, these false starts of pink, purple and green. Through July 7. 3901 Main, 713-526-7800. — MD
"Lucas Johnson: Original Prints" All summer long, the practice of printmaking is being celebrated with PrintHouston with works on display in nearly 30 galleries, featuring hundreds of artists who make both traditional and contemporary prints. But none may be able to capture printmaking's range and history here better than one show by a single artist. In an exhibition of original prints by Lucas Johnson at Moody Gallery, the pieces selected include all the printing styles in which the artist was skilled, from aquatint, etching and lithography to serigraphy, drypoint and mezzotint, spanning his prolific 40-year career. The works also subtly show Johnson's involvement with the Houston art and printmaking community. Many of the 25 works featured in this exhibition were printed at either Little Egypt Enterprises, led by master David Folkman during the 1970s or, later, Cerling Etching Studios, established by Penny Cerling in 1990. The gallery itself is even part of Johnson's legacy, as the artist showed his work there from when it opened in 1975 to his death in 2002, with the Moody continuing to show his prints thereafter. The only place Houston doesn't seem to register is in the subjects of the works themselves. Johnson had a love of many things — Mexico, music, politics and fishing, to name a few. From the band of Mexican musicians in the lithograph Los Musicos — extremely colorful and lively even in black-and-white — to the tension of the somber Springtime in Bolivia, to the ugly lantern fish in his well-known Bottomfeeders series, his prints are tokens of that love. They're works that are sometimes serious, dark and humanistic, and other times wonderfully strange and funny. And, above all, they're still highly technical and well-crafted. Through July 7. 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911. — MD
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"Perry House: Elegance/Violence" Perry House is all about opposites — he strives to create images that are beautiful and disturbing, elegant and violent, exploring construction and destruction, bordering realism and abstraction, and walking the line between "horror and humor," as he says. His giant retrospective at the Art Car Museum spans House's 30-plus years of painting. It includes several of his most recognizable series — the most well-known being his surrealist Southern Dinner Series, composed of amoebic, loudly patterned plates that bend around the edges like bedpans and are set against loudly patterned backdrops of fish and flowers. This series is barely ten years old, but already House has moved way past his distorted Fiestaware and returned full circle to a preoccupation of his earlier in his career — landscapes, which are all noted by a mysterious date (2.20.11, 6.3.11 and so on). These are not the overwrought, wreckage-filled landscapes of his Aftermath Series but something more abstract — two-dimensional cityscapes. In an age of 3-D everything, there's something disconcerting, and arresting, about their flatness. With a 1980s graffiti vibe (must be all that neon), they're disjointed and distorted. House has said he doesn't think too much about color when he paints, but these recent paintings have such a strong sense of pigment that you may easily refer to them as the blue one or the red one. Meanwhile, his black-and-white ink drawings, wherein he essentially forgoes a palette altogether, are especially alluring. 140 Heights Blvd., 713-861-5526. — MD
"Rhythm" In his show of new acrylic paintings at Devin Borden Gallery, Todd Hebert presents subjects that are comically lowbrow and adolescent — a jack-o'-lantern candy bucket, a snowman, bubbles, a baseball. But for all their childlike connotations, Hebert's acrylics don't come off as overly nostalgic or sentimental. The snowman looms almost sinisterly, taking up the majority of the canvas in one piece. The jack-o'-lantern, which shows up in several paintings, is in the shadows in one, the telltale eyes, nose and mouth of the pumpkin barely visible in the near-total darkness. And the baseball is all by its lonesome, soaring through the nighttime air to some unseen mitt. These objects seem to be picked based not so much on a specific memory or connection but on the challenges in bringing them to life and creating their near-likeness. Hebert seems to be playing with movement and momentum with his spherical subjects. Many of his paintings depict the objects suspended in mid-flight. You can sense them moving — the sharply focused baseball hurling through its trajectory over a soft, romantic cityscape in a painting of remarkable photographic quality; the shiny, translucent bubbles waiting to pop or be popped as they lazily float on by; the awkward flight of the plastic jack-o'-lantern bucket before it crashes to the ground, as it inevitably will. Other subjects are in repose, and Hebert uses this opportunity to play with perspective and keep us on our toes a little bit. In Ball and Jack o' Lantern, a baseball lies in front of the black-and-orange bucket, nothing really out of the ordinary except that the baseball rests at the edge of the canvas, while the bottom of the bucket lies below at sights unseen, throwing things off. These all-too-familiar items become new, strange, humorous, creepy, striking and moving. Through July 10. 3917 Main, 713-529-2700. — MD
"Shifting Transforming: Ideas, Shapes & Materials" This aptly named group show at Peel is a colorful, fun and engaging way to send in the summer. It features sculptural works by some previous Peel exhibitors — Tom Lauerman, Fabio Fernandez and Gabriel Dawe among them — and some newcomers, including Jennifer Maestre. Maestre has gained international attention for her pencil sculptures (she's even been featured on The Martha Stewart Show). Here, it's easy to see why: They're compelling pieces that are so simple — literally pieces of colored pencil sewn together — but are so masterful and alluring, they steal the show. The artist has said she was initially inspired by sea urchins, and that definitely comes through in her series of small round works, aptly titled Urchins. Her larger works also give hints at their origins — one, titled Fat Boy, resembles the form of a rotund human body. Another, Tiamat, the name a reference to a draconic goddess in the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, indeed looks like some sort of spiky, four-legged monster. Simply alternating between the sharp point of the pencil and its flat end, Maestre is able to create complex contours and shapes that are out of this world and yet still familiar. Through July 28. 4411 Montrose, 713-520-8122. — MD
"Tu Eres o No Tu Eres Mi Baby" On one level, Ricky Armendariz's text-based carved paintings, done on plywood, function as romantic landscapes, and they're quite beautiful. In Dame Dame Dame, the moody blue-black sky is cut by a streak of pinkish red, likely a river. Along the lower left, distinctive, soft streetlights trace an unseen road, floating spookily along in the blackness. In Dale Dale Dale, we seem to get a close-up of this landscape, with the same reddish-pink form set against the dark outline of mountains. Over both of these landscapes, Armendariz has meticulously carved out objects — a helicopter in Dame Dame Dame, a rifle striking a piñata in Dale Dale Dale — as well as the words of the paintings' titles. It's an intriguing juxtaposition, this destructive, physical technique over his lovely painting, especially when Armendariz gets to his primarily textual pieces. In works of the same name, he's carved the words and phrases "Mala mala mala," "Tu eres loca pero yo te quiero anyway" and "Tu crazy baby" over plumes of black smoke and magenta skies. Armendariz was raised in the border town of El Paso, and his paintings evoke this area with their pop culture and hybrid use of Spanish and English. On a darker note, they reference the drug wars in towns like Juarez, with their smoke, gun imagery, and ominous text and colors. Even some of the carved-out words resemble the scattered shots of bullets in paintings like Tu Crazy Baby, where each letter is made up of numerous holes. Through July 6. Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — MD