"CraftTexas 2012" This juried biennial show at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft purports to feature the best in Texas-made contemporary craft, and the 40 artists featured don't call that into question. Paula Gron is a basket weaver by nature, but uses her skills to concoct a wooden handle with found tree branches protruding creepily and chaotically from it like some alien takeover. For all its creepiness, it's not without a sense of humor — the piece is called My Toothbrush. Danny Kamerath also works in wood; for his compelling Table for Two he crafted two Barbie-size chairs and a table out of a stump of yaupon holly. The stump leans at all angles, pulling apart this quaint little set and making you feel incredibly uneasy in its unevenness. The dining-room table — a domestic constant — is coming apart. George Sacaris's Faux Bois Stumps features "stumps" of aluminum that sprout from the floor and have remnants of severed tree limbs jutting from their sides, but these highly polished pieces don't try too hard to fool you, which I like. They're too polished and shiny, for one, and they come in all sorts of unnatural colors, from rose to an Excel-logo green. In not resembling the stumps it so clearly does try to resemble, the piece makes you think about those differences even more. There's much more to see and like, from Diana Kersey's bonkers Bird Pot earthenware to Steve Hilton's epic wall installation, Tea for ? The latter is a clear winner in the show, even literally (Hilton, along with Gron and Sacaris, won jurors' prizes). It consists of families of teapots constructed out of stoneware. They sprout horizontally from the wall almost organically and resemble gnarls and knobs of wood, which in and of itself is a neat effect. But the teapots also seem to congregate like people do, even possessing distinct physical attributes. The longer you look at them, the more they seem to be reflections of ourselves. Through December 30. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — MD
"Debra Barrera: Kissing in Cars, Driving Alone" The standout piece in Debra Barrera's debut show at Moody Gallery is a little red rearview mirror near the back on the gallery's wall. Titled For Dorothy Levitt, the found sculpture, taken from a 1986 Pontiac Firebird, is named after the inventor of the rearview mirror. Levitt was a "motorina," a pioneer of female motoring who advised women to carry a little handheld mirror when they drive so they can see what's behind them in her book The Woman and the Car — the first documented use of what became known as the rearview mirror. The sight of the mirror on its own is interesting — it's so rare to see it not attached to a car that, by itself, you can really consider its unique shape, form and angle. It's a neat little formal piece. The Houston artist's debut solo show is filled with a lot of strong material that references the automobile, a subject of Barrera's for the past year. The show includes graphite drawings of old car models as well as photographs from her "Salvage Yard Documentation Series," which was the catalyst for this show, its images depicting the left-behind remains from cars in auto salvage yards. There's a Precious Moments Bible, a pile of dirty balloons, a Mr. Goodbar pencil from 1986, a yellow air freshener, a tiara and Jay-Z's memoir, Decoded, all starkly photographed as if for some forensic file. Thanks to Barrera, they live on like timepieces. Other works toy with this idea of cars as time capsules. I'd rather have a Lamborghini than memories is a circular suitcase spray-painted Gallardo Blue, just like the luxury car. It's apparently filled with travel mementos of the artist — movie and airline tickets, museum guides, restaurant mints, a love letter and a diamond bracelet. This is the most romantic component of the rather romantically named show — the suitcase is filled with memories and history, a rearview mirror to the artist's past. Through November 21. 2815 Colquitt St., 713-526-9911. — MD
"[Houston Times Eight]" The Station Museum of Contemporary Art recently kicked off an ambitious new series called "HX8" ("Houston Times Eight") wherein the museum curates a show of eight diverse, contemporary Houston artists. Fabio D'Aroma is like a modern-day Caravaggio. He presents a grotesque procession along all four walls. There are naked bodies with thin arms, knobby red elbows and knees, and distended stomachs that are engaged with curious symbolism. There's a peacock and a menorah in one painting, a watermelon, some rifles and a bag of charcoal in another. There's so much coded in there, and it's all done in such jaw-dropping detail, that it's all a bit confounding. Street artist Daniel Anguilu has left his telltale mark all over Midtown and brings his animal imagery inside for the museum show, painting an epic, abstract mural on a temporary wall constructed just for the exhibition to create separate, almost sacred spaces for each artist. Robert Pruitt's powerful portraits depict three strong, fully realized African-American women. Prince Varughese Thomas's conceptual works criticize the wars in the Middle East, representing the lives lost, both of civilians and soldiers, through white, ghostly pennies and names in charcoal, layered until the paper turns black. Lynn Randolph processes the death of her husband through ancient symbols of mortality — birds. Her grief is overwhelming and beautiful in the sheer amount of work she has created and the number of birds that fill the walls of her room. Floyd Newsum's distinct, naive style and dense collages are loaded with personal materials, from chalk to photographs and symbols of his family. Serena Lin Bush explores concepts of family and bonds between sisters and friends through a video installation. And Forrest Prince's works in wood and mirror are calls to "love" and "repent," though the most biting words go out to his fellow artists: "If the work you are doing isn't contributing to the restoration of peace on our Mother Earth, or the health and welfare of all the creatures on her, then you are wasting your life and everyone else's time." Amen. Through February 17. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. — MD
"Liz Ward: Cryosphere" In 1897, the Swedish explorer Salomon August Andrée and two companions attempted to travel over the North Pole by hot air balloon. They never made it. In fact, two days after taking off from Norway, they crashed onto Arctic ice, where they faced inevitable death. Their hot air balloon, and what was left of them and their camp, weren't discovered for another 30 years. It's a fascinating, but also horrifying, tale, and one that speaks to the allure of the North Pole at the time — an attraction that cost many men their lives. Liz Ward understands this appeal. The Texas artist is captivated by the North and the histories captured in its ice cores, which provide the subject matter of her new watercolors and silverpoint drawings currently up at Moody Gallery. In light watercolors and silverpoint, Ward depicts the ice cores, which are like the rings in tree trunks, except they record climate conditions over thousands of years via accumulations of snow and ice. Given its age, Arctic ice has unfathomable history and depth, and Ward's watercolors seem chock full of both, especially in her large-scale watercolors. In torrents of gorgeously vivid blues, reds, yellows and more blues, she manages to capture an inherent, raw energy, all the more aided by the subtle sparkle of the mica in her watercolors. In addition to these large-scale works, which the artist calls "glacial ghosts" in a further reference to climate change, Ward has two watercolor pieces positioned directly across from each other in the gallery titled Ice Balloon. They're minutely detailed blue circles that directly reference Andrée's doomed expedition. Even if you didn't know the morbid history, you couldn't look at these icy blue watercolors and not shiver. Through November 21. 2815 Colquitt St., 713-526-9911. — MD
"Ruth Shouval: Settle," "Andrea Bianconi: Romance" and "Anthony Thompson Shumate: Sweetly Broken" The current show at Barbara Davis Gallery is actually three, as three different artists present their own exhibitions, to mixed results. Ruth Shouval's unique relief prints in "Settle" fill up the whole front room with a series of new prints that contrast a straightforward grid of a house with its deconstructed counterpart. She builds on the idea by presenting three pieces that have a labyrinth within the home's frames. The straightforward Meditation, which features an undisturbed vision of this home, is flanked by Lost?, two deconstructed versions of that print depicting the home disheveled and bent out of shape. It's an obvious symbol of home and place — and lacking a home and place — but resonates strongly. Mixed-media artist Andrea Bianconi focuses on matters of the heart in his show "Romance," which presents a mix of sculpture and drawings that meditate on love. But despite the name, it's not very romantic, at least not in the typical saccharine sense. The main focal point is two vases, one black, the other white, that consist of flowers covered in glue and enamel. They are wilting in this mess, frozen in their decay. As another symbol, this one of love, they're fascinating, beautiful pieces. Anthony Thompson Shumate presents a series of textual pieces in "Sweetly Broken." In four works, enamel is hand-painted onto birch plywood to spell out what are essentially still lifes. "Two half-filled goblets obscured by an unruly, counterfeit ivy on a windowsill," reads one. "A ripe, swollen, nibbled peach rests alone, bleeding on a fresh table linen," reads another. Shumate could have drawn these compositions for us in the traditional sense, but instead he chooses to dictate them most ironically in overly artistic language. In an intriguing move, the text, and the image created by that text, are more important than the reproduction of the still life itself. Through November 9. 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200. — MD
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"Translucent Trajectories" Both Orna Feinstein and Carlos Zerpabzueta are multimedia artists who traffic in works that are optically playful and vibrantly colorful, making this show a dizzyingly fun experience. Each uses materials that are very plasticky — Feinstein with her plexi, Zerpabzueta with his co-polyester. These materials can be very cold, disengaging and, sometimes in the case of Zerpabzueta's work, muddy, but once you get past that, they are highly interactive thanks to their three-dimensional qualities.Feinstein creates an almost "Magic Eye" effect with her Tree Dynamics series — layered pieces of fabric, paper and monoprint on plexi radiate orbs meant to represent the concentric circles of tree rings. There's a lot of tension in the works, between the natural and synthetic, as well as her use of a traditional printmaking medium in such a contemporary way. Feinstein continues to play with that dynamic in her Morel series, inspired by the structure of a plant or fungus when observed under a microscope. These sculptural works feature sheets of monoprint on plexi that seem to move and pulsate as you walk around them. Zerpabzueta studied architecture at one point, and his minutely constructed works here do take on a strong architectural quality. There are boxes and monitor-like structures filled with layers of acrylic on co-polyester that take the form of patterns or text. They seem like little puzzles, pieces that need to be decoded. That's especially the case with Codigo de Marcas, a mounted piece that looks like an open book layered with letters in yellow, black, red and blue. Despite the familiar letters, these textual elements don't reveal anything (at least not to the solely English-fluent viewer). The more you look at it, the less sense it makes, but you can't help but continue to stare. Anya Tish Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-524-2299. — MD