"Donald Baechler: Sculptures and Paintings" Like a kindergartner, Donald Baechler always seems to be painting with a brush that's way too big. But the artist somehow manages to channel the "childlike" without getting hokey, and he's offering up his appealingly lumpy work at McClain Gallery. His series of flower paintings, crudely rendered black silhouettes on gloppy grounds, are nice but get a little repetitive. The real standouts in the show are Baechler's absurdly flat bronze sculptures. A misshapen teacup sprouts roughly formed tulips when viewed from the front, but when you walk to the side, the work practically disappears. It's a really witty piece, and there's a wonderful consistency between the paintings and the sculptures — the 3D works look like they were cut straight from the artist's canvases. April 30. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — KK
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"Larassa Kabel: and all of this so far from Heaven" Colored pencils get a bad rap. As is the case with the equally derided watercolor, there is nothing inherently wrong with the medium, it's just that they both seem to attract so many people who make such bad art. Larassa Kabel's work at Peel Gallery is, for the most part, a welcome exception. Kabel works in a restrained black and white palette. Her series of small works done from oddly cropped photos provoke that "Wow, it looks just like a photo!" response. They aren't bad, but they just aren't pushed far enough beyond skillful duplication, and showing them framed with glass and clips over colored mats doesn't help to dispel colored pencil's high-school art associations. But Kabel is capable of some really incredible work, and her series of eight-by-eight-foot drawings of horses in free-fall are stunning. Set against blank white paper, the massive animals twist and contort in the air, their manes and tails flowing, their muscles clearly visible under their shiny coats. They remind me of an equine version of Robert Longo's 1980s drawings of flailing yuppies. If Kabel keeps producing work of this caliber, Prismacolor should give her a stipend. Through April 30. Peel Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-520-8122. — KK
"Mark Bradford: A 20 Year Survey" Mark Bradford, the no-holds-barred poster boy of Houston's art car scene, has a 20-year survey on view at, fittingly, the Art Car Museum. Bradford has received a lot of national attention for his work, even hosting the History Channel show Scrapyard Scavenger. While this survey includes some more traditional sculpture by Bradford, aside from some wall masks with motorized eyes and mouths, they aren't especially interesting. Bradford's over-the-top art cars and contraptions are where the artist really shines. His giant motorized creatures are pretty amazing, many of them covered with "scales" made from stainless steel spoons. (Bradford bought three station wagons full of silverware when American Airlines shifted to plastic utensils after 9/11.) In addition to the sculptures and art cars, video documentation of past events plays in the gallery, presenting exploits that range from shooting down a snowy ski run in a rigged-up sled, to riding fire-breathing contraptions at Burning Man, to catapulting a refrigerator for a world record. Combining superb fabrication and scavenging skills with a raw Mad Max sensibility, Bradford is a true Houston original. Through April 24. 140 Heights Blvd., 713-861-5526. — KK
"Regine Schumann: Chameleon" Regine Schumann's fluorescent Plexiglas boxes may have a subtle glow during the day, but under black light, they look like they've been plugged in. Schumann combines planes of vividly colored Plexi to create her wall-mounted works. They're well-crafted, but aside from the very cool luminosity factor, most of the forms rely on standard geometric shapes. Still, there are a couple of very interesting standouts in which Schumann is taking expected squares and rectangles and ever-so-slightly warping the sides in or out. The best is a large square in a radiant "safety orange." Schumann has curved the sides outward so slightly that you keep wondering if it is an optical illusion. Subtle alterations like these give the work a very interesting edge. Through May 7. Gallery Sonja Roesch, 2309 Caroline Street, 713-659-5424. — KK
"Kate Breakey 2011: Painted Light" I've never been a huge fan of Kate Breakey's work. Breakey's stock-in-trade is painstakingly hand-painted photographs of cut flowers and dead birds. The "deadness" of both is a particular area of interest to the artist. The results are colorful, treacly and crowd-pleasingly decorative. But in a wall installation of new work at McMurtrey Gallery, Breakey has taken her death fixation in a much more interesting direction. She's making photograms by taking plants and insects and roadkill, laying them on light-sensitive paper and then exposing it. The results are soft-edged, sepia-toned silhouettes against black backgrounds: ferns, tarantulas, birds, coyotes and snakes. (The snakes have an especially nice graphic quality.) The artist presents the variously sized images in an assortment of vintage frames – big for coyote, small for tarantula. Clustered together salon-style on one wall, the works are incredibly poignant and evocative, presenting death like a Victorian collection. The viewer is left to imagine the details. This straightforward approach elegantly conveys the emotion Breakey has been trying for in her far more involved and overwrought painted photographs. Through April 23. McMurtrey Gallery, 3508 Lake Street, 713-523-8238. — KK