Capsule Art Reviews: "Flyaway: New Work by Aaron Parazette", "Liz Ward: Cryosphere" "Ruth Shouval: Settle," "Andrea Bianconi: Romance" and "Anthony Thompson Shumate: Sweetly Broken", "Tony Feher: A Work in Four Parts", "Translucent Trajectories"

"Flyaway: New Work by Aaron Parazette" Since moving to Houston in 1990 to be a part of the Core Residency Program at the Glassell School of Art, Aaron Parazette has become one of the city's premier artists. He's taught at the School of Art at the University of Houston for more than a decade, had several solo shows in Houston, Dallas and abroad, and put on major shows himself, including a survey of Houston art currently up at McClain Gallery. Of course, there's also the matter of the art itself — crisp, slick, abstract designs that play with color and form in new ways and seem to get better and more refined every time. So Parazette's current title as Art League Houston's Texas Artist of the Year is a no-brainer. With the award also comes a solo show at Art League, and aren't we lucky. Parazette has decked out two walls of the space's main gallery with his signature, a wall installation. Called "Flyaway," it's an enveloping grid of blue, green, black and white that seems to stretch on infinitely. I loved the sense of speed Parazette managed to create in his bursts of color and lines, and even, likely unintentionally, the way the colors reflected off the black floor. The painting doesn't stop. The show also features six selections from Parazette's new Color Key series. He has abandoned the surfer slang he's experimented with in previous solo shows and focused solely on lines, color and shape. They're unusual shapes, at that — slanted, bulging half-circles, abrupt pentagons and perfect ovals that seem as if they're reacting to the bursts of color and geometric shapes within, trying to contain it all. Of course, these paintings are contained, whether by the limits of the canvas or the walls of the gallery itself. But at least for a little bit, it seems, those limits don't exist. Through November 2. Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — 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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"Tony Feher: A Work in Four Parts" Tony Feher's exhibition at Blaffer Art Museum is getting a lot of attention right now, and rightfully so, but a much more modest show of the artist's work is also noteworthy. A Work in Four Parts, currently up at Hiram Butler Gallery, is quintessential Feher — the use of ordinary objects to make highly deliberate art — and feels very much like an intimate conversation with the artist. Feher doesn't often name his pieces, but he gives this work multiple identities. A Work in Four Parts refers to four shelves placed at different levels that support glass and plastic objects. Feher sensed a lyrical quality to this arrangement and further named each of the four shelves — Adagio, Allegro, Animato and Appassionato. Borrowing the names of these movements helps inform each shelf. "Adagio" means "at ease," and the shape and progression of the bottles do seem calm and low-key. "Allegro," on the other hand, means "lively," and this shelf is a bit busier and has more variety among the materials. And so on with the other two shelves. You can read these pieces as you would a piece of sheet music. There are even recurring notes or chords, as it were, as the same materials repeat themselves across the four parts. It's easy to forget what you're looking at when you study Feher's song. They're just plastic and glass bottles — junk, really — that are filled with even more junk — feathers, glitter, food coloring, cornstarch, packing peanuts. But Feher manages to make them worth looking at. The red, orange and blue of his dyed water is vibrant. The packing peanuts stick to the side of the glass jar as if in a state of suspended animation. A red ball rests at the top of a bottle, everything perfectly in tune with the rest. Feher gives us clues as to how to read his piece, and in the process we are looking at and considering these materials as if for the very first time. That's some magic. Through November 7. 4520 Blossom St., 713-863-7097. — MD

"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

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