"Flying Solo" One of my first reactions to seeing the names involved in "Flying Solo," a new group exhibition at Art League Houston featuring Houston artists who aren't represented by a commercial gallery, was surprise that so many of them aren't represented. The seven artists included offer such unique, distinct voices, and, just because they're underrepresented, in a sense, doesn't mean they've been flying under the radar by any means. Just take Daniel Anguilu. In addition to the Art League show, in just the past few months, the muralist has been included in group shows of Houston artists at the Station Museum and Cardoza Fine Arts and was one of the artists who participated in the repainting of Lawndale Art Center's outside wall. In fact, he's pretty much synonymous with Midtown, thanks to the omnipresence of his distinctive animalistic murals. The other six free agents in the show, thoughtfully curated by Art League Visual Arts Director Jennie Ash to offer a diversity of mediums, subject matter and techniques, similarly have long résumés filled with runs at prestigious museums, residencies and MFA programs. Ann Wood stands out with two visceral pieces — a collage of two aggressive-looking horses in rapture, literal hearts floating from the charged piece, and her taxidermic pig installation — it's pretty in pink covered in glitter, but absolutely grotesque at the same time, thanks to some spilled "blood" and broken teeth. Lawndale Art Center resident Patrick Turk works on a smaller, more contained scale. His three-dimensional electronic sculptures are illuminated by LED lights and use magnifying glasses like little portholes onto the images of snakes, birds and bugs. The lone photographer, Chuy Benitez, turns his lens on Occupy Wall Street with his panoramic visions of protest and prayer. Lovie Olivia is harder to define — her two totem paintings, one of which intriguingly forgoes any traditional sense of portraiture and focuses exclusively on a tattooed woman's backside, employ a fresco-like technique that consists of layers of plaster, paint and printmaking. Fernando Ramirez's drawings are more straightforward in design — acrylic marker and pencil — but they create dense cities crowded with dynamic faces. Multimedia artist Emily Sloan's contributions are polar opposites and would seem born of two different minds — one is a messy, colorful portal, the other a stark steel form — if they weren't united by their lampshade-esque design. The exhibition starts and ends with Anguilu, from his color mural on Art League's front entrance to three works in the space's hallway consisting of spray paint and grids of wood, as if attempting to domesticate the graffiti. It's a very fresh show — all of the work is from this year. That, coupled with the unsigned angle, gives off this finger-on-the-pulse sense of discovery that's exciting. Ultimately, though, the show's conceit makes you wonder what the artists' defining collective lack of commercial representation is supposed to mean. Is the show an urgent call to sign these artists now? Or is it more a "We're doing just fine, thanks but no thanks" snub of the commercial art world? It seems to be a little bit of both, attempting to remain neutral and straddle both lines, which is a little frustrating. Of course, the real indicator will be whether any of these talented artists fly solo for much longer. Through January 4. 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — MD
"Gilad Efrat: Negev" Gilad Efrat has a tendency to become fixated on a subject matter, as evidenced by previous shows dominated by monkey portraits or paintings of European cities destroyed by bombings. In his third exhibition at Inman Gallery, the Tel Aviv artist returns to a subject matter he has visited several times previously in his work — Negev. In his earlier works, Efrat depicted the rocky Israeli desert through renderings of aerial views of archeological sites, as well as paintings of the Ansar detention camp located out in the desert, which is home to, as the artist describes it, "everything [the state] doesn't want near its more populous centers — trash, prisons, military, and energy installations." The reason for his fascination is deeply rooted — it is his homeland. Efrat was born in Beersheba, the Negev's largest city. The desert, which covers more than half of Israel, also provides much painterly inspiration, from the Bedouin settlements to the vast, flat desert views to the tamarisk — a bush tree that provides protection from the sun and wind. All are subject matter here in the Inman show. Regardless of topic over the past two decades, Efrat's technique has remained the same. Working from photographs, he paints oil on linen and then rubs away at the paint, a subtraction technique he's perfected that makes for thick, surprisingly dramatic works. The paintings of the tamarisk, for instance, are thick, wild, tangled messes with shocks of yellow lighting them up. His desert views are moody, contemplative pieces. You can feel the vastness of the inhospitable terrain. There are three paintings in the show that are rendered in a similar fashion, but instead of the desert, they depict the surface of the moon. These feel as unfamiliar and bare as you'd expect the moon to be — there are no tamarisk growing wild up here but only dark shadows and frozen craters. Though for all its foreignness, this land, which is less inhabitable than the driest, rockiest of deserts, is still not unknowable. Efrat's paintings are proof of that. Through January 5. 3901 Main, 713-526-7800. — MD
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"Jerry Jeanmard: Collages" Jerry Jeanmard has an eye. The longtime Houston resident has worked as an interior designer for nearly 30 years for the firm Wells Design/Jerry Jeanmard. He's also made his name as an illustrator; his claim to fame is one of his earliest jobs — the Blue Bell Ice Cream logo (you know the one — the silhouette of a little girl leading a cow for milking). For the past five years, Jeanmard has turned his eye to a less public endeavor — creating collages out of envelopes, bills and other scraps of paper. These pieces usually didn't see the light of day, going into storage upon completion or being sold to select clients. But lucky for us, the artist has his first solo show in an exhibition of 17 collages currently up at Moody Gallery. The collages were born out of Jeanmard's fascination with paper, and he's not discriminating. What would normally be seen by most as pieces of garbage are treasured items to Jeanmard. Once they're combined, the resulting conglomerations are clean and sharp, even where the paper is uneven, torn or creased. There's a nice continuity to the show, too — all of the works are done on the same size paper, and all of the collages are enveloped by a significant amount of white space, which helps the somewhat muted colors stand out. It's tempting to try to draw some sort of meaning out of the items used in the collages, from text to recognizable forms such as stamps and maps. But as the phrase goes, they are what they are. In fact, none of the pieces on display are even titled. (Broken Hearted, the lone titled work, sold and has since been replaced by an untitled piece.) If anything, these pieces are mostly about the appreciation of the paper. There can be beauty (or, more so the case here, a strong pleasantness) even in the most unlikely places, a lesson which can always bear repeating. Through January 5. 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911. — MD
"Jonathan Faber: Surface" Looking at Jonathan Faber's new work up at David Shelton Gallery, I see faces looking back at me. As with some Rorschach test that replaces black and white for neon colors and blots for primal geometric shapes, I can't help but see faces. In Surface, there are sleepy, swollen eyes; a light black stroke for a nose; and a thin zigzag for a mouth. In Broadcast, the image of a face is less apparent, but there appear to be the makings of a green skull with jagged lines for teeth. Whether or not you see faces, you'll surely be striving to find something familiar in these abstract pieces. (Is that a sail in Blanket?) The Austin artist has a history of creating works that are intentionally ambiguous, based off of slippery memories of boating trips, his childhood home, Vermont stays and whatever else is buried there. Several of the works, in fact, seem indicative of a place. Wake looks like some sort of marshland, inhabited by an ominous aqua-blue specter waiting in the reeds. Segment is surprisingly restrained compared to Faber's busier works. There's what appears to be a sewage pipe spouting toxic water, and black blobs that look like scrambled Mickey Mouse ears. The painting has an unfinished quality, with black marks floating off into the distance. It's open-ended. The majority of these works are oil paintings, though Faber also has little studies in pastels. These seem less indicative of a certain place or landscape, as in Bouquet. As the name promises, there are images of flowers, however faint. They are floating, delicate imprints surrounded by harsh, crude lines of stripes and triangles. The bouquet is almost an afterthought. With this latest work, Faber continues to toe the line between figurative and abstract art, though it's one that's increasingly getting blurred. There's more guesswork involved and not knowing. That can be challenging, but Faber leaves just enough clues to keep you in the game. Through January 5. 3909 Main, 832-538-0924. — MD
"Laura Nicole Kante: Fibers of Being" Putting it mildly, fiber is a big source of inspiration for Laura Nicole Kante. The artist, who's based out of McKinney, has three distinct works, all involving and experimenting widely with woven forms, currently up at Lawndale Art Center's Cecily E. Horton Gallery. The most prominent piece spreads through the upstairs gallery like a doily virus. Crochet lace takes over the walls, bending around corners and stretching above typically off-limits areas, like the elevator, where you don't usually expect to see work. It's an organic piece not unlike what the artist displayed recently on a major wall in the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft's "CraftTexas 2012" show. But I like how this technique works in a smaller space; the woven piece is able to interact with the architecture of the room and really encompass you. In another work, Kante's wall pieces take on more of a hard, sculptural form as handwoven copper, linen and silk interact to form alternately pointy and slithery beings. These project from the wall like horizontal stalactites or creep up it like snakes. They're pretty creepy, to say the least, which is not a feeling you usually associate with cloth. Lastly, Kante has created multiple wall slabs composed of drywall, wood, nails, and crocheted linen and doilies — beautiful and harsh at the same time. They hang on the wall as if cut and pasted from a previous exhibition of her crochet installations. Combined, these are all subtle, quiet works. There isn't a lot of color, which doesn't have a big impact at first. But once you spend some time with them, they all take on a life of their own. Through January 12. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — MD
"Unpremeditated Natures: Russ Havard and David McClain" Going to Gallery 1724, a salon-slash-gallery in the Museum District, you can never be too sure what's the newest artwork for display and what's just business as usual. So in the space's current show, curated by artist and proprietor Emily Sloan, if you find yourself wandering into the bathroom, don't worry, you're in the right place. As you enter the unconventional gallery, to your right, Houston artist David McClain has filled the walls with art traditionally framed and displayed in a grid. He calls it his "Lawyers" series, and in it, the artist (a lawyer himself, though he's currently not practicing) uses as source material meta magazine ads that advertise specialized law services geared toward other lawyers. He paints over the people and text in thick lines and patches, obscuring and revealing to create works that subvert the ads' original meaning. Phrases like "experience counts," "integrity" and "innovative solutions," meant to differentiate the lawyers and their services, are now exposed for how conventional they all are. Alongside the "Lawyers" series is "Works of Paper," an installation that layers the bathroom inside and out with paintings. McClain refers to his process here as "painting as meditation." Working in an undisciplined, unconscious process, the artist has created works that range from the abstract — splotches and rivers of moody color — to more representational — mostly faces and bodies composed in a naive style. There's also the rare photograph, which is the artist's primary medium. In such a confined space, it's a thrilling explosion of creativity. In the next room, Russ Havard's small graphite drawings line the walls. Like McClain, the Lufkin artist has an almost meditative process. He starts with a shape — a circle, an oval, a line — which morphs into a strong, recognizable form, from a fish to a tree to a pendulum in motion. They're mostly white and gray drawings, as if his little scenes are constantly overcast, though there are brief, welcome moments of spontaneous color. The show is titled "Unpremeditated Natures," which speaks well to the intuitive, carnal process of the artists. At the same time, they couldn't be more different — where McClain's paintings are wild and spontaneous, Havard's are controlled and ordered. It's a compelling pairing. Through January 26. 1724 Bissonnet, 713-582-1198. — MD