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Bugging Out: Allison Hunter's Blue Butterflies and Kaleidoscopic Honeycombs at Alliance Art

Allison Hunter takes nature shots that are unlike anything you'd be lucky enough to find in nature. From the indigo, delicate specimens in her "Blue Butterfly" series to the zoomed-in cells of her "Honeycomb" one, butterflies and bees have never been this appealing, or photogenic.

"Hanging by a Thread," a new exhibition at Alliance Gallery, shows off just a small sampling of Hunter's photography inspired by her work in zoos, where she's spent the last nine years making photographs and videos of animals.

The Houston artist's work wouldn't be possible without some Photoshop. Her butterfly subjects are stripped of any natural background, instead placed against a white studio one, as if they posed just for her. The butterflies themselves are also manipulated, so divorced from their real form that they look like ink drawings.

These photos may have inspired the exhibition's name, but it's the honeycombs that offer the most visually intriguing works -- abstract, kaleidoscopic prints that will leave you in a trance. They look more like underwater scenes than anything born of a bee, save for one -- "Untitled #5" -- which leaves in the responsible insect, as if it accidentally landed on the image during the shoot.

There are a few life-sized odes to the insects in three pocket-sized portraits of bees made in oil on canvas. These seemingly quick little sketches are so small, you might pass over them if you didn't know they were there (they're next to a video installation of bees at work that's apparently paired with audio, though during the bustling opening night on Thursday, we were none the wiser). These teeny-tiny pieces are only notable in that they offer a change of pace in an exhibition that offers much of the same -- the color blue everywhere, more butterflies hanging from that titular thread than you could keep track of, and almost as many honeycomb close-ups (to be fair, repetition is an unavoidable by-product of any series, though these could have used more variety). Still, when insects -- especially, shudder, bees -- are so often the subject of scorn, reminders of their skill and beauty are quite welcome, especially ones that are this visually pleasing.

"Hanging by a Thread" at Alliance Gallery, 3201 Allen Parkway, now through December 30. Regular viewing hours are 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays. For information, call 713-527-9330 or visit www.houstonartsalliance.com. Free.

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