Capsule Art Reviews: "Ben Tecumseh DeSoto: ZENtrospective," "Dieter Balzer: Objects," "Dog Park," "Flyaway: New Work by Aaron Parazette," "Glass Graphica," "Texas Eclectic"

"Ben Tecumseh DeSoto: ZENtrospective" Redbud Gallery is a hopelessly small venue for a retrospective on Ben Tecumseh DeSoto, the longtime Houston photographer whose work has appeared on the pages of the Houston Chronicle and the walls of the Menil and Contemporary Art Museum Houston. And yet "ZENtrospective" manages to bring together an astonishing range of subject matter and style by the prolific photographer. It begins with a beautifully composed shot of birds from his Dreams of Flight series, moves to scenes of homelessness and drug abuse, leaps to extreme close-ups of cicadas in the act of molting, and returns to birds — photograms of ducks and baby birds — over the course of 36 photographs. Barry Lives At Monroe And I-45 (2008) is a portrait of a homeless man with the most striking blue eyes. He takes up half the frame, hunched over like his own mountain, clutching the day's Chronicle while the lights of the street are blurred behind him. A trio of shots from DeSoto's "Painfully Real" series was taken 20 years before DeSoto found Barry. They're groupings of images from newspaper assignments that were never published, the photographer notes, due to their "provocative nature." The names of two of these four-part reels of film tell you why — "Smoking Crack" and "Shooting Drugs." Exploitative? Maybe a little. But the images were taken in the intimacy of someone's home, with some of the users demonstrating close up for the camera. These were subjects who wanted to have their pictures taken and have their lives documented, and DeSoto was willing to do that. Among all this, you'll also find beautiful images of brave little birds (Birds Endure Winter Rain) and "edgy portraits" of a Ms. Yet, focusing on her extravagant back tattoos, the pearls around her neck and the rings piercing her nipples. It's a strange little show for sure, full of images that are at times shocking, other times stunning. But it's always honest. Through September 30. 303 East 11th St., 713-862-2532. — MD

"Dieter Balzer: Objects" While looking at Dieter Balzer's meticulous overlapping stripes and bold checkers, I couldn't help but think of the on-trend fashion equivalent — the mix-matched patterns and loud color blocking that have been everywhere this past summer. And now, so it seems, they've found their way to the walls of Gallery Sonja Roesch, whose current exhibition features the Berlin artist's newest works. From either vantage point, both the fashion and the art are appealing for many of the same reasons — the use of bright, vibrant colors, of blue against green against purple against orange, is cheery and attention-grabbing. Meanwhile, the different patterns are unexpected but have an innate logic and surprising order, even when the bars and squares that make up these sculptures overlap. Balzer, of course, isn't copying some in-vogue style; the Gallery Sonja Roesch favorite has been making reductive art like this for years, filling up the walls and floors here and in Europe with his colorful, linear sculptures. He has an exact system, too, creating his curiously named works (Mesa, Flic Flac, Xeos, Manga) based on a modular system of architecture and color. In this sense, every piece of adhesive foil-covered MDF has a place and a color and relates to other elements of the sculpture in a very specific way, making for works that are balanced despite their seeming disorder. Within all that spontaneity of color and pattern, there is a sense that Dieter is pulling the strings. While fashions may come and go, there is a timelessness to the artist's objects, which elegantly cut through the white space. His clean, bright sculptures can hold up. Through October 27. 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424. — MD

"Dog Park" G Gallery put out the open call earlier this summer for artists who use dogs as subject matter in their work. And the resulting show is indeed a winner. It has a range of mediums, from paintings to photography to sculpture, with submissions by some of the Houston art scene's heavy hitters. A real standout is Suzy Gonzalez's How Much Is That in the Window?, an oil painting depicting a normal family scene — mom, dad and little boy, who's pointing off excitedly at something out of view — except for the fact that they have dog heads instead of human. It's like a surreal Norman Rockwell painting. James Ruby's Smooch 2.0 is wonderfully all snout. Theresa Crawford's Fixated is a regal portrait of a contemplative shih tzu, while b.moodyart's The God Dog is a raw, emotive portrait of a bulldog, almost primitive in its acrylic sketches. There's an extreme lightness in Nola Parker's Charlie I, which depicts a dog mid-air, bounding carefree through the grass. In photography, there's a great suite of dogs at their quirkiest. Mary Magsamen and Stephan Hillerbrand turn to the family dog for their portrait of Cerebrus, who's lying almost luxuriously in a pile of white bread. Lee Deigaard's goofy The Dog Who Took the Place of a Mountain is a blurry portrait of a cross-eyed bloodhound named, perfectly, Buster, while Martha M. Thomas's Disdain depicts an extremely angry-looking poodle that is just raw emotion. Meanwhile, Ben Tecumseh DeSoto makes it political with Dog Realizes Death, a photograph of a frightened-looking puppy being led reluctantly by a person in rubber rain boots. The text accompanying the photo tells us that the dog is about to die by lethal injection. It's the most heartbreaking and serious submission in this diverse show. That it's placed next to a photograph of two dogs humping — that's the gift of the open call. Through September 30. 301 E. 11th St., 713-869-4770. — MD

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Meredith Deliso
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Abby Koenig
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