Capsule Art Reviews: "Ben Tecumseh DeSoto: ZENtrospective", "Emily Sloan: Enlight", "Flyaway: New Work by Aaron Parazette," "James Turrell: Holograms," "Michael Petry: Bad Restoration"

"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 Arts 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

"Emily Sloan: Enlight" During her summer residency at Darke Gallery, Houston artist Emily Sloan crafted metal sculptures inspired by mandalas — a Sanskrit word literally meaning "circle" that is a major element of Buddhist and Hindu religious art. They're often seen as concentric diagrams and used to aid in meditation, like those moving spirals hypnotists are known for. Sloan's mandalas aren't your typical drawing or diagram. They're 3-D, jutting out from walls or laid at angles on the floor. They look like wire outlines of lampshades, and in fact Sloan even inserts lampshades in the center of some of these sculptures. With her mandala inspiration, it can be assumed that Sloan wants to also put us in a trance. And the longer you look at the lines of her sculptures, the more you start to see shapes in them — I saw flowers one moment, musical instruments the next. As you move around the gallery, the individual mandalas also overlap each other, creating new lines and images. I've been told that the metal works look best when they're able to cast prominent shadows against the wall. When I saw them, the shadows were faint, but I could imagine that this interplay could be quite beautiful if seen at the right time. One of the best parts of the exhibition is a video Sloan created with artist Jonathan Jindra that makes the warmly lit mandalas come alive as the camera moves in and out of them. Distorted voices provide the soundtrack to this entrancing film. Through September 29. 320 B Detering St., 713-542-3802. — MD

"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

"James Turrell: Holograms" The normally well-lit Hiram Butler Gallery has gone dark for its current show — holograms by the famed light artist James Turrell. He's best known of late for his skyspaces — meditative areas both indoor and out that encourage you to sit while they play with your perception of light. These spaces are minimal works that require little on your part but are still wholly immersive. Like the famous skyspaces, these works also play with perceptions of light, but they aren't such a passive experience. Rather, these six holograms demand interaction — a call and response that will have patrons unconsciously doing the "hologram dance," as the gallery's taken to calling it — a silly shuffle from side to side that enables you to experience the glowing pieces three-dimensionally. The six holograms on view are unnamed, though they can be distinguished by the distinct color and shape of their subject — light itself. A thin blue and green sphere, an orange beam, a blue ring and a slanted blue oval, all glowing against a stark black background, comprise the four long transmission holograms hanging across from each other in the main space. As you move from side to side, the light changes color and shape, coming out at you without the aid of cheesy 3D glasses. Though they don't rival them in size, the exhibition's two smaller holograms are the most remarkable on view. They're smaller than an iMac and feature crisper and bolder holograms. The bluish-green circle in the last hologram is so sharp and real looking, you can't help but try to grasp it with your hand, only to go through it like some geometric ghost. Through September 22. 4520 Blossom St., 713-863-7097. — MD

"Michael Petry: Bad Restoration" There's a bit of backstory to Michael Petry's new body of work. While the Texas-born, London-residing multimedia artist was in a residency last year at Sir John Soane's Museum in London, the museum was undergoing a restoration project. This idea of restoration pervades his pieces — they're works that are seemingly ruined. At the same time, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray had a major influence — the idea of a piece representing the passage of time, reflecting back an image of a person that isn't really there. The result is eight glass mirror pieces that are currently hanging in the front room of Hiram Butler Gallery. They're called mirrors, but you wouldn't trust them to help you apply your eyeliner in the morning. They're broken, consisting of layers of thin sheets of glass and pieces of sterling silver or 24-karat gold, one over the other. They'll only reflect back a partial, broken form of yourself, with the intent to make you pause and think about how you present yourself to the world. Or something like that. I was too distracted by the beautiful damage of the silver- and gold-leaf pieces to notice my own shattered reflection. In each work, the gold or silver has complex layers and textures that look at turns like ridges, the contours of fingerprints or, in the case of silver especially, broken surfaces of ice. The surface of all these images has been compromised, but they're being displayed nonetheless, warts and all. It's a funny and completely modern thought — this idea of constantly wanting to improve and restore, and that going badly despite your best intentions. Yet there's still beauty in the damage. Through September 22. 4520 Blossom St., 713-863-7097. — MD

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Meredith Deliso
Contact: Meredith Deliso