Water Rising 

Our endangered worlds.

In L Ross Gallery's exhibition, "Sculpture," artworks range from the comic to the sublime. Helen Phillips' raku-fired ducks are both. Dressed in long, brown pontiff's robes with collars of seaweed draped around the base of their slim necks, they appear to glide across the surface of ponds, graceful and magisterial, in a series of works titled Contemplating a World Gone Mad.

In her haunting homage to global warming, Water Rising, Nancy White sculpts a woman's torso out of clay and plants it on the ocean floor. Waterbirds seek shelter in the seaweed growing from the woman's wrinkled shoulders. Her mouth, attempting to suck oxygen from the sea, reminds us that all creatures, including humankind, are woven into the web of life. What we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.

In Eli Gold's Peacekeeper, a work loaded with geopolitical implications, a nuclear-warhead hangs in a glass skyscraper beneath a human hand tied with golden threads to what the artist describes as an altar to "fear and greed."

At L Ross Gallery through November 30th

At Marshall Arts, "Ties That Bind" includes works by four artists whose lives are bound together by friendship and a love for the expressive possibilities of line.

The sinuous lines and untouched passages of watercolor paper in Mel Spillman's minimal but evocative portraits suggest the svelte figures, milky-white complexions, and bright lights of celebrity. No matter how matte the makeup or bright the lights, Spillman captures the soul inside the persona. In the 63-by-42-inch pencil-and-paper portrait What's In?, the lower part of the face of the leggy youngster who became the world's first supermodel is nearly washed out. In striking contrast, Twiggy's large, dark eyes dilate and stare at us like a deer caught in our headlights.

Roger Allan Cleaves' dystopian societies are inhabited by hybrids (part-human, part-heavy metal) with overdeveloped biceps and buttocks. Penises are projectiles; lovemaking looks lethal. Both the male and the female of the species obsessively cut, rape, and kill each other and anything else that moves. The mayhem is mesmerizing and unsettling. The titles of Cleaves' ink drawings (As Time Goes By, History Repeats Itself ) suggest that these homicidal hybrids could be us — could be the next stage of evolution for a species increasingly adept at genocide, collateral damage, and global warfare.

In some of the most evocative works in the show, Lindsay Palmore turns the bittersweet and the saccharine into meditations on emotion and time by pouring black washes across floral motifs, art deco baubles, and doilies collaged onto the surface of paintings titled You know my heart — it beats for you and To be sure these days continue.

Every inch of Bobby Spillman's paintings are filled with roaring rivers, bird houses, tree limbs, and telephone poles swept up by tornadic winds. Spillman's quick mind and rapid-fire imagination generate conversations as energized as his paintings. At the center of the largest painting in the show, Gimme Shelter, you'll find the artist's alter ego as a Bambi look-alike leaping nimbly over and around flying objects, its fur ruffled by the wind, its huge eyes wide-open — not with fear but wonder.

At Marshall Arts through November 29th

In "Elemental" at Perry Nicole Fine Art, Martha Kelly so accurately observes atmosphere, light, and texture, we both see and feel Morning Shadows snaking their way through grass thick with dew and lime-green in the early light. Kelly's depiction of rarified light in Vespers takes us to the edge of effable as gold fades to white at the top of the canvas.

Also at Perry Nicole, Chuck Johnson fills his "Recent Paintings" with microbes, amoebas, sunspots, phantasms, and botanical drawings so flawlessly rendered that the artist convinces us his exotic landscapes could be real. Johnson paints each canvas with encaustic and china markers, then covers the surface with a second landscape, leaving only traces of the first. He repeats this process, creating worlds within worlds that appear to be vast distances apart. 

Johnson's ability to make two-dimensional surfaces look fathoms deep and the magic he weaves into his worlds are particularly memorable. He paints nature in all its infinite variety, endlessly recreating itself.

At Perry Nicole Fine Art through November 28th

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