Flatbed Press Gallery through April 9

Ahh... a solo exhibition. An all-too-rare chance for an artist to flex her muscles and for us to see an encompassing collection of work by a singular artist. In Austin, where the trend is toward group exhibitions, it's refreshing to find a show solely devoted to one (local!) artist.

And Arlene Polite is an artist whose work is rarely displayed, in fact. I've seen fragments of Polite's work around town -- on a T-shirt for the Clarksville Jazz Festival; as part of Coronado Studio's serigraph project -- but this is the first assemblage of her work I've discovered, and what a marvelous discovery it is. Polite has spent 15 years perfecting the art of woodcut printmaking, and it shows. Her intricately detailed works depict scenes from the everyday -- including many of children, such as Play, which shows a group of kids beaming with delight as they monkey around in some trees -- and the exotic, as in Village in Thai Highlands, which presents a calm, quiet day in the life of a flute-playing villager. All the pieces -- some black-and-white, some hand-colored -- are infused with the innumerable etched lines that lend woodcuts their vibrating energy, an aspect which fills the small gallery with motion and life.

Most of Polite's works convey such a calmness and beauty that you get the feeling she's trying to make little worlds in which to get lost. Her gardens full of flowers, kitchens full of bustling cooks, and children full of vigor and life all focus on simple pleasures, but with such a sense of euphoria that they remind you to take note of these sweet things. -- Cari Marshall


Hyde Park Theatre through April 5

Lana Dietrich in Why We Have a Body

In the beginning, there are the words. Sometimes the words are funny, sometimes sad, but always the words are mired in the time in which they were assembled. All of the flights of a production's theatrical fancy are based on the words, and sometimes this is good, sometimes not. The words give those involved in the production a place to hang their art, whether that art is a well-crafted performance or a well-placed light.

Claire Chafee's script Why We Have A Body, produced by Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre, provides a crisp place for Christina J. Moore to hang her direction. The words clip right along as they tell us the story of a woman, her two daughters, and a lover of one daughter. Austin stage veteran Lana Dieterich illuminates the questing mother, Eleanor, while Paula Rester brings a dollop of snappy humor to Mary, one of Eleanor's daughters and a gun-toting bad girl with a thing for convenience stores. Mary's sister Lili, a private detective who wants someone to search for her clues, is skittishly played by Catherine Uldrich, and her lover, the confused Renee, is brought to life by Jody Gehrman.

For the most part, the technical elements of the show also work well with the words. C. J. Swinburn's lighting design and Andrea Lauer's props and costume design provide luscious insight into the characters that these talented actors portray. The set, however, doesn't quite function as a complete unit, and this incohesion leads to clunky scene changes and odd sight-lines.

Given all this, it would appear that Chafee's words are, for the most part, well served. Why, then, does something feel unsettled and off-putting in this production by a company that is known for its audience-engaging work?

It may be that Chafee's underlying message is simply too mired in the times which created it. These words, while witty and engaging, simply don't describe the way we live anymore. Or it may be that I, as an audience member, am unwilling to lay blame where Chafee wants me to and am left in the cold because I, as a woman, have never felt compelled to hold up a Quicky Mart, sleep with another woman, or wander about the world, looking for myself. Perhaps these words were simply targeted at a specific niche to which I never have or will belong.

Which is too bad, considering how much in this production really makes Chafee's words sing. -- Adrienne Martini


Lyons Matrix Gallery through March

This impressive collection features new works by Lyons Matrix's stable of artists, plus some pieces by a newcomer to the gallery, sculptor Ginger Geyer. Geyer's work has a distinctive and refreshing kitschiness -- a tongue-in-cheek quality -- that makes them stand out from the rest of the show.

Geyer's All Around the Carpenter's Shop is a biblical jack-in-the-box -- a "Jesus-in-the-box," if you will. The piece, made from glazed porcelain with gold and platinum, features the pop-up puppet as a multi-faced Jesus. You can turn the puppet's head according to the kind of omniscience you're in the mood for; there's the kind, loving Jesus, the condemning, wrathful Jesus, and the pained, sorrowful Jesus. Around the base of the box are depictions of biblical scenes, and the entire structure is painted in bright colors that lend the piece a playful look. It's like a quickie pop-up religion for your devout inner child.

The show also features -- at last -- a new work by Melissa Miller, who continues her journey into the realm of watercolors. This piece, Night Phenomenon, presents an adult owl sitting cock-headed next to a baby owl on a branch. Whereas Miller often infuses her animal subjects with human characteristics, the creatures featured here appear as simply wide-eyed owls. But the birds have a wisdom and soulfulness in their eyes, as though Miller was trying to eschew any overt characterizations and let the animals' wisdom come out from the inside.

Susan Plum's Angel Vessel is a remarkably beautiful piece; a delicate, glimmering sculpture of woven lampworked glass, the piece looks like the shed cocoon of an angel. New works by other well-known Austin artists are also on display: a new lithograph by Fidencio Durán, a sprawling watercolor series by Richard Thompson, another of Bob "Daddy-O" Wade's painted photographs. It would be nice to see an entire collection by each of these artists, but we must make do with these delightful morsels. -- Cari Marshall


Dougherty Arts Center Gallery through March 25

If you saw "Fresh Ink" at the Austin Museum of Art Downtown and want more -- or maybe fewer -- prints to look at, visit the Dougherty Arts Center, where Women Printmakers of Austin is presenting its show "Bestiary." The gallery is filled with mono-prints, lithographs, intaglios, and woodblocks that depict animals (and a chair and a couple of semi-abstract pictures thrown in for good measure).

Unlike the larger print show, this one consists for the most part of small-scale works more typical of the medium. The artists provide an information sheet which explains the "fine art print" (as does AMOA) and a very reasonable price list for the junior collector.

Many of the images are appealing -- we're talking animals here -- though some slip into cute, not adding much to the zillion zoological drawings that have accumulated since the Lascaux Caves. I was impressed with Maggie Crisp's monoprints on canvas and Margaret Simpson's frogs, all drawn with a sure hand and a delicate balance of black, white, and gray. Katharine Brimberry's Birthday Pony proved a lovely little surprise, as did Sylvia Bett's homage to Chagall, a softly colored flying fish with a face called All Decked Out....

I was particularly intrigued by an inanimate double-handled black vase set against a fiery background. To the unsigned (the work wasn't labeled!) and unsung colorist -- good work!

-- Rebecca S. Cohen

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