"Mike Medow: The Second Life of Wood" at the West Valley Art Museum: Remember when you were a kid and you used to do gross stuff just to be funny, like sculpting mud to look like dog poop and eating it to freak out your little sister? Man, that was hilarious. Too bad responsibility, career, and money trouble have beaten all your sick whimsy away. But that's not the case for Mike Medow. This self-taught artist has been carving for 35 years and makes objects that like to play. Medow's beautifully carved, life-size marionette hangs like a corpse from the ceiling. Its vacant eyes, strange grin, and exposed penis will make you giggle out of discomfort. Medow's messing with you, and he gets even more playful with his three wooden pairs of boots. If it weren't for the visible wood grain, the carved folds might convince someone these were really made of leather. But the jig is up once the boot's ankle begins to morph into a bare foot. It's a yucky sight to see these human toes sprout from the shoes. The rest of the show is full of similar works that offer a break from our serious lives. Admission is $7. Through March 16 at 17420 N. Avenue of the Arts (114th Avenue and Bell Road) in Surprise. Call 623-972-0456 or visit www.wvam.org.
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"The Art of David Borders: A Forty Year Survey of Painting, Collage and Assemblage" at The Chandler Center for the Arts: David Borders doesn't offer anything new, but offering something has never been his intent. For the past 40 years, this painter has looked to popular art as inspiration for his own art, making for a wide range of styles in this retrospective show. Most are unimpressive oil paintings of splotchy, morose color schemes that look like sponge paintings. His mixed-media collages are better, combining vintage photos, floral wallpaper, and a pastel palette. The pieces are like visual poetry, and many include snippets of written stories. The writing paired with the images challenge your imagination to find relationships and fill in the narrative gaps. Things get more exciting with assemblages like The Palace of Chryseis. Here, everything from stained lace to silky tassels, to rosaries, marbles, and tarnished silk flowers are piled on the painting's surface. The works are dark, mysterious and musty with a stimulating and curious arrangement — making assemblages the clear success of this artist's body of work. Admission is free. Through March 1. 250 N. Arizona Ave in Chandler. Call 480-782-2683 or visit http://chandlercenter.org.
"New Work by Jason Grubb, Lara Kupcikevicius and Ami Minnick" at Bragg's Pie Factory: It's no mystery where Ami Minnick gets her inspiration. She includes the source right in the piece, by combining a series of framed vinyl album covers and adding a related drawing. One set shows a number of albums with campy illustrations of women and a cartoon-like picture of a girl slumbering under the covers as a part of the convoy. It's a way to understand the inception of the drawings, and without the accompanying covers, the works would be dull. Unfortunately, Jason Grubb's photographs don't have that saving factor. The large prints show blurred snowy landscapes — as though he stuck his camera out the car window and snapped. They take your mind back to a boring road trip, but not much further. Lara Kupcikevicius outshines the other artists with her encaustic images. Most show pastel stripes, softened by the bumpy wax-surface texture. Her real success is a series of images of lopsided countryside houses and structures — all with cornflower-blue rooftops. They look like childhood drawings of an isolated homestead and radiate irresistible charm. Admission is free. Through February 29. Open by appointment. Call 602-307-4019 or visit larakupcikevicius.blogspot.com.
Mike Medow: The Second Life of Wood|Assemblage|Jason Grubb|Ami Minnick|Lara Kupcikevicius|Sensual Surfaces|On the Ball
Jessica Calderwood's "Sensual Surfaces" at Mesa Contemporary Arts: If you've ever stumbled across another person's diary, you've been faced with an insatiable temptation to dive in and get an eyeful of their secrets. Even if you managed to walk away (if so, bravo to you), it's easy to understand that longing to take a peek at privacy. An artist's sketchbook is often just as revealing as any diary, and artist Jessica Calderwood has bared her visual soul for all to see. She uses the drawings from her sketchbook in a series of enamel works (glass on metal) that reveal her concentrations on sensuality, consumption, and femininity. One wall in the gallery is covered with egg-sized convex plaques, each decorated with a tiny drawing. There's a mouth biting a lower lip, an eyelash curler, a woman blowing a gum bubble, a corset, and a uterus. The larger platters show drawings of women, their seductively open mouths belching flowers and bouquets that weave into the air. Another shows a woman's face, marked up like a body on Nip/Tuck. The show is provocative in both its imagery and the revealing nature of Calderwood's sketches — a conglomeration of ideas in their infancy that, when displayed all at once, show a mature conception of feminine sensuality. Admission is $3.50 for adults and free for children ages 7 and under. Through April 6. 1 E. Main St. in Mesa. Call 480-644-6501 or visit http://mesaartscenter.com.
"On the Ball" at Sky Harbor Airport Terminal 4, Level 3 Gallery: With millions of travelers passing through Sky Harbor every year, the art displays must approach crowd-pleasing topics. And what's more crowd-pleasing than American sports? There are two artists that really outshine the rest. Keith Stanton has a pretty rad photography trick in which he sets up a scene in miniature and shoots with a macro lens to create the illusion of true-to-life scale. The photos are convincing at first glance, but because of their bright colors and miniature-model quality, they have a surrealistic edge. The other artist worth your time is Denise Currier, who basically paints with fabric. It's safe to assume that this woman has made some kickass quilts in her time, as evidenced by the stellar construction of pieced fabrics and with gorgeous decorative stitching. She creates beautiful plush scenes of golf courses. Jeff Falk's small gold statue of a child with a baseball mitt and cap was too over the top. It's an obvious attempt to update the cherub statues seen in cathedrals but the only thing Falk's piece looks like is a creepy doll, spray-painted by a sadistic kid. Admission is free. The show runs through March 30 at 3400 E. Sky Harbor Blvd. Call 602-273-2105 or visit phoenix.gov/skyharborairport.