"Jim Waid Recent Paintings" at Riva Yares Gallery: It's easy to make the argument that we're overstimulated. With TV, movies, and Wii, paintings really have to go the extra mile to stand out. Jim Waid's nature-inspired paintings, while static, offer an escape into a whimsical world of fantastic landscapes and creatures that held my interest for sure. The artist lives in Tucson and has been showing nationally since the 1970s. His recent pieces are glimpses into a surrealistic jungle filled with exploding flowers, chattering wildlife, and fluttering insects. Waid literally lays it on thick with multiple coats of paint that he selectively scrapes away to reveal previously laid hues. Most look like midnight scenes and are dominated by a heavy black top coat. Strategic scrapes of the paint reveal the bright colors of the natural world beyond — it appears as if you're caught in a jungle at night with only a flickering flashlight to unveil the lively surroundings. Other works, such as Box Canyon, are straightforward landscape scenes. The impressionistic style makes for subdued beauty — but it lacks the "wow" factor needed to hold a viewer's interest. Through February 11. Admission is free. 3625 Bishop Lane in Scottsdale. Call 480-947-4251 or visit www.rivayaresgallery.com.
Lindsay Palmer, Aaron Abbot and Don Kauss at eye lounge: eye lounge kicks off 2008 with two photographers and a sculptor, with varying degrees of success. Lindsay Palmer explores the properties of light through very pretty up-close shots of liquid-filled glasses perched on mirrored tables against a natural landscape. Each has a sense of color, and the piece, Through a glass . . . of water really pops. Aaron Abbott turns his lens to decrepit buildings of Arizona in a series of diptychs. Yes, they're melancholic, but photos of old buildings are nothing new. Don Kauss is the star. He creates hideously fantastic creatures and gut-wrenching sculpture by combining found objects and skeleton bits — just the kind of risk I'd like to see more of in 2008. Admission is free. Open Fridays 5 to 9 p.m. and Saturdays 1 to 5 p.m. Through January 31. 419 E. Roosevelt St. in Phoenix. Call 602-430-1490 or visit www.eyelounge.com.
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. She works on surfaces that range from the size of a dinner plate to a small pendant. 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 $3.50 for adults, 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.
Jim Waid|Lindsay Palmer|Aaron Abbot|Don Kauss|"Sensual Surfaces"|"A Century of Retablos"|"On the Ball"
"A Century of Retablos" at the Phoenix Art Museum: If you're a man, a touch of gray may get you further in this world than plastic surgery. The physical evidence of age, survival, and experience commands respect from peers. The same rule can apply to this collection, with works ranging from the mid-18th century to the late 19th century. These paintings of Christian imagery look their age. The muted colors that were bright at one time have aged to a translucent state that reveals the grain of the wood underneath. Some pieces have warped so dramatically that their panels have split. But much like a man's salt-and-pepper mustache, the age is what makes them charming and beautiful. This large collection portrays saints, the holy family, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the big cheese Himself in a simplistic, two-dimensional style — much like Byzantine but without the fancy gold leaf. Even if the Christian god isn't your thing, the show is worth a visit because the paintings stand as surviving historic artworks. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $4 for children, free to all on Tuesday evenings. Through February 3. 1625 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix. Call 602-257-1222 or visit www.phxart.org.
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"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 combined with gorgeous decorative stitching. She creates beautiful plush scenes of golf course landscapes. Jeff Falk's small gold statue of a child with a baseball mitt and cap was just 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.