"Speechless" at Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art: Maybe it's our monogamous nature, but people love to pair things up. Chips and salsa, peanut butter and chocolate, shoes and socks — these are pairs that make sense. But we may have difficulty understanding the connection of something seemingly random, like horses and flowers. The large-scale photographs by Christopher Makos and Paul Solberg (a.k.a. the Hilton Brothers) put the two together as easily as if they were cookies and milk. The gorgeous prints showcase pristine clarity and crisp color. The divergent subject matter is shown as single pieces, hung side by side, balancing each other well. Makos focuses his lens on the largest of man's domesticated beasts, the horse. In Alpha, he frames the torso of an auburn horse; its fur coat glistens, highlighting the taut muscular structure and the bulging veins. At first glance, this looks like the chest of a buff human bodybuilder — an interesting parallel between man and beast. Solberg shoots similar large-scale photos of delicate flowers against dreamy white or black backgrounds. The two artists take it a step further, however, by splitting some prints in half with a horse on the lower portion and a flower on top. The flowers' delicate arrangement and fragility paired with the brutish bodies is an unexpected duo. As the eye follows the curves of the stems and petals, the horse's intimidating strength seems to soften. Conversely, the bulging muscles of the horse's body lend a sense of durability and strength to the gentle flower. Admission is free. Through January 2. 7160 Main St., Scottsdale. Call 480-429-0711.
"A Century of Retablos" at the Phoenix Art Museum: If you happen to be a man, a little touch of gray may very well get you further in this world than plastic surgery. The physical evidence of age, survival, and experience demands respect from peers. The same rule can easily apply to this collection, with works ranging from the mid-18th century to the late 19th century. These paintings of Christian imagery certainly look their age. The muted colors that were surely 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 definitely worth a visit because the paintings surely stand alone 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.
Linda Parker and Brenton Hamilton at Tilt Gallery: Especially here in the land of abundant light, elementary school art teachers tend to rely heavily on the cyanotype. That's the blue paper that you'd throw some objects on, let cook in the sun and presto! You get a little picture of white leaves on a cyan background, destined for the refrigerator door. But artist Brenton Hamilton demonstrates that cyanotypes aren't just child's play. Hamilton combines anatomical drawings of human body parts, botanical sketches and astrological symbols to create ghostly, nighttime visions. The fine white lines against the midnight blue are absolutely stunning. These are portraits of the human condition with symbols of mortal flesh, fruitful bounty and superstition. Accompanying artist Linda Parker steers clear of the cyanotype and opts for gouache — a chalky watercolor that creates heavy layers of rich color. Her art is surely enjoyable, but it's a side note against Hamilton's dramatic pieces. Parker's images are colorful, lively and also dreamlike. One untitled work shows a daytime scene in a fantastic forest filled with fluttering insects. The silhouette of a small child is present — seemingly lost in a make-believe fantasy. Admission is free. Open Saturdays, 1-5 p.m., with closing reception Friday, December 21, 6-10 p.m. 919 West Fillmore Street, Phoenix. 602-716-5667. www.tiltgallery.com.
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"Speechless"|"A Century of Retablos"|Linda Parker|Brenton Hamilton|Scooter LaForge|"On the Ball"
Paintings by Scooter LaForge at Antoine Proulx Design Studio: As far as turnoffs go, self-absorbed pretension is right up there with stained teeth and halitosis. And sadly, our art scene is rampant with artists who take themselves too seriously. But Scooter LaForge is the equivalent of tooth bleach and a bottle of mouthwash, as evidenced by his zany and hilarious paintings. His humorously morbid approach to subject matter, from popular Hollywood icons to everyday urban scenes, reflects the ease with which he approaches art. His intentionally immature and splotchy painting style works because the silly visual quality is part of the joke. But this isn't a simple gag; the subject matter — which is often depressing in its own right — is expertly turned into fodder for a hearty, inappropriate laugh. Admission is free and art will be rotated as sold at 3320 N. 44th St. in Phoenix. Call 602-952-1580 or visit www.antoineproulx.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 surely need to approach crowd-pleasing topics. And what's more crowd-pleasing than American sports? After all, they cause spectators to passionately scream their brains out on a regular basis. Most of this show is what one would expect — paintings and sculpture of people doing sporty things. 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.