Tess Michalik

: Rococo Puffs

Heartland Printworks (EdingtonKatz Projects) through October 24

★★★★ (out of five)

What do you think when you see paintings of flowers? Certain Impressionist painters? Warm feelings of love and sympathy? How cut flowers eventually start to stink and make you want to puke Michalik is aware of all these resonances in her loose, expressive paintings that seem to portray flowers as abstractly as possible.

The show title's throwaway pun — referring to both an ornate 18th art movement as well as to a brand of children’s cereal (to spell it out) — contrasts with its occasionally heavy subject matter. And that’s okay, I think, because this is an artist who doesn't want to be pinned down. In the oil on canvas “Funeral March Mourning,” the flowers are either barely sketched or expressively dabbed onto a largely white backdrop, white like a funeral shroud.

In other paintings you see gorgeous bursts of color complementing one another. Not all take flora as a subject; “Puker (Alone After All)” seems largely abstract until you see the apparent subject spewing up brownish yellow vomit. But maybe those puffy bursts of color in the background are flowers and not last night's meal.

Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass

A New Series of Work by Mab Graves

Monster Gallery: Closing reception 7-9 p.m. on Sept. 26


One of the standout paintings here, “Alice, Serpent!,” shows the result of Alice taking the advice of a caterpillar and nibbling a mushroom, causing her neck to lengthen and her head to rise up into the trees. Aside from the long neck, this Alice resembles Graves’ typical little girl heroines, with a head much larger than her body and huge anime eyes.

Consisting of more than 40 paintings, illustrations, miniatures, and mixed media sculpture based on Lewis Carroll's famous children’s books, Alice in Wonderland conformed to expectations informed by Graves' praiseworthy previous work. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this. Graves has built a successful business around her art and she'd arguably have had a hard time doing so without maintaining a certain consistency. And it should be noted that Graves did innovate in this show by switching to oil paints from gouache and acrylic. Although I wanted her to dig deeper into these classic children’s books than she’s done here, her art remains compelling. But is it wrong to expect the unexpected?

Johnny McKee

: There is Nothing Here for You

Harrison Center for the Arts through Sept. 26


Johnny McKee started painting fields of stars as an act of reflection after his mom died. And then he started painting clouds. The most engaging of his starscape paintings, I think, are those where the fields of stars actually resemble clouds. And as evidenced by his digital photographs of storm cloud formations, he's has spent a lot of time looking up at the sky.

McKee's paintings of clouds are dense with suggestion and detail to the point where I want to question his self-definition as a minimalist painter. Check out the stunning diptych painting “Not what I thought it was,” where you might wonder whether there is a tornado approaching or just an odd array of clouds hovering on the horizon. The painting sets up the question beautifully but provides no answer.

Arlon Bayliss

Retrospective: 35 Years of Working with Glass and Light

Harrison Center for the Arts through Sept. 26


If you’ve ever entered the Indianapolis Central Library from underground parking, you’ve encountered the art of Arlon Bayliss, who was Professor of Art and Design for more than 20 years at Anderson University. “Light, Words, Life,” at the Central Library, employs dichroic glass and fiberoptic light to transform a public hallway into an engaging art installation that riffs on the power of language.

At the retrospective there are photographic displays of such work — including the knockout "Flight Wave" installation at the Indianapolis International Airport — as well as examples of his smaller scale blown glass and sculpted glass. One of the most stunning blown glass creations is the engraved and enameled "In the Shade of our Wings we Swim," which incorporates long strings of text on clear glass. It looks to this reviewer like an intellectual alien's hookah, though the artist says it represents a conversation between two souls. This is a great introduction to a vital artist who has positively affected Indy’s urban landscape. This exhibit is just one of a number of featured exhibitions for Indy Glass Month.

Mike Lyons: Scribble, Biggle, Diggle

Mt. Comfort Gallery through Sept. 26; by appointment, call 522-6857


There's more frame than painting at Lyons’ Mt. Comfort show. But that shouldn't shouldn’t keep you from looking closely at the colored pencil drawings surrounded by all that third-hand fiberboard.

One in particular (all are untitled) appears to represent hooks of woven material in various bold colors: on the ground before it is a hooked rug whosr patterns mirror those in the drawing. There's definitely a mischievous sense of humor at work here. Other drawings are just slapped up on the walls. The painted branches didn’t quite do it for me, nor did the thumbtacked drawings of Calvin from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.

But if you were frustrated having to view Lyon’s “A Rapid Validation” at the edge without having an opportunity to enter at the IDADA Turf Pavilion back in January 2012, here's your chance to enter a simulacrum of his workspace and get a sense of how this artist’s mind operates. And to lose yourself, if only for a moment, in the magic of his drawings.


Dan Grossman is NUVO's arts editor.

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