Although there is no particular season for art, from Spring to Fall there are extra opportunities to enjoy the Triangle's art offerings. From first Friday to last Friday and some in between, area towns and cities have mapped out gallery walks and art tours that are enjoying huge popularity in the warmer months. Many art venues throw real parties for these monthly events, with food, drink and live music that promote casual and festive atmospheres, shaking off the old wine and brie conventions. These events also include businesses that typically do not hold art openings, such as restaurants and coffee houses. Most gallery districts have several participating businesses within easy walking distance of each other, but it's good to have a car to hit all the favorite spots. Taking the whole tour in the 6-9 p.m. time slot may not be easy, but the goal is to try out new places and to see as much as possible. Openings offer a chance to meet the artists and gallery personnel, or to discuss the work with friends. Here's a list of some current shows to kick off the summer schedule, including some in brand new spaces. Check out the different times for some gallery walks, and as the summer approaches, consider spending some balmy nights art-crawling--it's free! (Don't forget to check the Indy calendars for more visual arts offerings in your area.)
Invitational with works by Elise Speights, Kenn Kotara and Jean Jack, through May 29
The three artists in this spring-into-summer show fit together well while providing a nice range of styles for the viewer. Elise Speights employs colorful jagged stripes of acrylic to evoke land and sea in her most successful works for this show, "Endless Landscape I and II." Although all her abstract works have a structural soundness, some of the pieces, which are selections from several decades of work, suffer in this context. Kenn Kotara's pastels, like reflections in a pool, undulate with confident strokes of color across a serene surface. The palettes he favors are simple, controlled and harmonious. "Tritone 50" is a standout piece, largely owing to a dimensional quality which breaks the tension at its center, parting the dark strokes to show a light beyond. The stark hot landscapes of Jean Jack are executed deftly, but it is her use of color that saves them from the ordinary. The baked orange earth and bright blue sky in "Pretty Day Farmhouse" tend to dwarf the white boxy house that perches at the horizon. All the elements come together in her triptych "All That Remains," where she uses her sharp color sense in service to strong composition, adding changing views to avoid the potential pitfall of repetition. 3532 Wade Avenue, Ridgewood Shopping Center, Raleigh. 828-3165 or www.galleryc.net .
N.C. State Gallery of Art and Design
Four Women in Clay, though June 27
The most important thing to be said about this collection of works by Clara Couch, Virginia Scotchie, Jennie Bireline and Lydia Thompson is that it is absolutely not to be missed. These four very different artists share great technical skills and the experience to use them freely, experimentally and with confidence. A unique feature of this show is the inclusion of notebooks kept by each artist outlining the processes they used in creating the works. Sketches, quotations, journal entries and technical descriptions illuminate the spiritual and emotional aspects of the creative process at the heart of the artists' work--the reasons they make art in the first place. The beauty of the pieces can be represented in words that list the colors, textures and forms, but the great success of this exhibit, curated by Lynn Jones Ennis, is the wonder of experiencing it. 515-3503 or www.ncsu.edu/gad.
Raleigh Contemporary Gallery
Housetops, through May 25
Inspired by a collection of colorful oilcloths and informed by research into the history of quilting, Marty Baird has created Housetops, new works that recall familiar themes of warmth and domesticity. The plastic cloths are brightly printed with mostly fruits and florals, and are combined with painted and textured areas in quilt-like squares. Baird uses the traditional housetop pattern of concentric squares, sometimes including a decorative "Center Medallion," as in the black and red, richly textured piece by the same name. There are also two quad pieces, "Rose & Red" and "Orange and Purple Quad" which expand on the quilting theme by combining four individual blocks which can be arranged in various combinations. The overall effect is nostalgic, decorative and cheerful--a thoughtful effort by an artist in her prime. 323 Blake St., Raleigh, 828-6500 or www.rcgallery.com/art .
Daniel Hamilton, through June 13
A restaurant with appropriate lighting and appealing atmosphere is usually not a very good art gallery, but Daniel Hamilton's mixed-media pieces are well-suited to this venue. The large glossy images of hazy landscapes are like vague postcards, non-specific as to place and time. Block text veers across the surface, mostly conveying themes of leavetaking, both callous and wistful. The more flippant pieces are engaging, but it's the resignation of "Daydream (Disappear)" that best captures the poignancy of longing with the phrase "I dream of disappearing." Text can be tricky for many artists, both as a visual and contextual element. Hamilton's graphic design experience is apparent in the skill he demonstrates here. See these and other images at www.danielhamilton.com . 410 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh. 834-3070.
Other events: Works by Rita Beauperthuy and Margarita Leon, Glance Gallery, May 14-June 16. 311 West Martin Street, Raleigh, 821-2200.
Center for Documentary Studies
The Innocents: Photographs and Video by Taryn Simon, through May 31
These photographs of men wrongly convicted and later exonerated of heinous crimes are beautiful in themselves, but by displaying them with text which tells the tragic story of each man's shattered life, this exhibit compounds their power. They are mostly minorities, and most were convicted by eyewitness testimony and later exonerated by DNA evidence--a chain of events which is apparently all too common in the justice system. Their stories, written as brief factual accounts of the circumstances which brought them to this point, are compelling, but to read them--to see their faces and to hear them describe their losses and the suffering of their loved ones--is truly a moving experience. 1317 W. Pettigrew St., Durham. 660-3663 or cds.aas.duke.edu.
Sculpture and paintings by Edward Rokosz at Fowler's, through May 31
This show is sponsored by upstART gallery, an organization which places artists in "interesting and underused spaces," and offers support for the shows through publicity via its Website. The concept is admirable, but not all spaces work for all artists. The impact of Rokosz's work is dulled by the busy atmosphere of the popular market, which is a bit cramped for sculpture of this size. The work is also quite varied for a relatively small space, combining pencil drawings, large wood and metal sculptures, and intricately carved reliefs. Rokosz is an accomplished woodcarver, though, and one untitled piece depicts a monumental carved torso seeming to burst forth from its rustic wooden frame. This piece, to its credit, works well despite the drawbacks of the space. It would be nice to see a more cohesive grouping in a space better suited to the scale and power of these works. 112 S. Duke St., Durham. www.upstARTgallery.com.
Other events: Solo and Group Exhibitions, Durham Art Guild, through June 20. 120 Morris Street, Durham. 560-2713. Dancin' In the Streets, Linda Merrick Moore Gallery, through July 3. Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville Street, Durham. 683-1709.
Carrboro and Chapel Hill
Anima/Botanica, though May 29
A renovated mill houses the new Branch Gallery in Carrboro, home to a unique exhibition space and gift shop with a New York style. The current show, Anima/Botanica, is a group effort yielding varying interpretations on the theme of plants and animals. Group shows and themed invitationals can be difficult to curate, and like most such shows, this one is all over the map. Placing such varied pieces in a small space can sometimes have interesting results. In one large-scale oil, Gibb Slife's leopard at the kill looks balefully across the small room at Amanda Barr's appliqued squirrel clutching an acorn. A photograph by Jimmy Fountain ("Untitled II") depicts a night shot of scrubby vegetation below a streetlight. The neglected city lot seems unlikely for the theme, yet the image is powerful in its familiarity--the urban experience of the natural world. In exploring the theme, Harrison Haynes adds relationships between plants and animals to the mix in his watercolor paintings. In "Brooklyn," a car crushed by a massive fallen tree is an ironic twist, and that subtle dark humor also appears in "Carnivore Preservation Trust," where a pacing tiger warily eyes two boys who pose nonchalantly just outside his fence. The gallery also houses a small but unique gift shop, with craft items, artists' books and art periodicals. 205 West Weaver St., Carrboro. 918-1116 or www.branchgallery.com .
Works by Ron Liberti and Soleil Konkel, through May 31
This new gallery is a room off Brian Plaster's welding studio, which he created to promote area artists, many of whom don't fit the traditional gallery mold. The current show features perennial favorite Ron Liberti's silkscreen poster art and photo collages, and photographs by Soleil Konkel. Konkel's frank and informal portrait style meshes nicely with the familiar cut-and-paste chaos of Liberti's posters. The overall effect is much like a scrapbook of a time in the lives of these two artists, and this is essentially what it is. In June, a new show will include mixed media works by Eric Lee Cope, who returns to the area with a slightly refined edge to his street art aesthetic, and sculpture by newcomer Mike Jacobs. Friday, June 4 is the opening. 109-E Brewer Lane, Carrboro. 969-0031.
Other events: Paintings by Robert Cvetkovski, Sizl Gallery, through June 6. 405 East Main Street, Carrboro. 960-0098