at Haze Gallery, 6635 N. Baltimore #211, through February 29

I t is taking all my journalistic restraint to keep from composing sentences about Haze Gallery using the phrases "best new gallery," "stellar sophomore show," and "brightest spot on the scene." It is, after all, only Haze's second proper exhibition (we'll overlook Battle of the Artist Curators, if you will), but the St. John's space impressed big time last month with Nic Walker's Bargain Basement Used Cars, and its two-person follow up, Nowadays, is every bit as exciting. Featuring local supergoop painter Jesse Hayward and Aili Schmeltz, an all-purpose painter/sculptor/installation artist who splits her time between Portland and Tucson, Nowadays is bursting with frenetic, chromatic energy.

Using a signature, ultra-thick, woozy paint application, Hayward's canvases are more sculptural than painterly. He works with the canvas flat on the ground and slathers on fistfuls of acrylic gel medium. He then adds the inks and pigments, and swirls everything together into a marbleized, Vaseline-like mixture of hundreds of garish colors competing for your attention. You will probably never see a more noxious painterly effect--his works look like an affront to good painting, but therein lies their charm and challenge. His floor sculptures are even more garish; the cauliflower shaped formations have been coated with countless layers of splotchy paint, and look like upright ogre puke. They reach the critical point of repulsion, though, so that I feel compelled to nurture them back to health, to defend them against people who can't see the "special light" inside. They are so awkward and ill-cast that I love them for their flaws.

Process, Aili Schmeltz's large-scale, cartoony, topographical installation, starts in the rafters and winds up sprawled across the gallery floor. A forested terrain is mapped on the wall, with small protruding pine trees, wood paneled islands, and painted blue contour lines. The landscape is overrun, however, with Schmeltz's white vinyl pillow forms--marshmallows in the shape of knuckles that look like clouds but interfere in the landscape like uprooted tectonic plates. Her paintings are fun and sophisticated, but fall to the background when seen with her sweeping installation. Hayward's paintings, even though they tend towards repetition and technique gimmickry, amazingly hold their own with Schmeltz's savvy installation and create an exciting, dynamic two-person exhibition. CHAS BOWIE