Photographer Chris Garland's 'Prince Charming,' part of a new exhibit at the Annenberg Community Beach House called 'Skyscapes.' (photo by Chris Garland)

I’ve been a bit under the weather this week. Being bedridden gave me the excuse to dig into my overstocked bookshelves. Plowing through three books in three days, I want to commend the one that stopped me in my tracks, “A Million Nightingales,” by author Susan Straight, a Riverside, Calif. native and professor of creative writing at UC Riverside.

Published in 2006, it’s a trying but triumphant historical novel about the life of a mulatto slave woman set in the caste-ridden multicultural world of early 19th century Louisiana. This may sound like heavy sledding but you won’t be able to put it down. I couldn’t.

Despite the respite that books bring me, I’m glad I was able to do some gallery hopping last week because it gave me a chance to think. When artists make art, should they reflect the world as they see it? Or is the role of the artist to help elevate the spirit?

If you like your work beautiful and meditative, head over to Annenberg Community Beach House tonight for the opening reception of “Skyscapes.” Artists Lita Albuquerque, Bruria Finkel, and Chris Garland celebrate the open spaces and changeable vistas of the sky. Enjoy the stunning images in the gallery then treat yourself to the real sky just beyond the window. “Skyscapes” runs through August and the gallery is open daily, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; parking info and more at annenbergbeachhouse.com or call (310) 458-4904.

At Bergamot Station’s Craig Krull Gallery, the definition of joy is spelled Nancy Monk with “Black Matter.” Don’t let the title throw you; the works by this prolific and playful artist are light, bright and made me gush out loud.

This is Monk’s sixth solo show here and she’s a master of the small and the large, of paint and collage, of works on paper and on canvas. Among the numerous pieces are vintage stereoscopic cards that she paints over, creating re-imagined visions such as “Climbing Tree,” with tiny photographic figures peeking out from the stereoscopic card as they climb up the tiered limbs of her painted trees.

Monk loves patterns, designs and colors, and there’s an entire vitrine filled with tiny delight-filled mini mixed-media works, replaced on a rotating basis because they’re moving so quickly; at only $300 apiece, you could build an entire miniature collection of her work very affordably from this glass case alone.

Paired with Monk is Jenny Okun, in her eighth solo show at Craig Krull, whose large scale “Dreamscapes” are created from pictures she shoots during her world travels. Both a contrast and complement to Monk’s art, Okun’s wall-sized works do funny things to your brain.

She montages multiple images into photographic abstractions to create fantasy landscapes, wall-sized compositions that take you into a multi-dimensional universe — from an English garden to a Costa Rican topiary, a Jain temple in India to Gaudi’s surrealistic Barcelona Cathedral; all real places but rearranged via her creative process into otherworldly spaces. Monk and Okun’s works are on view through May 26 — craigkrullgallery.com.

If, however, you prefer your art to represent the real world of political and economic reality, “Main Street to Wall Street” may be the ticket for you. Painter, sculptor, photographer and teacher George Small says this about his show: “It’s becoming impossible for me to separate my work from my beliefs and observations. I want to create beautiful images, but the social world is too compelling not to comment. I have to make commentary!”

Small’s mixed-media works on paper combine photographic images of junked vintage cars, stenciled over with provocative words and phrases such as “Owner Occupied,” “Bankrupt,” “Made in America” and more. See the series at this weekend’s receptions held at The Studio Gallery on Ocean Park Boulevard, Saturday, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. “Main Street to Wall Street” is on view through June — georgesmallartist.com.

On the other hand, if your taste in art leans more toward the apocalyptic, catch Stanley Donwood’s solo exhibition, “Lost Angeles,” at Subliminal Projects in the Silverlake area. Fans of Radiohead will recognize Donwood’s work from the Grammy-winning British band’s album art and posters.

Donwood definitely uses his art to define his worldview: “There is no future. We have evicted ourselves from our own cities, rendered our agriculture poisonous, criminalized the poor, aggrandized the rich, honored the stupid and ridiculed the intelligent. … I have no solutions, no wisdom to offer. … Whilst Rome burns, I take up my little chisel and I carve a panoramic apocalypse of my own … and if you want to see it, you’re more than welcome.”

Similar to a project he did in London, Donwood carved 18 panels of linoleum then hand-burnished them onto Japanese Kozo paper to create this limited edition print — an 18-foot panorama of the City of Angels being destroyed by fire, flood and meteor storm — subliminalprojects.com.

Speaking of Japanese Kozo paper, I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to visit Hiromi Paper International, the amazing fine art paper store at Bergamot Station. If you need a gift for a friend — or yourself — this will be the place to get something utterly unique and handmade. I saw dried fruits and vegetables made into beautiful papyrus sheets, wood grained patterned paper, the thinnest rice paper known to mankind, woven paper, art and archival paper, wrapping papers and more, all in brilliant colors and textures. This, too, is a store worth gushing about — a one-of-a-kind resource and gem.

Sarah Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.

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