Kaori Maeyama-

One day while I was strolling through the French Quarter, an inebriated panhandler requested a handout with an unusual greeting: “Welcome to New Orleans, land of the living dark.” That stuck with me and came to mind while viewing Kaori Maeyama's latest paintings at Staple Goods.

A native of Japan based in New Orleans since 1994, Maeyama long has explored the inner magic of familiar nocturnal scenes like the stretch of elevated roadway seen in “Blue Highway II Blue Sky Blue” (pictured). What initially looks ordinary soon becomes otherworldly as the vast cobalt sky sets the dark urban grit into stark relief below streetlights glowing as softly as fireflies.

In “Double Shotgun Double,” two old houses appear bathed in ambient light. Outwardly ordinary, the houses come alive as the humid, below-sea-level atmosphere softens the patches of light as they dance across the ancient facades.

Ditto the seemingly featureless side of an old shotgun house softly reflecting multiple ambient light sources in “Primaries,” in which hints of primary reds and blues ripple across the pale salmon clapboard siding. In this exhibition, Maeyama reveals the subtle visual secrets of “the city of the living dark.”

At Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, Japanese painter Akihiko Sugiura explores a magical world of the fluid energy fields that he regards as the inner essence of what most of us see as the “real world.”

In “Beard,” we see a man who at first glance might appear to be an assertive redhead, but up close he becomes a demonic visage of red, green and yellow slashes of color. “Two” depicts two girls sitting on a sofa. One's pose suggests she might be resting her feet on a footstool, but her lower legs are missing. Her ghostly pale partner gazes at her seemingly in mid-conversation.

In these works, Sugiura depicts the fluid and ever-shifting spectrum of physical and emotional energies that he perceives just below the surface of ordinary, everyday life.

Kaori Maeyama paintings, through July 7 at Staple Goods, 1340 St. Roch Ave., (504) 908-7331; www.staplegoods.org. Akihiko Sugiura paintings, through July 15, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., (504) 522-5471; www.jonathanferraragallery.com.