In nearly five years of poking around local galleries, there have been only three occasions when I stared slack-jawed at a work of art, rapidly calculated my bank balance, and thought, "It's gonna be macaroni and cheese for the next three months."

One was in front of a pair of Spanish prints at Noah's Underground Gallery. The next occasion involved Richard Harrington's sculptures at Gallery 212. And the latest capital-A Art-induced pasta epiphany came in front of thirty-six Nele Zirnite prints at the brand-new Paloma Gallery.

Capital-A Art has three ingredients: visionary, oracle-like imagination that blows your brain's socks off; perfect — not good, perfect — technique and craftsmanship; and a sense that the artist has the gas pedal jammed to the floor and is holding nothing back in pouring her soul into the work.

Lithuanian printmaker Zirnite makes velvety dreamscapes containing imagery whose originality is an order of magnitude above the norm. She makes them with a needle, pressing millions of microdots into a metal plate that can take up to two years to complete. According to energetic, six-foot-nine gallery owner Patrick Thompson, Zirnite inks and prints the works herself on an antique press, instead of handing the plates to a printer, as many printmakers do. The resulting precise control of color lends another layer of meaning to the works.

Prayer is a three-quarters view of a man praying with eyes closed. In the place of a normal head, the contours of his face are delineated by the branches of a tree growing from the collar of his robe, which is patterned with animals and birds so as to resemble an Edenlike landscape of peaceful creatures. The reverent and meditative mood suggests a love of the earth's creatures so deep that it is transforming.

Changing shows a person in a long robe calmly floating horizontally in midair in a stand of trees. The ground is littered with clock faces as if with puddles. The man's hair transforms into branches that blend with the surrounding tree branches. One other person serenely floats in the distance. This calm, mystical, arboreal dream image transfixed me for several uncounted minutes.

Station depicts sooty brick row houses tilting up into the air and transforming into an airborne train, so gradually that the viewer is surprised to realize the change. Fruits (left) features dreamy pod people amid bubble-pearls.

Don't miss Zirnite's first substantial U.S. solo exhibit and Paloma's inaugural public show, on display Friday, October 3, through Sunday, November 2. Zirnite chose as the show title the French term for etching, "gravure Á l'eau forte," or "engraving with strong water" — a reference to the acid used.

Strong water, indeed . . . intoxicating.