Trying to appreciate a pile of sticks hanging over a fishbowl without any context is an exercise both confusing and pointless. One of 18 off-beat but carefully constructed paintings in Jacob A Pfeiffer’s latest exhibition at Meyer East Gallery depicts that very scenario. It’s only when the oil-on-panel’s proudly punny name—“Fish Sticks”—is revealed that Pfeiffer’s piece begins to mean something. His exhibition’s title is Metaphorically Speaking—Recent Still Lifes, which is kind of a joke, too, as Pfeiffer is less concerned with creating metaphors than with interpreting existing metaphors and turns of phrase in playful, literal fashion.

“Rock Candy II” depicts a pile of stones with a peppermint candy sitting on its peak; “Sweet Tooth” shows a pair of jaws clamped down on a roll of Smarties; “Holy Man” is a small, hole-filled paper figure posed next to a hole puncher; a flashlight and lit candle sit together in “Passing the Torch”; and so forth. Metaphorically Speaking searches for amusement in what are mostly everyday items; its other pieces utilize leaves, gummy worms, origami birds and light bulbs to set up visual jokes.

The exhibition’s concept relies on contrived situations—the odds of someone just happening to place a cracked, dripping egg between chess pieces, as in “The Great Fall,” are slim—but Pfeiffer’s wit and technical precision make for appealing results. His paintings have the accessible quality of G-rated limericks, and half the fun of viewing the exhibition lies in drawing the connections between pictures and language. The show might even be improved if the titles were removed entirely, allowing viewers the chance to crack Pfeiffer’s brainteasers on their own. Most of his interpretations of phrases aren’t too cryptic.

While Metaphorically Speaking’s hook is its snappy punning, more observant viewers will find a second layer of meaning. “Weighing Your Options,” a canvas featuring a cupcake on one tray of a weighing scale and an apple on the other, subtly pokes fun at American consumption habits. “Sweet Tooth” comments on its metaphorical namesake by couching a set of teeth amid a pile of candies; after scarfing down those Smarties, the jaws will feel compelled to eat the nearby jelly beans and Hershey’s Kiss. “Loose Leaf” assesses another form of consumption—our need for paper—without going too deeply into commentary. The piece features a lonely, pathetic-looking leaf taped onto a creased, torn sheet of sketchbook paper. Seeing a tree’s natural product pasted on its man-made counterpart leads to some depressing reflections. Such symbolic undercurrents keep Pfeiffer’s work from being intellectually disposable after the initial chuckles have faded.

Composition-wise, the artist’s framing of scenes is tight and even, and his canvases prefer understated tones over bright colors. Most of his ultrarealistic pieces share the same face-on perspective, and his backgrounds are sparse, pushing the objects to the forefront.

The painter’s greatest asset is his obsession with detail. The curves in the glass of the fishbowl in “Fish Sticks”; the faded stains on the leaf in “Loose Leaf”; the scattered, tiny cupcake sprinkles in “Weighing the Options”; and the frayed threads on the ropes in “Bird Watching” are all rendered in exacting detail.

To Pfeiffer’s credit, he has devised an imaginative way to feature weird arrangements of objects and deliver rewarding results. Visit Metaphorically Speaking for its whimsical sense of humor; dote over its pieces for the artist’s immaculate craftsmanship and his ability to make a cupcake sprinkle seem wondrous.

Through Sept. 30
Meyer East Gallery
225 Canyon Road