Put aside, for a moment, that Andrew Millner’s eye-candy painting “Red Rose Parade” looks like the top of a gloriously decorated sheet cake — all glossy loop-the-loops and gleaming rosettes.
There are more important things to discuss about his show at Miller Yezerski Gallery: Definitions of drawing and painting, of realism and fantasy, and how they all mix perversely in this artist’s forward-thinking view of floral still lifes.
Millner draws with a stylus on a tablet. He prints his drawings on photosensitive paper. Are they drawings? Yes. Are they photographs? Of a sort. For his paintings, he extrudes pipes of paint through a tube, like a pastry bag. The work comprises lines of paint — rather like a drawing. Then, he often layers his ropes of color, building to three dimensions.
Enchanted by the sheer volume of roses on the floats at the Rose Bowl Parade, Millner created digital drawings of scads of blossoms. For “Red Rose Parade,” he printed them on linen, as a map to follow, and traced over the drawings with shades of red, yellow, orange, and pink,
Up close, the loops don’t look like flowers at all — more like small knots and open, luxuriant snaggles. Yet in the way that Millner curls and builds up the paint, the lines and colors become uncannily flowerlike. They are all about the material, almost defiant of illusion, until, dang!, the illusion blossoms.
“Red Rose Parade” comprises four panels, which can fit together in a variety of constellations, like tiles in a patterned mosaic. There’s shrewd design beneath the overflowing exuberance of the image. With each step, the artist holds in the balance documentation, design, and fevered leaps of imagination.
Millner also has digital drawings on display. “Bouquet,” in brooding wine reds, quietly glows with flowers outlined in bright gold and purple. The precise detail in the drawings contradicts the giddily loose contours in his paintings. That’s the pleasure of the exhibition: So many contradictions, surprisingly resolved.
Oldenburg foils expectations
The small, jaunty show of Pop great Claes Oldenburg’s prints and sculptural multiples at Barbara Krakow Gallery smartly homes in on one motif in his work — screws — while embracing the breadth of his vocabulary.
The screw lithographs from 1976, at more than 5 feet tall, are big prints for that era. Oldenburg was contemplating monumental sculptures of screws — one, “Screwarch,” ultimately went up in Rotterdam. These, made with breezy lines that feel nearly animated, catalog some of his ideas. In “Arched Soft Screw as Building,” the entrance is at the slot on the ground; the screw bends back like a gymnast.
The sculptures range from “Geometric Mouse — Scale C,” perhaps an ironic riff on Mickey, made of flat aluminum plates with hinged ears, tongue, and eyelids, to “Miniature Soft Drum Set,” unplayable snare drums made from slouchy canvas. With his materials and designs, Oldenburg — still active at 86 — foils our expectations about ordinary objects, and always prompts laughter.
Also at Krakow, a small Michael Mazur show sweeps through a half-century of botanical drawings. The artist, who died in 2009 at 73, is best known for his paintings and prints, but he was an expressive draughtsman.
The untitled ink depiction of a garden he made a few months out of college in 1959 is early evidence of a fluid hand and a composing eye. In many of these pieces he finely details certain blossoms, merely indicating others with wisps. These choices are compositional; they also convey the fleeting nature of a garden.
In the late drawing “Untitled (Garden Landscape),” his gestures are more stuttered and impressionistic. It’s as if he is less concerned with depiction, preferring to explore the lyricism and mystery in what he sees.
These drawings don’t tell us more about Mazur than his visionary paintings and prints, but they do remind us of the grace of that vision.
Eloquent solo shows
Abstraction reads like an inner life laid out on the page in two eloquent solo shows at Bromfield Gallery.
Laurie Alpert explores questions of the book format, working with papermaking, digital technology, and printmaking. I was more entranced by her mark-making, though her questions about sequencing and binding are good. Her marks have a fugitive quality: fleeting, calligraphic, shadowy.
“Sprigbook 2” features bound panels, folding and hinging, with blots of soft orange paper and skeins of midnight-blue ink. The panels stand in a box shape, making an inside and an outside. Outside, the ink lines are stalky, the orange paper like blossoms. Inside, the line is a curving pathway from one panel to the next. The imagery feels Japanese, simple and evocative like haiku.
Lesley Cohen mixes charcoal and white chalk pastel to create a staggering variety of textures and lines. “Breach” is lushly textured gray on top and bottom, with a streak of white across the middle. A roiling vertical plunges darkness through the light. Cohen mixes her blacks and whites so that they read like scarred surfaces, records of erosion and disruption in barren places, which may yet spring to life.
ANDREW MILLNER: Rose Parade
At: Miller Yezerski Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave.,
through June 9. 617-262-0550, www.milleryezerskigallery.com
Large-Scale Prints and Small-Scale Multiples, 1966-1976
MICHAEL MAZUR: Drawings, 1959-2009
At: Barbara Krakow Gallery,
10 Newbury St.,
through June 6. 617-262-4490, www.barbarakrakowgallery.com
LAURIE ALPERT: Bound/Unbound
LESLEY COHEN: Presence and Absence
At: Bromfield Gallery,
450 Harrison Ave.,
through May 31. 617-451-3605, email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.