At: Alpha Gallery,
37 Newbury St., through
June 6. 617-536-4465, www.alphagallery.com
Vital yet brooding, exuberant yet macabre, reveling in the materiality of paint yet addressing the ineffable, Hyman Bloom’s paintings at Alpha Gallery throb with life-giving contradictions. Bloom, who died in 2009 at 96, found a place in the sun in the mid-20th century. He showed at the Whitney Museum of American Art; he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. Willem de Kooning called Bloom America’s “first Abstract Expressionist.”
Based in Boston and then Nashua, he was one of the fathers of a style that became known as Boston Expressionism: opulent, narrative, edged with angst.
But Bloom never fell headlong into pure abstraction. He was too concerned with mythic narrative, and that includes the harrowing of the flesh. He fell out of style and into relative obscurity, which perhaps suited him. This is his first gallery show in a very long time, according to Alpha Gallery’s director Joanna Fink. Bloom gave up self-promotion and devoted himself to contemplation, with paintbrush in hand.
The paintings here span decades, from the1940s until the artist’s death. Nearly half the works depict a rabbi holding a Torah. Bloom was raised an orthodox Jew, and spirituality and faith are constants in his work; they clash with and embrace the harshness of suffering, death, and decay.
In the earliest “Rabbi Holding Torah,’’ the rabbi’s head and shoulders are a mere veil of yellow. Yet the Torah, which he cradles like a child, looks jewel-encrusted. It sparkles, and jittery brush strokes suggest vibration. In all these works, there is a sense of dissolution simultaneous with coming to be. Nothing is fixed.
That is perhaps most evident in “Leg on Table.” Bloom had been captivated by a visit to a hospital morgue, and the tones of decaying flesh became a regular, riveting theme. Here, the glossy ground hums in shimmying strokes of mauve and blue. The contour between figure and ground combusts into licks of thick paint in brilliant hues: green, blue, red. Bloom paints the fervid energy of decomposition. It’s horrifying. It’s thrilling.
“Last Still Life,” from 2009, is no less daring. A luridly pink-red cloth strung up in the rear resembles a headless angel. Two carefully described vases seem extraneous to other more ghostly ones. Stray, meandering lines drawn in oil stick flail like live wires from the verging stream of shadows, ghosts, and color that surround the scene. The more Bloom mastered his medium, the more he abandoned himself to it. His paintings are studies of devotion and surrender.
Dot by Dot
At: Trustman Art Gallery, Simmons College,
300 The Fenway, through June 1. 617-521-2268, www.simmons.edu/trustman
Threads of color, sentiment
When painter Bob Oppenheim returned to the studio after his wife’s death several years ago, he picked up needle and thread to sew fragments of her clothing into collages. The playful works in his show, “Dot by Dot,” at the Trustman Art Gallery at Simmons College, are past mourning, but the stitchery remains, and so does the sense of intimacy.
Most feature stitches, puncture marks made with needles, and loose threads held down by dots of paint wandering over fields of blue. They bring to mind constellations in night skies, musical notation of improvised jazz, and a child’s tattered security blanket.
The turquoise stunner “Split Field’’ has a roughly sewn scar of a zipper that splits the space, in a domesticated nod to Barnett Newman’s more heroic zip paintings. Stray black and white threads fly around it like ribbons around a May pole, each marked by dots of paint.
Oppenheim’s use of threads draw the eye to the surface, but layers of paint below often suggest breathable depth. There’s no zipper in “Interventions,” just untethered threads dotted in candy colors, rambling over a blue-jeans ground glimmering with pale squiggles of light.
It’s a big show of nearly 50 small works, with a lyrical installation that allows the paintings to play off and amplify one another. The theme repeats: pulling together, anchoring, and then billowing away. Oppenheim’s work embodies loss, and letting go, and finding your way back.
ROBIN LUCIANO BEATY
At: Lanoue Fine Art,
125 Newbury St.,
through June 5.
The elements of texture
The medium of encaustic paint, or pigmented wax, offers rewards and risks. It can be utterly luminous. But art that is merely bright and pretty doesn’t go far.
Robin Luciano Beaty, a young, Newbury-based artist with an exhibit up at Lanoue Fine Art, creates her own solution to this riddle by planting nail heads, wire mesh, and more amid sweeps of luxuriant color. Most of her works depict swirling blue-green water, which she portrays in built-up layers of glistening wax. They are deft, and lean toward a tumultuous appeal, but there’s a sameness to them.
In the best pieces, she experiments more with color. “Accession #1-16’’ is a four-by-four grid in which the tones drift from ivory to copper to foamy blue, and among the swells and eddies rise ribbons of aluminum and copper mesh, netted twine, nail heads, and bark. The rough textures and glints of metal disrupt the watery trance with grit and flotsam. Look more closely; old snapshots rise to the surface, and plunge us into the waters of memory and imagination. Nostalgia can be as prone to sentimentality as encaustic, but when Beaty sticks to her grit and texture, she’s got something she might take even further.