There’s no paint involved in Carter Potter’s clever “Negative 6 (Landscape),’’ the first piece inside the front door of Howard Yezerski Gallery, and the keynote of the gallery’s summer group show, “Material Abstraction.’’ Potter has mounted strips of 70mm film across a wooden frame — the kind you would stretch a canvas over. Even though this isn’t a painting, it’s about painting much more than it’s about photography.
Many of the works in “Material Abstraction’’ are made with no paint at all, but the show prods at the edges of the definition of painting. That’s become a theme this summer: Check out “The Space in Between’’ at Steven Zevitas Gallery and “Steve Locke: you don’t deserve me’’ just across Thayer Street.
Potter’s 10 strips of shiny, translucent negatives feature shots of water meeting land, with frothy trees along the shore. The horizon line is a diagonal, and becomes more vertical with each frame. The repeating image is almost incidental; it serves the needs of a larger abstraction. Stand back, and see a pattern in which those horizon lines twist downward over the bands of the strips like so many satin ribbons.
The most traditional painter in the exhibit is Ulrich Wellmann, who delights in the materiality of paint. He pushes it around in swirls that have delicate vitality and resemble the breath and beating heart of a chick rustling the down of its breast. For “Painting (Yellow-green/Whitegreen)’’ Wellmann applies that stroke to plexiglass, in a lather of tart pale green that doesn’t reach the edges of the picture plane. The plexiglass surface then becomes a kind of container for the effervescent energy of Wellmann’s paintings — except that the paint roils over the surface.
Bob Oppenheim sews onto his mostly blue-painted canvases, and adds pinhead-size dots with which he anchors meandering threads to this canvas. And Brian Zink makes geometrical patterns with colored plexiglass in high-gloss works that bounce light toward you even as they shift into the illusion of deep space. All these artists revel in the texture and sheen of the materials they work with. That’s what releases them into the possibilities of abstraction.
Mix of postgrad zip
“Boston Young Contemporaries,’’ a juried exhibit of artists in post-bachelor degree art programs from 10 schools around New England, is worth a visit every summer. I usually find amid the oversize, overly operatic paintings something that surprises.
This year that’s the ceramics, including Hannah Cameron’s “Bear Battles Bot,’’ a gorgeously articulated piece in which the figures appear to emerge from the surface of the wall: a raging, clawing bear and a C-3PO-type droid. Christine Rubhuhn’s porcelain sculptures, such as “The Softest Thing in the World Overcomes the Hardest Thing in the World,’’ have the delicacy of her material tensing against her twisting, melting forms, and Claudia Mastrobuono’s jaunty “Just in Case’’ sets two large, imperfect eggs on kickstands, leaning conspiratorially toward one another.
Of the paintings, Eunice Choi’s sleek, disturbing, landscapes stand out. Her “Potentiality’’ features shattering ice floes under a hot, breathy sky. Forms emerge from the ice, globs of green and pink clinging to yellow stalks that join in a crazy network. Choi paints with a careful brush; her conservative strokes convey her post-apocalyptic imagery with emotional restraint. Tyler Scheidt’s smartly disorienting canvas, “Broken,’’ plays with space and planes by thrusting a toppled house right at us.
Justin Sorensen’s “The Dutchman’’ mixed-media piece, of gold leaf, salt, and graphite on gessoed paper, would fit well in Yezerski’s “Material Abstraction’’ show; it’s all about the visual and tactile qualities of his materials, as the glossy gold at the top slowly gives way to the erosive salt at the bottom.
Several artists emphasize the ephemeral. Kathleen Claire Kennedy’s “Eat Me’’ has doughnuts hanging on nails, making the minimalist grid gastronomically appealing. The doughnuts are stale now, and shedding crumbs and icing, and some have gone missing (no doubt viewers took the title to heart), so the work is not only interactive, it gives back.
Rachel Grobstein’s “What Can You Do With a Sentimental Heart’’ features tiny specks of cut paper littered in a corner among minuscule upright drawings — of plants, of a fan. The scale and evanescence is almost shocking, and it flies in the face of the many big, muscular, overtly gestural canvases here, and the way we can sometimes value art according to its weightiness.
That’s also addressed in Dan Boardman’s lush color photo, “Untitled from ‘The Citizen,’ ’’ which he has printed on newsprint — a throwaway material that now also begins to have a precious, bygone meaning. The image, of a dilapidated house with the siding torn off and windows boarded up, fits perfectly with the material.
And while John P. Gardiner’s installation of white tables, “Nothing LACKing numbers 1 through 15’’ isn’t quite as fleeting, it does have a cheeky, low-end, do-it-yourself quality. There are 15 square tables, and Gardiner has formatted each differently: one creases in the middle like an open book, legs splayed; another has the tabletop fanning open in sections like a Swiss Army knife.
In the past, “Boston Young Contemporaries’’ has had some terrific videos. This year there were only two, on small monitors, with low volume. That’s a disappointment. The show is, as always, mixed, but there’s always some zip.
At: Howard Yezerski Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through
Aug. 17. 617-262-0550, www.howardyezerskigallery.com
BOSTON YOUNG CONTEMPORARIES
At: 808 Gallery, Boston University, 808 Commonwealth Ave., through Aug. 17. www.bostonyoungcontemporaries.com