Roger Martin, a founding faculty member at Montserrat College of Art, has a small retrospective up at Montserrat’s 301 Gallery that shows an artist whipsawed by line and anchored by bold, immovable forms.
His line, from early on, is swift and jaunty, evident in illustrations he made for The New Yorker and The New York Times. The Montserrat School of Visual Art opened in 1970, but “Roger Martin: From the Beginning” goes even further back.
Martin lives in Rockport and takes his inspiration from the rocky landscape around him. His 1965 woodblock print “Sea Town,” with its jumble of buildings with winking windows wedged between dark sea and sky, is loose and sharp-edged.
In his paintings, he uses flat colors and heavy contours, as in the 1981 canvas “Half Tide Salvages.” It’s a wriggling jigsaw puzzle of a piece with blue, toothy shapes snaking around blockier forms in brown, red, and ocher. Could this be the tide washing driftwood against rocks and sand? The forms spiral and bite, pulling the eye here and there with great momentum.
Frenetic, looping linear works, made with oil and oil stick on paper between 1996 and this year, cover one wall. The effect is electric. All in black and white, some resemble topographic maps capturing the jittery motion of earthquake, while others might be vipers’ nests, with dots for snake eyes and tongues darting.
Several stolid, confrontational canvases such as this year’s “Grout II,” are rooted in Rockport granite. Here, an almost totemic vertical form has folds of mustardy brown and azure enveloped in shades of gray, which are chiseled with short hash marks. Paintings like this — cool, flat, nodding toward monumental — provide a perfect counterpoint to Martin’s heated line.
Martin was born in 1925. The sculptor Kahlil Gibran, who died in 2008 at 85, was a contemporary of his. Gibran was the namesake of the poet Kahlil Gibran, and he was active in the Boston Expressionist movement. He has a small retrospective up at the New England Sculpture Service, a bronze foundry in Chelsea.
At his best, Gibran executed stark figures, such as his welded metal 1956 rendering of John the Baptist, that in their ropy sinew and ragged expressions broadcast both suffering and strength. That’s not on view here, but there are echoes of that nerviness in a handful of cast bronze bas reliefs, such as “Hanging Man,” a 1969 piece in which Gibran gave excruciating detail to the fingers, hand, and straining arm of a figure holding on by one hand, and the fluid, harrowing length of his back.
Then there’s a fierce abstract mahogany work from 1962, “Untitled (For Sydney & Mary Lee Ingbar),” with the wood twisting and looping like waves on a stirring sea. Along the interiors of every loop, Gibran hammered nail spikes, which jut like the bared fangs of a serpent with many mouths.
Sadly, many other works here lack that fervor. Gibran could slip into a type of romantic yet pared down figuration that might have been after an ideal of beauty, but often came up flat, as in “Karon,” a 1980 bust of a woman. Then again, when he took exactly that type of benign figure, nude this time, and has her leaning back in ecstasy as a skull leans into her groin for the undated “Le Petit Mort,” we see an artist willing to take risks.
Students, recent graduates
Gibran and Martin’s works share the intention of expressing the deeply felt. Today’s generation of artists, by and large, operates on a different plane. “On Display,” organized by Stephanie Dvareckas and now up at Gallery Kayafas, spotlights work by students and recent graduates of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
Carlos Jiménez Cahua and Clive Moloney have erected a big, telescope-like tube in the gallery and shine a light through it — this is Moloney’s style. The light casts an orb on the wall, and Jiménez Cahua, a chemist of the darkroom, has made similar orbs, inkjet prints mounted on either side. Walk by and it’s bollixing, at first, to cast a shadow only over the central circle. It’s clever, fun, and interactive.
Jiménez Cahua is primarily a colorist, and his palette starts with the yellow, cyan, and magenta of exposed film. In “Untitled #39,” he offers portraits of a woman, each in three sizes, in several prints with a medley of colors. The face is more device than portrait, a canvas for experimentation, but the repetition of it is ultimately haunting.
Sculptor Jessica Vogel does go for the visceral in her pieces, which have soft, oozing parts seeping out of and over seemingly inviolate hard, geometric parts. And the team of Amber Vistein and Floor van de Velde combines brooding soundtracks with 3-D still images of landscapes. These would be more effective if the images were giant, so the viewer might have the sensation of entering them.
This work is smart and thought out. There are no direct, spontaneous, daring applications of paint to paper, like Martin’s line drawings. But then, maybe you have to master your tools before you can cut loose with them.
ROGER MARTIN: From the Beginning
At: 301 Gallery, Montserrat College of Art, 301 Cabot St., Beverly, through Sept. 8.
KAHLIL GIBRAN: Celebration
At: The Gallery, New England Sculpture Service, 214 Arlington St., Chelsea.
At: Gallery Kayafas, 450 Harrison Ave., through Aug. 26.