John Goodyear’s works are so playful that it’s easy to ignore their seriousness. His show at David Hall Fine Art spans five decades, and from the start he has explored perception by activating the viewer’s eye. His works — call them kinetic paintings, call them Op Art (he was included in “The Responsive Eye,’’ the Museum of Modern Art’s 1965 Op Art survey) — literally move. They shift and turn, their composition constantly changing, and we’re compelled to keep looking.
“Black and Red Movement,” made in 1964, features a zigzag pattern of black on red behind a screen made of vertical black and red slats. Push the screen to the side and it swings, entering into a shimmering, winking dance with the painting beneath. Works such as these — “Rising Blue” is another — are a gas: They’re interactive and they affect a sweet retinal buzz.
But Goodyear uses the format to make deeper and more inquisitive pieces, such as “Diving Board” (1983), in which he prods at the line between figuration and abstraction. Forms on the backing canvas are painted in a checkerboard pattern. Set the white screen moving, and they animate: a diver’s foot takes off, and the board arcs and springs below. When the screen moves too slow or too fast, the image stutters, but at just the right speed, everything miraculously clicks into place.
The artist also paints on a series of four-sided poles, which the viewer may spin. For “Paesaggio (After Fra Angelico)” (2011), he re-creates in a cartoony line portions of a gamboling, expansive 15th-century landscape and village scene by the early Renaissance painter. Goodyear’s version is considerably condensed, but spin the poles and bits of action and contours of land ripple over the picture plane, offering glimpses of narrative. The experience puts a modern, fragmented twist on a painting that likewise does not invite the eye to rest.
Goodyear’s work asks how we make sense of what we see, and it points out how random, and how magical, that process is.
Gillespie raised spirits
It’s a weird joy to see paintings by Gregory Gillespie, the Massachusetts artist who died in 2000 at 64. He has faded off the radar screen since Nielsen Gallery, which represented him, closed in 2009. Gallery NAGA has taken up the cause. Gillespie’s paintings are so good because he knew color, he knew how to wield a brush, and because the works are dark, troubled, and occasionally exuberant.
Gillespie made hallucinatory and mystical paintings as well as portraits, self-portraits, and landscapes. The small and riveting “Untitled (Fertility Goddess)” is all black and sepia, depicting a lithe figure with a great, eye-like form coiling in the belly, a vagina that dangles like a penis, and a head that is part human, part cobra. It’s a threatening deity, hinting that fertility is a power to be reckoned with.
The self-portraits, with their cool blue eyes, are blunt and dissatisfied, yet artistically cunning. In “Self Portrait With Banana,” a cutout wood panel, the artist looks as if he’s had a hard night: His sad eyes, reddened nose, and harsh whiskers confront us as he peers out over a painterly filigree that could be taken for a banana.
“Self Portrait With Yellow Background” riffs on van Gogh, with its loose, paint-loaded brush strokes and the wild yellow background. Gillespie’s skin is red and mottled, almost scabrous. A sun pattern radiating on his forehead suggests the mystical wisdom of the third eye.
The title of the most provocative work here, “Manger Scene,” implies the Nativity. This manger is inhabited by the monstrous bust of a goddess, perhaps Hindu or Tibetan, a nude woman in a hat and slippers with her back to us, probably Gillespie’s wife, Peg (a regular subject), and at the center, a nude woman painted over with
trompe l’oeil streaks of masking tape so that she’s barely visible. Outside, there are more nude figures, and in the distance, a bustling Brueghel-type village.
Gillespie studied Eastern religions, but he was born a Catholic, and the figures in the manger are clearly his own feminine Trinity. We can speculate that the masked woman at the center represents his mother, who spent most of his boyhood in a mental hospital.
The artist hanged himself in his studio. He left behind a vital and deeply felt body of work.
Time chatters, passes
Christian Boltanski, a forceful French artist with a penchant for memorializing, has a three-channel video project, “6 Septembres,” up at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University. It feels slight in contrast to much of his oeuvre; his work can be deeply affecting.
The artist has sampled clips from French newscasts made on his birthday from the year of his birth, 1944, to 2004. Edited together and sped up 2,000 times, they whir and chatter on three abutting walls that form an open chamber. The viewer may push buttons to stop any of the videos. The installation overwhelms with its visual rush and high-pitched chirping more than with the perhaps intended suggestion of time passing. Merely stopping a video here or there does little to alter the experience, which in the end makes for a static piece.
JOHN GOODYEAR: Rewind and Reflect
At: David Hall Fine Art, 555 Washington St., Wellesley, through Dec. 22.
GREGORY GILLESPIE: Transfixed: Selected Works 1995-2000
At: Gallery NAGA,
67 Newbury St., through Dec. 15. 617-267-9060, www.gallerynaga.com
CHRISTIAN BOLTANSKI: 6 Septembres
At: Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, 24 Quincy St., Cambridge, through Dec. 20. 617-495-3251, www.ves.fas.harvard.edu