Chris Frost’s playful, painterly sculptures in his exhibition “Shiny Bits” at Boston Sculptors Gallery are humble, flawed little objects that nonetheless gleam and strive.
In the past, Frost’s forms have sprung from their material, and he has relied on metaphor to convey his ideas. The pieces in “Shiny Bits,” though, focus on surface more than material; they shine with glossy paint and nickel plating. Metaphor has given way to inglorious abstraction, humor, and a refreshing release into the unknown. The works share the impertinence and small scale of Kathy Butterly’s ceramics. With his glistening build-outs, though, Frost plays games with burgeoning and balance.
“The Blusher” has at its center a sock-puppet wooden shape, all neck and snout, painted mostly orange with a haphazard white grid. It stands squarely on a drippy black-and-white, boogie-board-type platform with an equally rounded nose. Awkward loops of nickel-plated bronze circle the figure like the most compromising of nighttime orthodontia. Yet there’s something proud and dauntless about “The Blusher,” like a middle school nerd who may not be popular, but pursues deep passions.
CHRIS FROST: Shiny Bits DAN WILLS: 1915
Frost’s painted wood wall pieces, bright and rounded like comic-strip thought bubbles, look as if he’s cut up tabletops, painted and reassembled them in nutty configurations. In “One Armed Bandit” the painted pieces fit together like a puzzle: a wedge of blue, pillows of cream, a chunk that looks like old signage, and the arm, a fluid black slide that juts into the viewer’s space.
Like everything in “Shiny Bits,” it’s cartoonish and endearingly goofy, empowered by its imperfections.
The second show at Boston Sculptors Gallery, Dan Wills’s “1915,” features planes of black resin into which the artist sandblasts and paints objects built from an erector set, inspired by old building plans for that toy.
He portrays a robot, an old truck, and more in the primary colors of erector set pieces (along with gray), which pop against the black. They read like lively fossils, evidence of a bygone era. That’s partly because many of the images are decades, if not a century, old, such as “No. 202,” the googly-eyed robot, lumbering forward with outstretched arms. In the end, they’re elegiac, the work of a hands-on artist remembering a time before childhood play went virtual.
The revered basket artist John McQueen has an exhibit at Mobilia Gallery filled with humor and astonishing technique, if occasionally lacking in formal inventiveness. “Bust of a Fabulist,” for instance, is simply a head, and while it’s marvelously and intricately constructed of willow twigs bound with waxed linen, it’s not enough to carry a hackneyed form to new heights.
When McQueen uses simpler or abstract forms, however, his technique can knock you over. “Rectitude” is a pillar that rises from a biomorphic base of twigs bent and tied into leafy and floral shapes. Along the pillar, he inserts among his skinny tied branches wiggly shapes made from white translucent plastic cut from milk bottles. They read like stained glass, but less precious, and they infuse the piece with antic lines and light.
The artist harvests all his wood from his own property in upstate New York. “Hum of Bodies,” a big, bustling assemblage and another feat of his skill, is made almost entirely from birch bark. McQueen has cut out hundreds of tiny pale figures and set them against a darker ground of bark. In places so many little faceless fellows accumulate they start to fan off the surface of the wall piece. If you look closely, you’ll find one spot of color — a photo of the artist, tucked in among his people.
Stephen Holding’s paintings on Plexiglas at Lot F Gallery have a certain predetermined sexiness to them — they’re slick and shiny, careening with lines, vaporous with seductive tones. His aesthetic blends a street-art splash of spray paint with the dense, deep constructed worlds of certain graphic novels and video games. While Holding deploys these devices to dazzle, he also has a sophisticated sense of space, and he often makes canny use of his translucent panels, sometimes layering them, often painting on both sides.
“Clear Earth Draft 3” is a complex composition of careful, slender purple lines, with breaths, speckles, and tangles in grapey tones. Holding painted this one on two clear panels. Certain gestures in especially subtle colors show up more sharply as the shadows they cast on the wall than they do in paint. The piece blends architectural rendering with jazzy clamor, and just enough emptiness and quiet in the interstices.
“Neuroplex” is less translucent, less fleeting. In it, a geometric form in neon vaults up against a black ground shimmering with violet and gray, like an electrical storm at midnight. It’s eye-catching, to be sure. The intentional drama in a few of these paintings feels like the work of a graphic artist trying to sell something, rather than a fine artist trying to uncover a mystery.
Sometimes, Holding trots out feminine eyes and faces that look copied directly from superhero comics. They’re stylized and stale, and as faces are wont to do, they draw attention away from his more compelling painterly acrobatics.
JOHN MCQUEEN: Raillery
At: Mobilia Gallery, 358 Huron Ave., Cambridge, through May 11.
STEPHEN HOLDING: Clear Earth
At: Lot F Gallery, 145 Pearl St., through May 3. 617-620-8452, www.lotfgallery.com