There seems to be no end lately to painters pushing beyond the flat surface of the canvas into three dimensions. In her canny show “Shifting Horizon” at Samson, Lisa Sigal insinuates painting into architecture’s realm. Her works begin with one of painting’s most traditional genres, the landscape, but she invites us to see desolate urban landscapes through a fresh lens.
Sigal utilizes building materials, abstraction, and space to simultaneously place us within the landscape and distance us from it. These are complex, multilayered pieces. At the center of “Hinged Painting (City of Vernon)” hangs an image of a walled-off, deserted lot. It looks like a painting in fading, sun-bleached tones; in fact, it’s a photo printed on Tyvek. The fibers in that synthetic material recall brushstrokes.
A door-sized frame of metal studs — the armature you’d find behind drywall in a contemporary building — backs the landscape. A narrow vertical screen leans against the piece, painted with orange and black horizontal bars. These conjoin and overlap blocks of orange Sigal has painted on the Tyvek and in an open area behind the metal studs.
The striped screen has an almost Op-Art effect: Look through it, and elements of the painting emerge and disappear. Indeed, the entire piece volleys between polarized points: The flat blocks of orange play against the jutting screen; abstraction vies against representation; the outside depicted in the photo rubs up against the deep internal structure implied by the metal studs. It’s a painting, a sculpture, a photograph, a part of the architecture.
The way Sigal constructs her works compels us to look at sites we habitually ignore. She renews abandoned places, ignored and ugly places. She does not make them beautiful. She simply makes us see.
Two painters who have known each other for more than 40 years have taken on the pop-up exhibition model on a huge scale. Sheffield van Buren and Katherine Porter went to Harvard University looking for a space to rent and ended up in a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in Allston.
The space, van Buren said in an interview, “was pretty derelict” when he first saw it. “We had to pull out a dumpster and a half full of junk,” he said. A new wall was installed, and the place was painted. Rather than put in permanent track lighting for a temporary exhibition, light artist John Powell illuminated their paintings by framing groups of pictures within lit rectangles.
The space is a terrific showcase for the art. Porter’s brushy, gestural, commandingly colored paintings, such as the large, exuberant “Joie de Vivre” (1983) burble and clash with her trademark lexicon of abstract shapes: circles, spirals, colliding geometric planes. Although Porter loves the materiality of her paint, her main concern is pictorial: The tensions she creates among her forms summon unease, even in the most seductive of tones, even in the party atmospheres of some of her canvases.
Van Buren’s works focus less on picture, and more on surface: How is the interruption of flatness a violation, and how is it an opening? In a handful of watercolors dominated by harsh clusters of lines, he digs holes and gashes violently into the page.
Then, in his enchanting “Ambient Light” series of paintings, he coats each square canvas with a creamy pale tone — peach, violet, blue — glossy, nearly luminous. He affixes shreds of what look like Hershey’s Kisses wrappers. Sometimes he crowds them on, and they resemble a swarm of silvery starlings. Sometimes they are just spare flecks, drifting over the surface – little explosions of light, the most delicate of approbations.
Unlike Lisa Sigal’s works, which confound exterior with interior, “INTERIORS,” the group show of modern and contemporary Provincetown painters at Acme Fine Art, places the viewer firmly inside. But inside can be a maze in itself. Look at the tart-toned paintings of Sharli Powers Land. The confined space in Land’s “Orange Staircase” (circa 1990) seems to seesaw and telescope. Shafts of light, a foreshortened blue ceiling, a wall scrubbed with olive paint, and more make the eye dart. I wouldn’t want to stand in that hallway — I’d get dizzy — but I didn’t want to stop looking at it.
Then there’s Mary Hackett’s droll “Deck of Emma Bakke,” from 1953. A woman sits in a deck chair, reading, beside an enormous, red-mouthed ventilation pipe. She wears socks with her sandals. She’s on deck, but still apparently inside, as the windows in the wall behind her look out toward other ships. Despite the glamour of shipboard, she looks as if she’d rather be home.
You can still smell the paint on Samuel Messer’s “Dreaming of You Dreaming of the Dogs,” depicting a blond woman and three white pooches. Messer is adroit with a messy medium, which he lays on thicker than cream cheese. He seems to coax his pictures out of paint the way a sculptor finds his form in stone. Paint is the flesh of the painting, but there are ghosts here, too — a window behind the woman reveals a sparsely sketched cityscape and bridge, as if outside this room, beyond this woman and her dogs, life is just a dream.
KATHERINE PORTER, SHEFFIELD VAN BUREN
At: 100 Holton St., Allston, through May 31. www.sheffieldvanburen
At: Acme Fine Art,
38 Newbury St, through
May 25. 617-585-9551, www.acmefineart.com