I love sifting through old family photos to find one snapped at the wrong moment. A pose might be off. Tensions may be read. Family snapshots are a training ground, a place where kids can learn to plaster on a mask to wear out in the world.
Cobi Moules, a specialist in self-portraiture, mines his family pictures in a show at Carroll and Sons. Reproducing the photos to scale in careful graphite drawings, Moules, a transgender artist, has done little to alter the images, except perhaps to give the girl he was a shorter haircut.
The drawings parade the familial camouflage. But Moules has curated the selection around a through-line of one child’s awkwardness: concealed in a cottony beard and oversize vest in “Untitled (Walt Whitman)” or grinning with exquisite discomfort in “Untitled (Jazz).” That one looks as if someone has thrust a skinny boy into a leotard and ballet slippers and shoved frothy streamers into his hands.
Every six months or so, Moules paints a precisely realist self-portrait. In these, he appears progressively more whiskery and masculine, but there’s a more intriguing development:The generally neutral expression, stony inearlier paintings, softens in the most recent one, “Untitled (6-17-12).” He looks slightly puckish, more at ease.
In other works, Moules offers multiple versions of himself. Some, such as “Untitled (Avalanche Lake),” feature a half-dozen or so figures in cutoffs and sleeveless Ts, lolling about, enjoying nature. These come across as opportunities to paint the scenery. The many-sides-of-Cobi theme is better executed in the “Tumblers” series, for which he cuts out tiny paintings of himself in odd postures, then mounts them on paper singly and in groups.
“Untitled (Tumblers 20)” features a lump of Cobis, each no more than an inch or two high, squirming and crawling over one another like puppies in a litter. Two remain to the side, isolated. Moules has moved the tiny forms around like game pieces, and made a comic scene brimming with conflict and affection. Now, there’s a realistic self-portrait.
Dancing with brush strokes
Maggi Brown is a painter’s painter: Her shimmery abstract work bends and stretches ideas of surface, space, gesture, and color. She builds up, scrapes down, and writes over. Her lively show at Barbara Krakow Gallery features paintings dancing with brush strokes that riddle with surface and language. Traces submerge and emerge. Not knowing what’s coming or going, the viewer stands on unsteady ground.
In “Whiteout,” Brown activates the canvas with pale, wet strokes — powder blue, dusky pink, shades of white. More color lurks beneath, with the white and blue jittering on top, all within a creamy edge scrawled over illegibly with graphite, like an exhortation containing all the wild activity within. That same unreadable cursive loops and tangles across other areas, digging into the paint, at once penetrating and writing over, hinting at written meaning and evading it.
“Shape Shifters” has smudges and flecks of sky blue and spring green frolicking over the canvas, with the green coalescing in three hot vertical passages. Again, Brown takes a dry stylus to wet paint, carving something akin to text out of it in emphatic murmurs. The fluttering brush strokes appear to summon language, or, even more potent, something on the edge between language and image, just as these paintings slither along another uncertain edge between what’s on the surface and what burbles, or seethes, beneath.
Curves, surfaces, textures
Gallery NAGA follows up last year’s “Furniture With Soul” exhibit, presented in conjunction with David Savage’s book “Furniture With Soul: Master Woodworkers and Their Craft,” with a sequel. The first show spotlighted masters of studio furniture from the United States and United Kingdom. This one features younger artists, still well established. It’s a breathtaking exhibit, especially for those who love wood, with its gorgeous curves, surfaces, and textures.
Marc Fish’s “Mollusque” is the showstopper: a low table with a glass top that bisects what looks to be the gleaming, spiraling interior of a massive shell. The exterior, a sheath of sycamore, surrounds and circles into a copper interior, with the copper acquiring a green patina around the shell’s core. It’s a feat of imagination and technical wizardry.
Other highlights include “Current,” an understated, elegant shelf by Yuri Kobayashi executed in layers of ash. The shelf narrows and drops on one end like a hank of hair. Joseph Walsh’s “The Erosion I Low Table” is also crafted from layers of ash, sandwiched together to form a full-bodied curve lying on its side. Its ends flatten into two tabletops, and a widening gully drops between.
A little more lighthearted and earthy: Tom Loeser’s “Roll-Up” stools, made of felt wrapped tightly around a log core and belted in steel. The logs — Loeser calls them “firewood” — are flat on the sitting end but slightly rounded below, so the stools rock. Finally, Alun Heslop’s “Nimm Rae II” is a seat of elm and ash modeled after a Windsor chair. Visually, it’s spikier and impertinent, with two slender back slats and looping strands for arms. Sit in it, and it’s remarkably cozy.
COBI MOULES: Playing With Myself, Again
At: Carroll and Sons,
450 Harrison Ave., through
July 13. 617-482-2477, www.carrollandsons.net
MAGGI BROWN: New Paintings
At: Barbara Krakow Gallery, 10 Newbury St., through July 23. 617-262-4490, www.barbarakrakowgallery.com
FURNITURE WITH SOUL II
At: Gallery NAGA,
67 Newbury St., through July 12. 617-267-9060, www.gallerynaga.com