There are almost no people in Hiroshi Masaki’s black-and-white photographs of his hometown. An exhibition of silver prints selected from his book, “Uwajima: A Private Landscape,” can be seen at Ars Libri, in a show mounted by Robert Klein Gallery. Forty years had gone by since the artist left Uwajima, a small city near Japan’s southeast coast, when he returned to photograph it in 2008. “I decided to go back, abandon any preconceptions I had,” he writes in the book’s afterward, “and re-examine my birthplace.”
It’s hard to imagine letting go all presumptions about your hometown; that would be like looking at your parents without bias. One way for an artist to do it, though, would be to approach the old familiar places with an eye toward form rather than narrative. And form is easier to see without the distraction of figures hanging about.
The artist has exceptional talent for capturing velvety gradations of tone. “Meirincho,” the most stunning photo in the show, depicts the corrugated metal face of an industrial building under a cloud-mottled sky. The grays in the building vary as they do above. Some panels of metal degrade and discolor; others appear new and shiny. It’s not a commentary on industrial decline, but a harmonic checkerboard of texture and tone.
Masaki finds nobility in the zigzag of stairways to a bridge over a railroad track in “Yoshidacho Tachimajiri.” The grunginess of the steps and platform and the paint chipping along the railings suggest the stop needs buffing up. But there’s something serene and solid in the clean lines of the architecture, and the way the artist frames the white station house between the two stairways, in the center of the print.
Photographs of downtown areas depict a well-kept, albeit sparely populated, town, and with its low buildings and empty streets, a far cry from bustling Tokyo. Masaki writes that his photos evoke for him an “idealized, provincial town that exists universally in the hearts of all Japanese people.”
That may be more a nostalgic yearning for a less urbanized time. There’s pathos to these photographs, but there’s also pride. And perhaps most importantly, there’s Masaki’s appraising eye, seeking out nuances of shadows and line, and delineating the way rust, tar, wood and concrete play against each other on film.
Craft, going the way of all contemporary art, is becoming more conceptual and crossing disciplines more frequently. “New Directions” at Lacoste Gallery looks at those trends in ceramics.
The whiz-bang highlight of the show is Colby Parsons, who blends the materiality of clay with the immateriality of digital projection. He designs abstract patterns of light that dance and flow over slabs of glazed, textured, undulating clay. In “Materiality of Light #3,” horizontal bands of light slowly drop over sleek mounds rising from the wall-mounted slab, cupping them and briefly vanishing in their shadows. His pieces thrillingly animate earthbound ceramics.
Josephine Burr and Sunshine Cobb make 3-D pieces that echo drawing. Burr crafts open, looping forms that look like clusters of cells, or a drawing in air. Cobb makes fresh, functional objects. She uses flat glazes through which you can see the red clay like pencil outlines along the edges, which are sketchbook-rough.
The other two artists in “New Directions” fit more traditional models. Linda Swanson is the ceramicist/chemist, experimenting with crystalline glazes in her porcelain disks. Explosions and washes of color play against crackling white. Framed in aluminum cylinders, they give you the feeling of looking through a porthole at silent, internal fireworks. Paolo Porelli fashions clownish allegorical figures such as “Glove Lady,” whose face below her eyes is a giant, inflated glove. The stoneware piece is expertly crafted, but allegorical figuration in clay is such a deeply mined vein, there’s no new direction in his work.
All-glass group show
I walked into “SPECTRA: Glass Works,” an all-glass group show with dozens of works nearly spilling out of Clark Gallery, with the hope that viewing it would be like jumping into a cool pool on a hot day. That’s how glass can be: shimmery, translucent, breathtaking. I wasn’t disappointed.
Glass master Alan Klein makes smart, comic objects that recall useful things. “At Rest II” looks like a lightbulb turned soft; the white glass form sags over pegs in the wall, and its base — not metal, but glass ringed in rubber — points pertly upward, as if it hasn’t given up yet. Dorie Guthrie's delectable “No. 7” takes off from color-blindness charts. It’s built out of candy-like droplets of fused glass, a speckled field of red with a green seven rising in the middle.
Caterina Urrata, who displayed a glass swing earlier this summer in “Ellipses: Alumni Works in 3D” at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, continues her childhood theme with “Stripey Bunny,” a charming, floppy-eared fellow in colorful stripes, but in glass probably less huggable than he looks. Urrata turns darker in other pieces, in which she strips the outer fabric layers of cuddly toys to reveal glass skeletons within.
There’s plenty more, such as Niho Kozuru’s hemispheres that look like geodes and Chris Taylor’s glass basketballs and bubble wrap. The show highlights glass’s beauty, and slyly plays against it.
At: Lacoste Gallery,
25 Main St., Concord, through Sept. 1.
SPECTRA: GLASS WORKS
At: Clark Gallery,
145 Lincoln Road, through Aug. 31. 781-259-8303, www.clarkgallery.com