You might have the urge to jump into the first painting in “Leidy Churchman: Lazy River” at the Boston University Art Gallery at the Stone Gallery. “Pool” lies on the floor just inside the entrance, a giant, shimmery abstraction in blues, greens, and blacks, nearly filling the gallery floor. It’s the clarion opening note in a gorgeously orchestrated exhibition.
Churchman uses color, language, a variety of styles, and video to remind us how painting corresponds to our bodies, and how it twines our bodies to our imaginations. Paint is like the messy stuff of an inner life, organized and expressed into something meaningful by the bodily action of painting.
“Pool” invites immersion. In one corner, a quarter moon gleams softly, suggesting a reflection. Depth and surface, viscerally evoked. The painting beckons the eye, and the whole body.
LEIDY CHURCHMAN: Lazy River
Paintings of graves appear throughout, in a faux-naive style in dusky, late-summer greens, flaring reds, and sooty grays. The artist places us at the foot of each grave, looking down. The rectangle of the grave becomes a screen for our projections, darker and more mortal than the watery delights we cast onto “Pool.” Pool, grave, painting — all screens for our own dreams, fears, and longing.
The graves, painted with juicy hues in a manner that simplifies shapes, move toward abstraction. Form and color carry their own implicit emotional meanings. Several smaller paintings throughout the show flit like moths from picture’s concrete message to abstraction’s subtler codes. A deep, marshy green recurs, like a touchstone, in seemingly straightforward paintings such as “Ambulance” and “Pizza Box.” The color feels tidal, tugging us under.
“Lazy River,” a suite of several paintings propped cheek by jowl on a low bench, looks up at the viewer like expectant parishioners in a church pew. They chat intimately among themselves. Many are abstract, vaguely geometric, echoes of color field painting. One depicts a seagull. Another is a smudgy, smoky black aura. That slow, deep green seethes throughout, a bass note to the rhythms of black, white, and the brown, naked linen of the paintings.
Churchman digitally records details of paintings as he moves paint over them — a callback to action painting. His video “The Field” intersperses such images (including one where he pushes soil up the painting, chillingly bringing us right back to the grave’s edge) with scenes from nature. It’s a montage, like “Lazy River,” every image building on the next. A seascape fades into the fog. A robin sits in the grass, listening. Between these cuts, the monitor goes black.
Lovely and lulling, “The Field” is another screen, across which plays art history, surface and depth, color and gesture, personal associations. It’s an incubator for looking — which, as Churchman compellingly reminds us, is not a passive act, but a dynamically receptive one.
John Cederquist’s remarkable wooden chairs and trays at Gallery NAGA come at looking and making from a different angle. Cederquist, a wizard of technique, riddles with perception. Making pictures with marquetry — that is, wood inlays — he creates 3-D illusions on objects that are already three-dimensional. “Architectural Elements” is a functional chair, but it just as much resembles a scrap heap of architectural throwaways. Anyone might be afraid to sit on it.
Three two-by-fours zigzag improbably up the back and don’t appear to fasten together. One leg looks like a plaster cornice. An arm appears to have dropped onto the seat. A striped length of fabric drapes over the whole thing – only it’s not fabric. It’s wood inlay. The effect boggles eye and mind.
Cederquist plays fewer perceptual games in his trays; they’re simpler illustrations of his mastery. He dyes the wood he uses for the inlays for color effect. “Kegani & Green Tea” does prod at 3-D — he uses marquetry to suggest a rim, which is not actually there. The rest is pure picture: a crab on a plate, a small cup of tea — every detail rich.
Garry Knox Bennett’s lamps, on view in the back room at NAGA, go well alongside Cederquist’s chairs. The artist uses clean form and humor, so when the lights go on they inevitably suggest inspiration. In “Paintbrush,” a flame-shaped bulb sprouts from the end of a brush, which angles diagonally toward a truncated pyramid platform, where it musses with yellow paint.
Then there’s the third solo show at NAGA, Mary Kocol’s color photos of flowers frozen in ice. They’re strangely exuberant, given ice’s implications, from climate change to deep freeze. Light pours through, the blossoms retain their vibrancy, and the bubbles and streaks in the ice read like celebration.
“Morning Glory With Bubble” depicts a translucent, wide-open purple bloom with a bubble suspended just above it, as if the flower has just exhaled. A green leaf hangs to the right, like a stage curtain opening to the vivid scene, and blue sky can be glimpsed in the background. More bubbles — tiny, champagne-sized orbs, silvery white — rush all around, adding to the sense that this moment is not frozen at all. It’s fleeting.
JOHN CEDERQUIST: Indecision of Upholstery GARRY KNOX BENNETT: Just Some Lamps
MARY KOCOL: Ice Gardens: The Poetics of Nature
At: Gallery NAGA,
67 Newbury St., through Sept. 28. 617-267-9060, www.gallerynaga.com