Here’s a surprise: Multimedia conceptual artist Ben Sloat’s show at Steven Zevitas Gallery features mostly paintings. Sharp and engaging, they examine the transmission and breakdown of visual information.
You could say Sloat’s work harks back a century to the dawn of cubism, when artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque fractured and splayed scenes into a jumble of competing perspectives. Sloat sees that kind of deconstruction and raises the stakes — sometimes breaking things down to the pixel. He applies a painter’s eye to wave patterns, to the imperfections of digital reproduction, and to the beautiful erosion of VHS tapes.
He anchors the exhibit with two paintings of ships in black-and-white dazzle camouflage, a technique first used during World War I. Dazzle patterning didn’t hide ships, but it was said to confuse the enemy about a vessel’s size, speed, and heading. With his dazzle ships, Sloat signals his fascination with disrupting the picture.
In “Swell (New Dawn Fades),” he sets the ship, looking like an iceberg in prison stripes, on a silvery black sea of wave patterns from pulsar signals. A jittery peak near the bottom quotes the album cover from the British post-punk band Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures.”
BEN SLOAT: ONE BLAST
The artist photographed his painting, and in the digitalization the wave patterns broke down. The black background yawned with jagged white puddles. The dazzle ship, however, translated just fine. Sloat painted that image as “Swell (Midnight Rises),” and hangs it here on a plywood wall. The wood grain echoes the fracturing waves.
As paintings, they grab you and shake you: The sharp hunk in the middle and the buzzing lines around it, all in black and white underneath boldly colored skies, feel like a hit of strong morning coffee. Sloat impudently uses that juicily tangible material, paint, to point out that visual information is porous, unreliable, and ungraspable.
For “One Blast,” a nifty installation at the rear of the gallery, Sloat used architectural rendering software to extend the cracks of a broken window into three dimensions. Black lines, cut into Masonite with a charred plywood backing, extend along three walls. They’re jagged, as if they, too, were pixelated (they were, originally, on the computer). The effect puts you unnervingly in the embrace of fracture and disrepair. Sloat seeks out relationships between the real and virtual worlds, even as he reminds us of the daunting hallucinatory power of technology’s illusions.
Images, scans, trading, sharing ideas
Photographer Jerry Uelsmann and his wife, digital artist and photographer Maggie Taylor, who have a show at Lanoue Fine Art, are exuberant illusionists. Uelsmann, who had an exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum last year, is a master at layering images in the darkroom to create fantastical visions, all in black and white. Taylor’s main imaging machine is a scanner: She collects and scans all kinds of ephemera, and layers them into surreal scenes in steamy colors. They make a great match.
They often trade ideas and even share imagery. Both have works here titled “The Burden of Dreams.” Uelsmann’s is lean and spooky. In a room that opens upward to a sky with clouds, a perfectly made bed has been overlaid with a woman’s troubled face. A hand pokes through a wall. A small figure emerges from the television. The surrealism feels especially potent because the setting is so spare.
Taylor’s “The Burden of Dreams (Woman)” and “The Burden of Dreams (Man)” depict two Victorians in profile, each encircled by green, as if by the velvety frame of a miniature portrait, although these prints are more than a foot square. Cornucopias spring from their heads: animals, birds, insects, an umbrella.
At first, Taylor’s works struck me as overly fey; the Victorian references and the allusions to another, supernatural, world feel a little precious and untouchable. But then I saw some of her edgier works in the gallery’s flat file, not on display. In “The Lesson,” a benign-looking girl cradles a large, toothy saw in her lap. Works such as these may be harder to sell, so they may not get wall space, but they add meaty dimensions to Taylor’s art.
Life in cut-paper patterns
Is it a drawing? Is it a sculpture? It’s both, or neither — Imi Hwangbo’s painstakingly made cut-paper works in many, many layers, now up at M-Y Projects at Miller Yezerski Gallery. Hwangbo starts with elements of patterns borrowed from Korean wrapping cloths, Italian cathedrals, and Buddhist temple doors, and multiplies them in area and volume over sheets of Mylar.
The large scroll piece “Lepidoptera” features a flower pattern (although the title suggests butterflies) hand-cut into 30 layers; in each sheet, the image is incrementally smaller, so the blue-rimmed flowers recede.
“Verso Variation 2,” in hand-drawn colored pencil on laser-cut Mylar, features patterns of overlapping circles and a diamond grid in coral, blue, and white. In some layers, Hwangbo incises the pattern into the translucent paper; in others, she cuts the paper away so only the pencil-thin lines of the pattern remain. The delicate circles fade here, overlap there, creating organic swells and shifts that feel almost like the creative work of DNA helixes: patterns generating life.
MAGGIE TAYLOR & JERRY UELSMANN
At: Lanoue Fine Art, 125 Newbury St., through Oct. 12. 617-262-4400, www.lanouefineart.com
At: M-Y Projects, Miller Yezerski Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave.,
through Oct 22. 617-262-0550, www.milleryezerskigallery.com