The first thing you notice when you walk into the Julian Opie show at Barbara Krakow Gallery is the giant head of a boy. He gazes heroically from a side gallery. The size isn’t the only thing that startles. Rendered in the bold, cartoonish simplicity that has made this British artist a major player, the boy appears to flip-flop from flat to supercharged volume. It’s like looking at a sculpture — or a painting? — through 3-D glasses.
It is indeed a sculpture, a monumental bust at more than 6 feet tall. “Daniel” is cast resin made with a 3-D printer. Opie has placed it in front of wallpaper printed with the craggy lines of a black-and-white forest. The scale of the trees makes “Daniel” look all the larger. There’s delicious dissonance in elevating an unassuming schoolboy to monumental proportions.
Opie painted the face with the same pools of shadow he would apply to a painting. From straight on, that’s what “Daniel” looks like: a big, flat cutout. Circle round a bit, though, and those shadows play tricks. They addle and entice. They exaggerate the volume, but continue to insist that you’re viewing a painting.
This artist is known for paring his portraits down to the barest bones. How to capture shape in a few lines, in two or three swaths of color? The faces are all neutral. Working in three dimensions, as he does with “Daniel” and several smaller busts, Opie seems to spike the recipe.
For this show, he also went to Rome and worked with an artist of traditional Byzantine mosaics, which convey volume through the arrangement of tiles. In “Imogen,” the tiles dovetail over the young woman’s cheeks and hook sharply along the lines of her nose.
Opie restlessly experiments in a variety of media, even as he sticks to his basic facial formula. The smallest gesture takes on canny meaning. Leaping through centuries in one gallery, he depicts Imogen again on an LCD screen. She looks unnervingly still; on a screen like this, we expect animation. Then she smiles. Shadows gather beneath one cheekbone and reshape around an eye.
I smile back.
Jessica Backhaus, a photographer who thinks like a painter, has a show at Robert Klein Gallery and a satellite show at Ars Libri. Her moody, expressionistic chromogenic prints play with reflections and windows, packing images into fractured layers. Her fruity palette can verge on psychedelic.
All the works at Robert Klein are from the series “Once, Still and Forever.” “Berlin” shows just a puddle on the street, but oh, the worlds within it! Upside-down reflections of two fuzzy-headed people ring the green, white, and blue sky. The slick line of the sidewalk on the right anchors us, and good thing, because around the dizzying reflection the road beneath glows an almost chemical pink.
Backhaus’s pinks, in particular, tease like candy. “Beyond Seeing” depicts a tarnished mirror in a splintery wooden frame against a hot pink wall. Everything is decaying in enchanting textures: the mirror, the frame, and the plaster wall chips down to white, all of which makes that strident pink wonderfully out of place.
The photographs at Ars Libri tend more toward abstraction. In the “I Wanted to See the World” series, reflections float and fracture along water. “I Wanted to See the World # 108” resembles an abstract expressionist painting; the little ripples on the water’s surface evoke the texture of brushstrokes. Luxuriant colors slip and dance — a column of forest green down the center, bracketed with teal and ocher.
Photographs such as these can be terribly trite, but Backhaus overcomes that. Her eye for color, pattern and picture compels us to look.
Michelle Grabner, artist, critic, and one of three curators of the 2014 Whitney Biennial, has a small show of paintings alongside those of Wendy Edwards at Drive-By Projects.
Grabner brings a domestic agenda to abstraction. Her untitled paintings evoke gingham. One even uses it — a square of gingham ghosts beneath a white mist of gesso. The familiar red-and-white pattern emerges and disappears like a memory of home.
In her other paintings, textile gives way to flat painted squares. The grid looks like gingham, but up close, where you’d see the warp and weft of white and red in those in-between blocks, it’s clean, solid pink. There’s a homespun quality, nonetheless, in the piece’s imperfection, evidence of the artist’s hand. In Grabner’s work, painting and textile make a happy marriage.
Edwards also enlists domestic patterns and paint, to gaudier effect. In the audacious “Tipper,” she begins with a squirmy, undulating cutout from an outrageously patterned oilcloth tablecloth. It’s black on yellow, with ugly floral prints floating in dark ovals over a lacy web. She sets it against a yellow ground and paints a wavering blue grid over the whole thing, like a fisherman’s net gathering up those unsightly flowers.
Grabner and Edwards make a great pair. Both take inspiration from textiles to explore pattern, repetition, and color, but while Grabner makes quiet work that pulls you in, Edwards’s paintings throw a party.
At: Robert Klein Gallery,
38 Newbury St.
Domestic Abstractions: Wendy Edwards,
At: Drive-By Projects,
81 Spring St., Watertown, through Nov. 30.