Two refreshing solo painting shows up now in adjacent galleries have much in common, but wander down wildly different paths.
Mary Bucci McCoy, at Kingston Gallery, and Jered Sprecher, at Steven Zevitas Gallery, make mostly small, mostly abstract works. Bucci McCoy’s delicately toned and textured paintings read like haiku: swift, elusive, ripe. Sprecher’s much denser, hotter-toned works display an exuberant virtuosity: He cuts up, sorts, and juggles forms; he layers veils of pigment. Small as his works are (the paintings on linen are 11-by-8 inches), they are deep, whereas Bucci McCoy’s are more wide open.
Sprecher doesn’t start abstract: He uses a photo of pigeons nesting along a cliff as source material. You can see the birds in some larger paintings on paper at the back of the gallery. He painted each methodically from left to right, from top to bottom. This system puts equal weight on every mark, so although these works are pictorial, the picture seems incidental to the accrual of small dabs and swipes. They swing deliciously from image to abstraction.
For the smaller paintings, the artist chopped up photocopies of his pigeon photo and made collages, which he re-created in oil paint. The birds can be discerned in only one of these works, “Pigeons,” in which we see a plump green silhouette, with the fluff of the wing feathers accentuated, but again the image seems incidental to the spark and flow of abstract painterly fireworks: down-rushing smears of gray and yellow, a narrow curtain of hot pink on one side.
Knowing the birds are there, if only in fragments, you might start to look for them. Is that the curve of a breast in “Invention of the Chair”? And maybe the stony face of the cliff along the bottom?
But this painting hinges on the thick, flat bars crossing one another, in black with great gaps of orange, over a changeable orange and red ground. The violently colliding bars have heft, but they vanish. There’s a broad passage of dun in the background at the top, a bland banner. Sky blue brushes lightly over the surface.
Sprecher plays tricks with space and surface; he makes bold marks and dainty ones. There’s so much going on in a relatively small space, it’s as if he’s deftly answering in paint the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Bucci McCoy offers a deep breath. Her painting “Another Grace” is simply a pale peach, near square. When I saw it I sensed vaguely that the corners were receding, and I got up close. The paint along the sides is infinitesimally yellower than it is in the middle. The surface gently puckers and wrinkles, like water in a breeze. A barely perceptible zigzag, perhaps just evidence of the paint drying, saws softly down the right side. Discovering these is like unearthing secrets.
Early in her career, Bucci McCoy worked with ceramics. Her paintings have the tactile quality of clay and the surprises afforded by kiln-fired glazes. “Within” is an oval, like a cameo, in powder blue. It’s matte flat, but the blue rises off the surface in one thick dollop. Below that hovers a blurry white dot, and to the right, a dot of black, veined and glittering like mica. Each of these reveals itself on a largely unsullied plane, little eruptions through a placid surface.
These paintings convey the unlikely combination of patience and spontaneity. Sometimes Bucci McCoy takes action: Her finger makes a deep gully down the center of the pristine white “Channel.” But sometimes it’s also just about seeing how the paint reacts. “Sanctuary” has a ground of tender terra-cotta, perfectly flat. A heady wash of aqua pours in from the upper right, like a wave rushing onto sand. The breathtaking contrasts are many: the colors, the textures, opacity versus mottled transparency, stillness versus movement. This artist achieves all that with startling economy.
Signs to celebrate cursive
“Its Virtue Is Immense: A Pre-Vinylite Tribute to Script Lettering,” a jaunty show at Lot F Gallery, suggests that thanks to dedicated practitioners around the world, the art of hand-painting signs is not dead. It’s on the decline, and has been since vinyl signs came on the scene in the 1980s. But this show isn’t merely about hand painting. It’s a cri de coeur on behalf of handwriting, and in particular cursive, which is being taught less the more technology dominates communication.
“Handwriting Is Handy,” Bob Dewhurst reminds us in one snappy sign. Kenji Nakayama, in “ABC Script,” layers a cursive alphabet in autumnal enamels and variegated gold leaf, which glimmers with coppers and blues. It’s eye-catching, to be sure, but it goes beyond signage into art, with its complex layering of letters.
Nakayama came to Boston from Japan to study at the Butera School of Art, one of the last academic outposts to teach hand-painting signs. It closed two years ago. The work in this show reminds us that there’s something rich in the human touch that can’t be replicated in a prepackaged font.
Mary Bucci McCoy: New Paintings
At: Kingston Gallery,
450 Harrison Ave., through
April 27. 617-423-4113, www.kingstongallery.com
its Virtue is Immense: A Pre-Vinylite Tribute to Script Lettering
At: Lot F Gallery, 145 Pearl St., through April 25.
Cate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com.