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Galleries

Shelter in a storm: Laura Letinsky’s art at Carroll and Sons

“Untitled #27” by Laura Letinsky (above) and “Convivial Chaos” by Fred H.C. Liang (below) are up in separate shows at Carroll and Sons.

“Untitled #27” by Laura Letinsky (above) and “Convivial Chaos” by Fred H.C. Liang are up in separate shows at Carroll and Sons.

It’s apt and ironic that still life photographer Laura Letinsky should turn to glossy shelter and food magazines for her newest body of work, now up at Carroll and Sons. Letinsky’s previous still lifes often portrayed the remains of a meal, with stains smeared on table linens and toppled Styrofoam cups. Martha Stewart might frown on the scene. Still, there were table linens.

“Convivial Chaos” by Fred H.C. Liang.

“Convivial Chaos” by Fred H.C. Liang.

Those images evoked the vestiges of consumption. Now Letinsky uses clippings from consumption magazines to construct collages, often placing actual objects in their midst. Then she photographs her construction. Her images place us in a topsy-turvy space, in which flat clips appear slyly three-dimensional, and it’s not always clear what’s real.

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In “Untitled #27,” Letinsky sets items on a tilting plane that looks to be a tear sheet showing off a wooden surface, upon which perch two low glasses and a shallow bowl of tomatoes.

Other items don’t hide that they’re cutouts: a pitcher, three dessert squares. But the glasses and bowl? It wasn’t until I scrutinized another tomato, its shadow cast in front of it suggesting volume, that I recognized what was real. I think. I’m not certain, because a broken plastic spoon lies across the bowl, and the bowl of that spoon rests in front and casts a shadow like the real tomato.

Each of Letinsky’s works here is a mini mind-maze, making no bones about cuts and tears and collage, but still foiling assumptions about space and volume and playing with our expectations of reality. But shelter and food magazines do that, too. As, indeed, do photographs: Each of these works is, after all, a fiction. None of it is real.

Fred H.C. Liang has a lovely show in Carroll and Sons’ back room, with exquisite cut paper structures billowing with calligraphic lines, and a couple of paintings that take the artist in a new direction.

In previous works, he layered screenprint, acrylic, and gouache, creating dense, decorous abstractions in which the calligraphy we see in his cut paper works played a big role.

Liang utilizes his same layering techniques in the new paintings — silhouettes, transparencies, shadows, subtle patterns — but the language is largely drips, brush strokes, and splatters, in candy colors. In “Convivial Chaos” reds and pinks careen over vibrant passages of blue, plus gray. All those drips and splotches suggest a Pollock-like process, flicking a wet brush. But Liang’s layering reveals that each gesture is crafted with more care than spontaneity. He’s venturing into fruitful territory; let’s see where he goes.

Studied sensations

Kenji Nakayama’s ambitious one-man show at Fourth Wall Project has at its foundation 49 “Études,” each made on black paper, painted in acrylic, and finished off in enamel with a white central axis and more. The artist brings a wealth of influences to bear on these works, from his fine skills as a sign painter to references to Japanese textiles.

There’s a sameness to the works, which feel like finger exercises, with blues and reds in deft, pinwheel patterns and grids floating beneath calligraphic white enamel flourishes. You can see Nakayama striving to let go of a decorative artist’s restraint — paint bleeds, puddles, and splatters — and yet the works still appear conservative, controlled, and eager to please.

Nakayama has set up an installation in the center of the gallery: “Totem,” a 6-foot tall cross, salvaged from a renovated church. Clad in white neon, it sports decorative pinstripes and curlicues on one side, and white hieroglyphs inspired by artwork of indigenous peoples of Alaska and Canada on the other. This second side captivates; the rest of the piece feels unnecessary, gaudy, too similar to signage you might find outside a Las Vegas wedding chapel.

Other works in the show dazzle, like the enamel-on-aluminum “Kappa,” a vertical painting like a magnificent blue shield; the same flyaway flecks of white paint featured in the “Études” here read like magic sparks. On a larger scale, on aluminum instead of paper, and all in enamel, do Nakayama’s techniques coalesce better? Hard to tell. If there were 49 paintings like this one, they might be forgettable, but here “Kappa” and two companion pieces stand out.

Faces in the crowd

The figures in Norman Liebman’s primitive-style paintings at Art Alternative Gallery are surprisingly endearing. Liebman’s other paintings — abstractions, well composed but unremarkable — get lost amid the strikingly sad and ghoulish faces of folks such as those in “Stormin’ Life” and “La Bomba.”

In the latter, Liebman describes a woman whose body is largely horizontal, yellowish outlined in blue, with legs streaming beneath her like ribbons and red blobs for feet. He has a wild, almost violent approach to brushwork, and a keen color sense. The distorted body pops against a deep blue ground. The blue seeps over the figure’s face. The artist scratches into it to draw its contours: the bulbous nose, the big eyes. Otherwise, she’s got plump red lips and fire-engine red hair. In many ways, she’s off-putting, yet Liebman makes her expression sweet, and she becomes someone you might want to know.

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com.
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