There’s nothing soothing about Iva Gueorguieva’s dense, elastic, collaged paintings at Samson. Many of them have the look of a city imploding. Lines tangle, planes twist and bend; forms shatter. With colors, collisions, and veering angles, she sends a viewer’s eye ricocheting.
Look for a place to rest. Sometimes you’ll find pockets of airy color. Gueorguieva’s often opulent hues seduce, even as the wild action and thrusting, rickety construction of her pieces push you away. If paintings were lovers, these would be the irresistible but dangerous kind.
Cool, pale blues and greens fill the center of “The Owl’s Failure,” but even these passages of quiet resemble broken glass. The painting pivots around sketchy verticals; they look like an overturned horizon line, marking a sideways cityscape along a harbor. To the left, the palette is hotter, with a sloppy red grid and crumpling, crystalline orange forms. To the right, splayed lines in deep brown read like aftershocks.
Gueorguieva further interrupts her narratives of interruption with strips of collaged, painted fabric. Sometimes they move seamlessly through the painting, nearly invisible, like water currents; sometimes they stand out, like shrapnel.
Comical little cartoon characters appear in “Stale Mate,” facing each other over a chessboard in a shadowy compartment near an upper corner. Other figures — gray, pouchy, clotted with black — appear amid shifting planes of blue, red, and gray. They give us a scale by which to measure their environment, and make it seem less threatening and more simply urban, although it still rushes, spins, and heaves.
These are not necessarily cityscapes — they’re too abstract to be anything so precise. The way Gueorguieva layers and structures her work feels as organic and haphazard as urban development, but it just as likely simply depicts the artist’s daring and problem-solving as she confronts space, color, and a world tearing apart at the seams.
Photographer Jo Sandman has been exploring the face for years. She finds faces in stones, shells, and X-rays; her work seeks the elemental in facial expression. In a new show at Gallery Kayafas, she layers transparencies in freestanding Plexiglas frames, adding textures, imagery, and color to the floating heads.
Not all of them are effective. X-rays of naked skulls seen from the side are so iconic it’s impossible to see past them to metaphor. The more obscure faces, though, could haunt your dreams.
In “Transmission III,” an X-ray of a glowing greenish face still clad in tissue has no evident eyes or nose, but it does have a supple, open mouth. Sandman layers this naked, tender face with a river of coppery circuits. Perhaps it portrays someone drowning in technology. Or an android being initiated into human consciousness, and a life of pain, joy, and uncertainty.
The less precisely human Sandman’s portraits are, the more they convey vulnerability and profound humanity.
Also at Kayafas, Jordan Kessler presents a cool-headed study of a hot-button topic: guns. He photographs targets after target practice, such as the red beast in “Steel Buffalo,” splattered with bullet holes and gunpowder.
His most intriguing work, though, features impressions left by guns. “Hi Power,” a large transparency in a light box, depicts the glowing white Styrofoam packing container for a Browning Hi Power pistol. A few smudgy grease marks remain. The light box ties the image to stained glass; the title cheekily puns on a higher power, and suddenly we’re in the church of firearms. It’s a spare image, but startling; people are no less passionate and divided about guns than they are about God.
We make maps to make sense of unknown places. For the artists in “Personal Terrain,” a lush show curated by Ilana Manolson at the Concord Art Association, those unknown places may be real, or intricately imagined.
Heidi Whitman has been making dizzying cut-paper mental maps for years. In an artist’s statement, she calls the delicate, suspenseful “Game of Chance” a mental map of electrical and chemical events. Mostly flat, it stands out from the wall in grids within grids; wild coils veer out of bounds. Whitman soaks her white paper in contours of black and washes of gray, with solid passages of blue and red. The piece, which should be better lighted, casts jittery shadows.
Painter Barbara Grad’s gorgeous “Lowland” features swirling ribbons of color across a sloping grid that might be an aerial view of farmland, and photographer Bruce Myren charts the 40th parallel across the United States with panoramic photos that feel almost random, but tell an American tale.
Manolson’s own work, the “Legacy of a Seed” installation, maps the dreams of her ancestors. Little hillocks of sprouting soil represent the seeds they carried in their pockets when they immigrated. Overhead, sometimes tethered to the sprouts, hover paintings that look plastered on earth, with topographical traces drawn upon them. Then there are terrifically detailed pieces such as Jerry Gretzinger’s “Jerry’s Panels From Map” which precisely charts a fantastical landscape.
All of these dreams of place imbue the sites they document with more meaning than a simple roadmap. They’re filled with yearning and fulfillment too.
JO SANDMAN: Transmissions
JORDAN KESSLER:Lead & Silver
At: Gallery Kayafas,
450 Harrison Ave., through May 24. 617-482-0411, www.gallerykayafas.com
PERSONAL TERRAIN: Contemporary Mapping
At: Concord Art Association, 37 Lexington Road, Concord, through May 18. 978-369-2578, www.concordart.orgCate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.