Jack Tworkov, a pioneer of abstract expressionism, wrote in his journal that he aimed to “paint no Tworkovs.” Although his paintings had swagger, he rejected the artist-as-hero model of the New York School and ultimately found himself spent with ab-ex. He evolved, in the late 1960s and 1970s, into a painter of cool geometric works.
“Jack Tworkov: Constellation of a Picture,” now up at ACME Fine Art, shines a light on the painter’s transitional process from 1965 to 1967. It’s a small show of big works, many of which have never before been exhibited. The paintings are at once audacious — in their almost monolithic directness; in all that they’re letting go of — and restrained.
They are not yet filled with the murmuring diagonals that characterized the artist’s later work (Tworkov died at 82, in 1982). Rather, they home in on brawny, meandering swaths moving over darker fields, like a river cutting through land.
In “Second Field,” the swath resembles a section of a baseball diamond, rounding a corner and broadening in yellow gold through a dense field of staccato, red-brown marks. This type of brushwork is an extension of Tworkov’s expressionism; it feels nuanced and controlled, alive but contained. Another streak of gold zips across the top, adding rhythm and sway to the piece.
Edges, with their sense of boundary and exposure, imbue these paintings with surprising tenderness. “Sound” could depict the elbow of Cape Cod (Tworkov had a home in Provincetown), mottled ivory yellow against an unwavering black sea.
The border between the two wobbles, but the ivory and the black impinging upon it carry equal force. A streak of ocher runs across the bottom, changing the image from topography to a picture of an arm resting on a table, ready to wrestle. Look closely, and you can see Tworkov penciled a grid beneath the pale paint. Grids weren’t new to him — his earlier work had featured tight, brushy crosshatching, and also bristly, explosive expressionist grids. Here, it’s a whispering substructure, more like those laid into the later work.
In “SSP #1A” and “SSP #1B,” white channels angle up the center of sooty black fields. Tworkov touched these contours with red, giving the place where black touches white a kind of soreness, or glow. In another exploration of edges, the channels in these works funnel off the paintings’ borders. They seem to be going somewhere, as indeed Tworkov was.
The links and branches
Dean Snyder’s fever-dream sculptures at Cade Tompkins Projects in Providence, gaudy and glowing, squirm in great tendrils and knobs over and up from the floor. Nightmarish yet oddly like candy, they push you away even as they pull you in.
He makes them from layers of carbon fiber and epoxy, then paints them with sparkling auto enamel. “FinalFreeze” crawls over the floor in swells and dribbles of clover green, giving way to shimmering bronze and, depending on how the light hits it, purple. A treelike form rises from the central, heaving puddle, its tentacle-like roots seemingly suctioned to the surface, its branches severed and dripping like amputated limbs — only with mint green, not bloody red.
The works are pretty irresistible, sexy yet grotesque, and while that’s an eye-pleasing equation, it can be pat. But there’s more to Snyder’s art. He works intriguingly with the links and branches of networks. “MiddleWay,” a sculptural drawing of a spider’s web in stainless steel, spreads across a doorway. It links lyrically to “Pneuma,” a shiny, black meandering wall sculpture, upon which a wormy stenciled network loops and knots in buzzy fuchsia at the top, softer purple at the bottom.
The sculptures, with their tentacles and tendrils, feel like extensions of these flatter works: life, creeping, pushing, growing, always on the move.
Irina Rozovsky’s photographs of Cuba, up at 555 Gallery in “Cultural [Divide],” a sharp group show featuring artists delving into particular societies, have the lush tropical tones found in many photos of that island. But she uses those aquas and sunny blues to accentuate a sense of isolation. One has us looking through a green-blue hatch at a water cooler beyond, which, like the hatch, has an aqua glow, but it sits in a pile of dirt and rubble.
Other photos (they’re all untitled) avoid the hue. One image of a pale monkey seated on a pipe, with its head thrown back like Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” shimmers with shadowy pinks and grays. The monkey seems utterly human, lonely and daunting. Throughout, Rozovsky doesn’t answer any questions — she presents us with the mystery she sees.
Todd Danforth, meanwhile, portrays his own family in images filled with toughness and tenderness. In “Almost Home” Danforth’s stooped grandfather, in a wheelchair, approaches a car; he looks fragile compared with the two rugged men there to help him. There’s a similar dynamic in Cassandra Giraldo’s untitled color photos from “The Gentle Punks” series about young activists she met in Russia, banding together on the outskirts of society. Their youthful defiance, riskier in Russia than here, makes them seem all the more vulnerable.
At: Cade Tompkins Projects, 198 Hope St., Providence, through July 25. 401-751-4888, www.cadetompkins.com
At: 555 Gallery, 555 East 2nd St., South Boston, through June 14. 857-496-7234, www.555gallery.com
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.