Step into Nathan Miner’s show at Montserrat College of Art, and you’ll find yourself in a corridor between two large abstract paintings. The corridor is about 10 feet wide; the paintings are 10 feet square.
The setup implicates you in the action. The paintings — “Field Reflections #1” and “Field Reflections #2” — push and pull at each other. It’s like being trapped in a car with a couple having an argument, except it’s all visual, and you’re in the middle of it.
The first painting is shadowy gray, the second warm gold. Both sway and crackle along grids that reach backward, creating a sense of loosely enclosed deep space. Lines glow and melt; colors glimmer. In the center of each, a central, spectral form coalesces — as insubstantial and affecting as light skittering over water. The gold painting reaches out, assertive, friendly. The gray one pulls you in.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, Miner can be found in the gallery, behind the wall upon which “Field Reflections #2” hangs, working on his next project. He’ll tell you about his process, which begins with photographs that evoke space, depicting airport runways and tile floors, and involves layering, extracting imagery, drawing, scanning, blowing up, and painting.
The piece he’s painting during his tenure in the gallery delineates the conceptual edges along which he works. Miner has built a curved wall for the mural-sized painting. The painting is fitted to the wall on panels, and its shape balloons at top and bottom to create the illusion of a regular rectangle on a flat surface. How does the arcing painting change our perception of space? Is our peripheral vision activated?
It’s hard to say yet — the painting isn’t finished. Miner’s hands-on engagement with the gallery’s architecture lends a sense of mystery and revitalizes the act of seeing.
Architecture aside, the paintings, on first glance, have a pretty, shimmery quality, full of motion. Miner utilizes watercolor and airbrushing in a lulling, dreamy manner. The rippling rush of fruity colors in the smaller painting “Indras Net #1” has the easygoing effect of a strong daiquiri.
You have to look past all that to engage with Miner’s spatial tug-o’-wars, and the way he zips the eye back to the surface just as it meanders down one of those gridded pathways. When he confronts you — as he does with the “Field Reflections” installation, effectively placing you in the middle of his pictorial space — he’s rather brilliant. But he has to mind the prettiness.
“Boston Young Contemporaries,” the juried show of work by New England masters of fine arts students, is always a place to find new artists. This year’s judges, painters Josephine Halvorson and Kenji Nakayama, and Pieranna Cavalchini, curator of contemporary art at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, tapped more than 70 artists.
Painters make a strong showing this year. Jaena Kwon’s works, spray-painted on sanded fiberboard, are more object than image. In “Blush,” the surface dents and crinkles, with lavender dusted over red giving the piece an embarrassed flush. Julia Wolfe’s untitled acrylic is similarly minimalist, all periwinkle, in ragged breaths and creases and petals.
Carolyn T. Burns, who was a standout last year with paintings of parking lots, ups her game with “Winning Doesn’t Always Mean Getting What You Want,” which depicts a train platform, its railings and streetlights rendered flatly, sandwiched between a sodden orange sky and a foreground abyss of blue and purple, each suggesting yawning depth. The space is steep, and Burns pins it down with a vertical strip of hole-punched white.
Implicit violence and malaise drive Brendan McCauley’s strangely compelling narrative paintings on masonite in the “Young People Disappear Like Magic” series. In one, a couple lies in a fenced-in field; she’s wrapped in a sheet, he’s pulling up his jeans, and a rifle rests just behind him. Beyond them, clouds rise like smoke, obscuring soft trees, brick buildings, and a powdery blue sky.
The selections of 3D art are surprisingly skimpy. Monica Mitchell’s campy, manic “Shoe Totem Woman” deserves note: a curvaceous dress dummy strapped up with gaudy duct tape, with shoes protruding from head and skirt, and a couple of broken mirrors taped in for good measure. It’s proud, and sad, like an old drag queen. Nearby hang some of Shona McAndrew’s watercolors; her deft portraits of young women also suggest defiance and weariness.
Ricardo De Lima’s “Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed They Can Only Be Cut” and “Cabo E” look more like parts of an installation than a freestanding sculpture. Ears of corn and curling red habanero peppers, half-dipped in gold, sit on one rough wooden plank, piles of gold rice and beans are on another. They might be from a magical realist story exploring hunger and economics. Leanna Morris’s photograph “Health Study (1)” also has a fantastical buzz, with its riot of orange-green blossoms splaying over a gauzy red bed of God knows what.
The videos — just a handful – are done a disservice by the tiny monitors upon which most of them are screened. Video and performance are increasingly vital in art schools, and not well represented in this show. Still, there is much to see.
NATHAN MINER The Long Now
At: Montserrat Gallery, Montserrat College of Art, 23 Essex St., Beverly, through Aug. 14.
BOSTON YOUNG CONTEMPORARIES
At: 808 Gallery,
808 Commonwealth Ave., through Aug. 22. (No phone), www.bostonyoungcontemporaries.com