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Galleries

Questioning the expectations of photography

Above: “68” by Mariah Robertson. Above right:  “Dear Merry-Go-Round” by Jerry Beck.

“68” by Mariah Robertson.

“Dear Merry-Go-Round” by Jerry Beck.

After photography was introduced in the mid 19th century, painters had to rethink their art, to push at the possibilities of their medium. Impressionism, with its fluttering brush strokes and attention to light and color, followed.

The artists featured in “Process Priority” at Steven Zevitas Gallery all work in photography, but they question the definitions and expectations of their medium in the same way the Impressionists did (and painters have ever since).

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The funny thing about this show is how painterly it is. Artists have experimented with photography since it began, and in the early days of art photography, they sought to re-create the feel of painting with blurry focus. Here, the focus is more on process than image.

Mariah Robertson’s spectacularly fluid “68” pours and jitters down a long, irregular strip of photographic paper. A right angle juts down from the top, filled with burbling diagonal streaks in tropical, aquatic tones. When palette and texture change below, it’s like you’ve gone from snorkeling in the Mediterranean to soaking in a sooty evening downpour in London. Those watery browns and lavenders run into vapors and speckles of cyan. It’s a breathless rush of color and gesture.

More darkroom pyrotechnics come from Matthew Brandt, who dips his landscape photograph in lake water, apparently as it develops, and Tamar Halpern, whose “The Ghost Sonata” layers what might be a transparency with a hole burned through it over a granular, rust-striped plane.

Others work more traditionally, but their imagery pushes toward abstraction. Barbara Kasten makes models out of screens and Plexiglas, which she photographs. Her “Scene VIII” uses light, reflection, transparency, and shadow to lead the eye down spatial rabbit holes. Bryan Graf’s “Lattice (Ambient) 112” is a straightforward photogram; he puts a mass of crumpled mesh on photographic paper and exposes it to light. The resulting yellow explosion on the left is flowerlike, with petals unfolding in blues and greens in a dizzying moiré effect.

Zevitas has a history of mounting the most rigorous, truly contemporary summer group shows in Boston. This one fits the bill.

Overflowing show

Jerry Beck, dreamer, iconoclast, community organizer, and artist, has been in the area for years — first in Boston, then in Lowell, now in Fitchburg — making art and supporting artists. His overflowing show “Jerry Beck: RPM (Revolutions Per Minute)” at Clark Gallery touches on many of his favorite themes — masculinity, popular culture, dreams, and reveries.

With his shamanistic bent and the fount of the mythic unconscious as his source comes a conviction that everything that arises must have meaning, and so we are presented with scores of works, some of which are merely unresolved flights of fancy. Others, though, really stick their landings.

“The Captain’s Jacket,” for instance, a gorgeous black coat encrusted with darkly gleaming black shells, emanates strength and foreboding. It would fit well on Captain Ahab. “Dear Merry-Go-Round,” a mixed-media piece on paper, depicts a maniacally grinning crescent moon seeming to inflate within the circle of a Ferris wheel populated with drawings and photos of people, including Beck himself. It’s harrowing and funny, sharpened by the text that runs along its borders. “Oy vey, art,” it reads at the top.

But “Off the Road,” a wall-length collage of drawings and typewritten text, meanders obscurely, without accumulating much meaning. And “Six Shooter,” a giant, wall-mounted gun sculpture made of cork and wood, while imposing — as any huge gun would be — is nothing new, either in this artist’s oeuvre or in a world saturated with images of guns.

“RPM” spins its wheels a little too often. Even though an aesthetic of “too much” fits Beck’s avidity, this show could have used some editing.

Some clear, strong works

“Twelve Nights,” a Boston Sculptors Gallery exhibition of work by a critique group that meets once a month, doesn’t hang together.

There are some clear, strong works. Stephanie Cardon’s “Lyre,” a minimalist sculpture with two layers of bamboo thread strung between cement blocks, sets delicacy against brawn and draws a shimmer in the air. Kelly Anona Kerrigan’s tart, surreal little painting “Tented” traps a woman in the ruffles of an elongated skirt, with furniture feet rather than shoes poking out at the hem. Liz Shepherd’s sculptural Ferris wheels seem frail and rickety, but tiny figures below play with our perception of scale, and make them loom.

The works that converse best with each other are Liz Nofziger’s peaceful yet disorienting video “Portal 2” and Francois de Costerd’s backlighted film compositions. “Portal 2” rests on the floor. Peer down at it, and see trees softly swaying overhead. De Costerd’s pieces offer satellite views. In “Bay State,” we see the coastline from way up high, in a fiery glow. De Costerd layers that with other blurred, textured imagery, such as rust, making a picture of interference and degradation.

Perhaps it’s not fair to ask for visible threads of influence among artists in such a group. The focus of a critique group, after all, is to foster individual visions, and that’s in effect here. As an exhibition, though, it’s all over the place.

More information:

PROCESS PRIORITY

At: Steven Zevitas Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through Aug. 30. 617-778-5265,www.stevenzevitas.com

JERRY BECK: RPM (Revolutions Per Minute)

At: Clark Gallery,

145 Lincoln Road, Lincoln, through Aug. 30.

781-259-8303, www.clarkgallery.com

TWELVE NIGHTS

At: Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Ave., through Aug. 24.

617-482-7781, www.bostonsculptors.com

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