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An artist in control, another artist embracing the unknown at Galatea Fine Art

James Varnum's "Emerald Shoals."James Varnum (Custom credit)/Courtesy Galatea Fine Art

Some artists are painstaking. Others rely on chance. Printmaker Patrick Casey and painter James C. Varnum present the two ends of that spectrum at Galatea Fine Art.

Casey prints his reduction woodcuts in one color, then carves into the woodblock (reducing it) before inking on a new tone. It’s an intricate, labor-intensive process. Still, there’s no going back.

His dense, shimmering scenes are technical feats. The gorgeous “Fear Itself” mingles foliage and its reflection on banks of windows. Branches interleaf with fronds and light flecks the glass as reality mingles with illusion. That’s Casey’s question, pursued in a stubbornly tangible medium: Is imagination truly separate from reality?


"Fear Itself" by Patrick Casey.Patrick Casey (Custom credit)/Courtesy Galatea Fine Art

Most of his prints feature wry, disaffected visions in a sci-fi/fantasy/punk aesthetic that intimate the end of the Anthropocene era. The story of human alienation in the face of technology goes back centuries, and woodblock printing is even older, so Casey’s images of monstrous figures are evergreen.

Such creatures, alternately endearing and besieged, appear in “To Live Below Lightspeed You Must Be Honest (Orange Shift)” and an operatic version of the same print, staggered and rounding a corner of the gallery. The sky explodes in acid tones over monocular thumb-shape figures protruding from a mountainous landscape. A few grim, rocky-face heroes struggle across the scene. It’s dark, it’s angry. It’s a remarkable woodcut.

A detail from Patrick Casey's "To Live Below Light Speed You Must Be Honest."Patrick Casey (Custom credit)/Courtesy Galatea Fine Art

Varnum’s equally color-saturated ink and watercolor abstractions offer a sweet chaser to Casey’s brooding narratives. He lets colors bloom and wander over paper, and then draws fine lines over the surface.

Some surface lines add tension. “Maelstorm” looks like a map violently yanked out of shape, whiplashed by skeins of black. Others lovingly chart nebulous inky passages; in “Emerald Shoals,”teals, purples, and greens written over in silver and tossed with stellar drops look like a nebula delineated.

James Varnum's "Maelstrom."James Varnum (Custom credit)/Courtesy Galatea Fine Art

Varnum has less control than Casey from the outset (and less sedulous technique). Where Casey has end-of-times tales to tell, Varnum follows the whims of his washes to unknown outcomes. It’s good to see these approaches side by side. To reckon with our desperate times, we need to find comfort with the unknown.




At Galatea Fine Art, 460 Harrison Ave., through Jan. 3. 617-542-1500, www.galateafineart.com

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.