In “Field Visions” at Boston University’s Faye G., Jo, and James Stone Gallery, curator Matt Murphy and 10 artists consider landscape and the dramas waged on the field of the picture plane. Like a farmer’s field, it’s a site of sowing and harvest, where the outcome is uncertain.
Even the most representational paintings here approach landscape via abstraction. Wilhelm Neusser’s “Bog/Promise (#1925)” depicts a cranberry bog as a spectacularly spangled carpet of red and yellow dots. Above, the sky is both beacon and omen, as dark clouds dovetail over a low sun. All is vibrant in Neusser’s bog save the people, rendered in black and white, who look like tired refugees wading to a new land.
Up close, many of these paintings reveal a technical virtuosity that toggles between daring and obsessive, like Neusser’s sweep of tiny dots. From inches away, Michael Zachary’s “Wave” buzzes with layered, diamond-patterned grids — translucent white above a forest of cyan, yellow, magenta, and black, the lodestars of four-color commercial printing. Step back, and all that frenetic linear activity coalesces into the rippling surface of water.
The brushwork in Stephanie Pierce’s “Moonrise” is looser than Zachary’s, but the effect is similar — tangled skeins of color, often crisscrossing. Her art is as much about paint and facture as it is about picture. Pierce depicts a stretch of water with a marina in the distance. But the almost woven strokes of paint make the image wink and waffle, as if it is just coming into being — unsteady and in glorious shreds, but legible.
Other artists barely reference landscape, but there’s just enough to anchor us as we float into their visionary dreams. Masako Kamiya’s title, “Northern Light,” places us. She builds up pastel colors in tiny stalks of gouache into an aurora borealis shimmer. Matt Hufford paints in juicy strokes on odd scraps, such as coconut fiber, asphalt, and cement debris. His “A Secret Untold” is a moonlit nocturne on a rugged cement triangle scored with hatch marks, marrying the celestial with the mundane.
Landscape can be a hoary genre. The “Field Visions” artists push at its edges to reflect on creation itself — always a risk, always a mess, and sometimes rewarded with sweet fruits.
At Faye G., Jo, and James Stone Gallery, Boston University, 855 Commonwealth Ave., through Sept. 14. 617-353-3329, www.bu.edu/art