Collage is a scrappy medium, put together with this and that. In a satisfying collage, viewers sense tensions among disparate pieces even as they coalesce into a singular whole.
In his show at Alpha Gallery, the artist ransome works with collage, paint, and sometimes décollage — lifting or tearing pieces off, leaving ragged edges — to create portraits and abstractions that jump and hum as they honor the love and resilience of Black Americans.
His images here are hopeful and tender, if occasionally tinged with sadness and grit. Working with cut paper and relishing pattern, he nods to Matisse. His penchant for collaged storytelling recalls Romare Bearden.
Many artworks pay tribute to ransome’s family: He is the grandson of sharecroppers, and much of the family moved from North Carolina to points north during the Great Migration.
That includes his uncles, pictured in “The Brothers,” a jaunty portrait of three men on a sunny day posing in front of a clothesline full of quilts. The colors sing: tangerine, lime green, sky blue. Most of this piece is painted, but one brother’s shirt is cut from patterned paper, and the contrast between the sumptuous painter’s touch and the flat clarity of the paper also feels musical, like a saxophone giving way to a snare drum.
In the “Love” series, ransome sets collage and décollage against grids of vinyl tiles with wood veneers. These depict tender exchanges. His subjects’ faces and arms are cut from black paper, making simple silhouettes, but he garbs them in clothing of brilliant, dancing scraps — badges of their spirit. The contrast among the hard vinyl, the unadorned black paper, and the dazzling clothing keeps the eye bouncing.
The artist sometimes just gives way to the joyful impulse of crafting visual rhythms from color and pattern. “Purple rectangle and a piece of Rosie’s dress” pays tribute to his quiltmaker grandmother, and has a riotous syncopation similar to that in many Gee’s Bend quilts.
Quilts, like collages, are made of scraps — ransome’s work celebrates the glory that can grow out of what comes to hand when a little heart and vision is applied.
RANSOME: HARMONY OF DIFFERENCE
At Alpha Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through Nov. 2. 617-536-4465, www.alphagallery.com
Cate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.